Shifting cultivation or jhum cultivation may soon get legalized.
It is an age-old agricultural practice in some parts of the country, mostly in the Northeast.
According to reports, the central government is working on a comprehensive policy related to shifting cultivation in order to recognize the land used for shifting cultivation as agricultural land where farmers practice agro-forestry for the production of food.
The government is also mulling to enable such cultivators access credit and agriculture-related benefits including subsidies.
India has nearly 1.73 million hectares under shifting cultivation, where plots of land are cultivated temporarily and then abandoned for years so that the land becomes fertile again.
An estimated 6.23 lakh families are involved in this activity, 90 per cent of which is in the Northeast.
Credit is often denied to these cultivators because, in the absence of land titles, they are unable to offer the land as collateral for loans.
The government move, spearheaded by the NITI Aayog, is aimed at backing this type of cultivation to help restore the fertility of land naturally, while at the same time ensuring that cultivators of Jhum, a term used for shifting cultivation in the Northeast, have enough employment opportunities.
The Aayog is holding consultations with the ministries of environment and agriculture to get the latest data on shifting cultivation as part of the overarching policy.
Once land use is defined, the government will incentivize state agencies to formalize, promote and organize marketing of the produce of such farmers, to help provide income-generation and youth-employment opportunities in the region.
At present, the land used for shifting cultivation falls under the purview of agriculture during the cultivation phase and under forests during the fallow phase.
Hence, they are often classified as ‘abandoned land’, ‘wasteland’ and ‘unclassed state forests’.
The proposed policy may prescribe amendments to credit guidelines to allow group guarantee, from village or clan authorities, instead of land title deeds for cultivators to avail of loans.
The Aayog has roped in the North-East Space Application Centre at Shillong to find the current area under shifting cultivation and the number of families involved in it using satellite imaging over next six months.