Shifting cultivation, climate change and environment poverty nexus: an anthropological study among tribal communities of odisha, India
Debendra Kumar Biswal
Shifting cultivation, variously known as rotational bush-fallow agriculture, swidden cultivation or slash-and-burn cultivation is an ancient form of agriculture practiced in hilly terrains, mostly by the tribal communities of India. Recently, two major issues are debated for this agricultural practice; firstly, its impact upon the environment contributing to climate change and secondly, adaptation to climate change of the practitioners of shifting cultivation. The present paper examines the nature of shifting cultivation and its role in climate change in Koraput region of Odisha, which is known for its ecological wealth or genetic prosperity coexisting with poverty. Though there is less literature on emission of green gases from this anthropogenic source in this region, some studies have observed huge emission of CO2 from the burning of biomass of shifting sites, causing deforestation, lowering soil fertility, degradation of quality and quantity of water flow, soil erosion and ecological disturbances. The hill slopes with reduced shifting cycles was found to be prevalent. In addition, there is reduction of “rasa” (nutrient content) in water due to hillside degradation. According to villagers, it is due to absence of fertilizer usage and consequently less nutrient flow from hillsides. Secondly, this paper critically examines the importance of shifting cultivation for tribal livelihood, which provides food security for 4-5 months (September-January) for the tribal communities. Since the nature of the agricultural practice is labour intensive and not technology intensive, it can be argued that it is significant for conceptualizing sustainable development. This paper also advocated for the role of spatial approach- adaptation to climate change and implications of environmental and poverty programs in bringing the environment-poverty nexus closer to the climate change agenda.