Saturday, May 26, 2012

Shifting Cultivation: A Choice by Force in the Rural Communities

Shifting cultivation is extensively practiced in the remote places of Bhutan. Every year thousands of trees are felled and huge areas under forest cover are thrown naked. The policy of maintaining 60 percent of land under the forest cover, for all the times to come, has not reached the ears and souls of people. In the means of looking for food, the pristine natural resources are majorly being depleted. There lies a question whether Bhutan would be green forever. If the current trends of smearing forests are not curtailed at the earliest, there will be no green future for Bhutan. It’s a case of major concern where one should see beyond the years while chopping down a tree.

It is important for us to understand firstly why people resort to shifting cultivation in rural Bhutan. Many researches in the past found the reason to be very simple and understandable. They just do it looking for more yields. Now how is this possible? It is said that if a land is left fallow, it becomes fertile year after year. And the land under forest cover, having accumulated a lot of humus, supports the growth of crop. Thus they go for this because their land, with repeated harvest year after year, becomes less fertile to support any growth. Moreover, they are far away from the reach of manure at the market. Even if they are reachable, they cannot afford as most of the people in the villages live under hand-to-mouth conditions. Therefore, the easiest and feasible option left for the people is to clear away the forest and grow their food.

When people set fire to their tseri, a huge portion of the forest in the premises also gets burned. The fire lives long sparking to start another forest fire when the wind blows. People are imprudent about all these happenings. However we have no reasons to blame them. Development has not reached them. Their livelihoods are depended on their farms. When their lands don’t grow what they plant, they ought to find another solution. And shifting cultivation is their choice by force. 
The reason of people in the rural areas being shortsighted can be attributed to the lack of their proper education. They are least aware of the policies the centre puts forward. Lack of awareness keeps them applauded of what they are doing. If one family can clear more acres of forest they are considered to be richer than others in the society (never to think of risks he/she bring to the general public’s future). A research conducted by the government in 1986 found that the total land area under shifting cultivation was about 40,600 ha. This is a sad news one should discern over.
Today if we are to look around those villages whose premises were once covered by thickets, they have become barren now. Just to get a load of firewood to cook food, one has to travel miles. Shifting cultivation has sent all huge trees to their own destinations. The barren lands are left open for the summer rain to wash away. There were cases where a number of disastrous soil erosion occurred. When the fertile lands are being eroded, people become poor by the end of the season. Yet people talk about reducing poverty. How is this possible given that there is no food on our plates? Can we still be happy when we don’t even have a mouthful of food? Do you call this happiness? If individual people are not happy, how possible is it to dream of Gross National Happiness (GNH)? The mega-philosophy of GNH all starts from our meager actions like planting a tree for securing future. In order to carry out these tasks, the government’s hand must reach the far flung villages before more destructions come into the scene. If and only we intervene on time, future can be saved.

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