Towards a sustainable natural resource management of tribal communities: Findings from a study of swidden and wetland cultivation in remote hill regions of eastern India

  • Panda S
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/ Environmental degradation in many hill forest regions of Asia, inhabited by indigenous/tribal communities is growing at an unprecedented rate. The case of Orissa State in eastern India is no exception. The government is of the view that the local population is responsible for forest degradation as they practice swidden cultivation and forest gathering indiscriminately to sustain their livelihoods. Based on economic merit alone, the government has undertaken some policy initiatives. Such initiatives that are meant to stop swidden cultivation have not been successful. This study recommends an integrated framework for developing a sustainable natural resource management practice for tribal communities. The framework has taken into consideration both economic and noneconomic factors in evaluating various alternatives. Furthermore, it has been applied to two tribal communities in Orissa (Juang and Saora). Based on an economic analysis comparing returns from swidden as well as wetland cultivation, it is observed that where forest degradation is not serious, wetland cultivation does not have a significant economic merit vis-à-vis swidden cultivation. However, in view of the long-term sustainability issue within ecological limits, swidden cultivation may be phased out in favor of wetland cultivation with an appropriate transition period. During this transition, government must adopt suitable policy initiatives to provide tribals tenurial rights to land, help financially in creating settled lands through terracing, introduce certain improved agroforestry techniques and train tribal people in other income-generating activities. Furthermore, all such interventions made by the government should have a strong sociocultural component in order to attract the tribal people to give up swidden cultivation.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Ecological limits
  • Forest degradation
  • Swidden cultivation
  • Tribal communities

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  • Smita Mishra Panda

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