April 2017

Helping tribals farm sustainably in Mizoram

Nitrogen fixing trees have helped reduce rapid depletion of soil fertility due to widespread shifting cultivation in Mizoram and enabled tribes to continue age-old farming methods

Nitrogen fixing trees (T. Candida) planted in a banana orchard in Sekhum village in Mizoram. The contour creates a natural terrace, protecting soil run-off
Tata Trusts launched the North East Initiative in 2008 to address developmental issues in the region through the provision of enhanced livelihood opportunities, improved agricultural practices and sustainable use of natural resources. The area under the intervention covers 250 farmers across two districts of Mizoram, covering 200 acres approximately. The North East Initiative Development Agency (NEIDA), the Trusts’ associate organisation which works in the states of Mizoram, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh, has been supporting a project which is trialing the planting of nitrogen fixing trees (NFTs) in Mizoram.

A solution that complements tribal ways
Research in the past has revealed that convincing the tribal community to abandon their age-old system of cultivation was not feasible. Therefore, a solution that did not disturb the tribal way of life was sought — a method which will increase the productivity of land with minimum use of fertilisers and without abandoning jhum cultivation. The answer lay in introducing NFTs into the farming system to protect land from degradation, conservation of soil and moisture, and to maintain soil fertility.

As part of a NEIDA project in Mizoram, field trials have been conducted on three species of NFT trees, namely Flemingia macrophylla, Leucaenia leucocephala and Tephrosia candida as contour hedgerows for control of soil erosion and nitrogen fixation. They have been planted as hedgerows in orange and banana orchards. The area under the intervention covers 250 farmers across two districts of Mizoram, covering 200 acres approximately.

Sustainable jhum cultivation
The introduction of NFTs into the farming system comes with multiple benefits. They help in natural control of weeds. The foliage is utilised as fodder or mulch. Additionally, the NFT hedgerows hold soil together along the contour and the micro organisms in the root nodules fix atmospheric nitrogen which assist in better growth of the intercrop.

This farming system is only a technical upgradation of the traditional practices and is highly flexible. Farmers can modify the models as per their needs, environment, social and economic condition. It can protect jhum lands from degradation and may keep production on a sustained basis. Further, planting of NFTs as hedgerows in abandoned jhum land would improve the soil fertility, and this may be one of the ecologically and economically sound options for permanent cultivation in hill slopes of Mizoram (Fanai et al., 2012).

Lalit Kumar Jha (1997). Shifting cultivation.

A.K. Sacheti (1985).Fertilizers and Manures. National council of Educational Research and Training. New Delhi.

Fanai Malsawmdawngliani, B. Gopichand and F. Lalnunmawia (2012). Intercropping of nitrogen-fixing tree species (NFTs) with agriculture crops as a sustainable farming system . Sci Vis 12 (2), 83-88.