Institute for Social and Economic Change
Working Paper: 523
Changing Forest Land Use for Agriculture and Livelihood
in North East India
Forest land cover in the mountainous North Eastern Region (NER) is slowly improving with the decline of the area of land under shifting cultivation. Forest land cover improvement is expected to accelerate further with the effective implementation of the National Forest Policy 2018. Forest land in general and shifting cultivation, in particular, remains the primary means of livelihood for many ST people. Forest land cover is slowly increasing as the dependence on it for agriculture and livelihood declines, primarily owing to the gradual abandonment of the practise of shifting cultivation by the then shifting cultivators. These then shifting cultivators did not allow others to cultivate their land, thereby causing a decline in the area of cultivated land under shifting cultivation. Rapid population growth has led to the increase of the number of people and families depending on shifting cultivation in their limited land. The decline of the area under it and the increase of people depending on it led to an increase of pressure of population on agricultural land, thereby reducing the average size of cultivated area per family. The livelihood condition of shifting cultivators is still underdeveloped, and they cultivate a small size of land that rendered a subsistence economy. Shifting cultivation continues to prevail as the means of livelihood of ST people. However, it is not so predominant and declining in terms of area under it owing to a steady shift, transformation and withdrawal, particularly from labour-intensive shifting cultivation to non-agricultural livelihoods.