Shifting cultivation is a dominant form of farming in the eastern Himalayas, practised by a diverse group of indigenous people from the most marginalized social and economic groups. The survival of these indigenous people and the survival of their forests are inextricably linked. However, policy makers and natural resource managers perceive shifting cultivation to be wasteful, destructive to forests, and unsustainable. Although policies have tried to ban it or ‘wean’ shifting cultivators away from the practice by incentivizing them to take up alternative options, shifting cultivation persists. As a result, neither the livelihood issues of the shifting cultivators nor the health of the forest ecosystems on which shifting cultivation depends are properly protected. Shifting cultivators and policy makers must seek common ground to improve shifting cultivation for farmers and forests. A joint solution is also required to address climate change as good forest cover plays a prominent role in the sequestration of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
This publication is the result of research undertaken in Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal on the promotion of innovative policy and development options for improving shifting cultivation in the eastern Himalayas. It is divided into two parts: Part 1 presents the findings of the study on the effect of government policies on customary tenure and institutions and alternative options. Part 2 presents a discussion of the findings of the three countries as well as some general and country-wise recommendations. It is hoped that the findings of the research will enable governments to improve their shifting cultivation polices, which will, in turn, help shifting cultivators to improve their economic and social status.