Wildlife and shifting cultivation

Forest, wildlife, jhum, and plantations in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram

  • Bamboo forests cleared for shifting agriculture with the slash laid out to dry amidst forests and other rested jhum sites in various stages of dense forest recovery.

  • Jhum fire: a controlled burn of dried vegetation in a jhum field surrounded by regenerating forest fallows.

  • Jhum fire: although the fires look destructive, they are short duration, generally well controlled, and an essential part of opening fields and nourishing soils for another round of cultivation.

  • For every hectare of forest cleared for jhum, there is usually at least 5 to 10 hectares retained in the landscape as regenerating and mature forests.

  • A giant Tetrameles nudiflora tree in primary tropical rainforest in Dampa: retaining such mature forests is essential to meet conservation goals.

  • Teak plantations, planted as monocultures, are a poor substitute for the dense forest-fallow mosaic resulting from shifting agriculture or jhum. As habitat, teak is worse than jhum for rainforest wildlife.

  • Oil palm, notorious for extensive deforestation in southeast Asia, is increasingly replacing dense forests in northeast India. As a form of land use, it is much worse than jhum for rainforest birds.

Jhum, forest recovery, and wildlife

Jhum is a rotational system of organic farming involving the cutting and burning of forests for farming, followed by resting and regenerating the land for several years before another round of cultivation. In the mid-1990s, I studied the recovery of tropical forests, arboreal mammals, and bird communities following shifting agriculture in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram. A cross-section of sites, from recently rested fields through old secondary forests regenerating after jhum, was compared with mature tropical rainforests.

Here, I revisit and re-examine the effects of shifting agriculture (or jhum cultivation) on forest and wildlife conservation in the Dampa landscape, Mizoram, northeast India. Using field research data, I examine whether shifting agriculture is in fact a better form of land-use than monoculture plantations now being established as replacements for jhum in landscapes around wildlife protected areas.

The resurvey suggests a significant and persistent influence of bamboos in succession. Government land-use policies and horticulture schemes aimed at eradicating jhum have led to an increase in monoculture plantations such as teak and oil palm in the Dampa landscape. The present study indicates that oil palm plantations are substantially worse from a conservation perspective than the jhum landscape of fields, fallows, and forests. A more positive role for shifting agriculture in landscapes around wildlife protected areas is indicated.



  • Bhagyashree Ingle
  • Jaydev Mandal, Gauhati University


  • Mizoram Forest Department


  • Popular Article
    The march of the triffids.
    The BOU Blog, 8 August 2016

    Shifting agriculture supports more rainforest birds than oil palm or teak monocultures

    Read here: http://www.bou.org.uk/raman-march-of-the-triffids/

  • Popular Article
    Why Mizoram must revive, not eradicate, jhum
    The Frontier Despatch, March 4 – 10, 2016, page 6.

    JPG, 755 KB

  • Popular Article
    Is oil palm expansion good for Mizoram?
    The Frontier Despatch, March 18 – 24, 2016, pages 6-7.

    PNG, 682 KB

  • Journal Article
    Shifting agriculture supports more tropical forest birds than oil palm or teak plantations in Mizoram, northeast India
    Jaydev Mandal, T R Shankar Raman
    The Condor: Ornithological Applications 18: 345–359.

    PDF, 2.11 MB

    Please see link/PDF for English Abstract. Mizo translation below.

    Mizoram, India hmarchhakah oil palm leh teak hmun aiin tlangram lo neih hi ramhnuai sava te tan a hnemhnanawm zawk


    Ramngaw leh thlai chi hrang hrang chinna thlawhhma te thlai mal chin bingna atana chán zel hi khawvel pum a humhalhtu te ngaimawh a ni ta. India hmarchhakah pawh, tlang mi te thlawhhma chu, thlai mal (teak, oil palm)-in a lan chho mek bawk. Oil palm leh teak hmun te, chulram (kum 0 – 8 léng) leh lo (ringthar) te leh Dampa ngawpui, Mizoram, India-a mi te kan khaikhin a. Zirbing tura thlan chi nga te hi hmun sawmhnih-ah theuh thendarh a ni a, chumi chhunga thingkung awm te, sava chi hrang awm te, an bit dan leh an tam dan te zirchian a ni. Oil palm hmunah thingkung a tlem ber a, teak hmunin a dawt a, lo leh ngawah te a tam ber thung. Loa thingkung bit zawng (4.3/100m 2 ) hi oil palm hmun (0.5) aiin a sang a, ngawchhung (6.8 – 8.2) a sang fal hle, oil palm hmunah mau a awm lo a, chulah erawh mau a tam thung (25/50m 2 ). Sava chi 107 (ramhnuai-sava 94, dai-sava 13) chhinchiahah oil palm hmunah a tlem ber a (10), teak hmunin a dawt (38); Ngaw hmawr (58) leh chhungril (70) te chu ringthar (50) aiin a sang zawk. Loah leh ngawa ramhnuai sava tam dan a thuhmun a, oil palm hmun aiin 304%-in a sang a, teak hmun aiin 87%-in a sang bawk. Thlai mal chin-bingna aiin lo leh ngawah sava chi thuhmun a tam zawk. Chulramah thing leh mau a than chak avang te, mau hmunin ngai a awh leh hma avangin lo neih hi sava humhalh nan a tha zawk. Lo neih tihmasawn tur zawnga leilung enkawl dan duan chhuah hi a tul takzet a, vahchap sawngbawl dan tha zawk te, tualto thlai uar tur te leh thlaimal chin- bingna hmun hnaia luikam thing chi dang te humhalh tura inkaihhruai a tul hle.

    Tawngkam hman bik: sava chi ho, ngawpui, thlawhhma, lo, Tectona grandis, Elaeis guineensis, thilnung tinreng tamna, leilung hmandan tihdanglam

  • Dataset
    Data from: Shifting agriculture supports more tropical forest birds than oil palm or teak plantations in Mizoram, northeast India.
    Jaydev Mandal, T R Shankar Raman
    Dryad Digital Repository. http://dx.doi.org/10.5061/dryad.pk78j.2

    This contains the dataset corresponding to this publication:

    Mandal J, Raman TRS (2016) Shifting agriculture supports more tropical forest birds than oil palm or teak plantations in Mizoram, northeast India. The Condor: Ornithological Applications 118(2): 345-359. http://dx.doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-15-163.1

  • Popular Article
    In clouded leopard country
    The Hindu Sunday Magazine, 8 October 2016, pages 1-2.

    In the rainforest, the rewards of silence sometimes exceed your wildest expectations. From where I sit quietly, I don’t hear a single artificial sound. Unseen cicadas shrill and set the air ringing, woodpeckers cackle from the treetops, and frogs click and boom from the rock-pools alongside the singing river below. From somewhere in the undergrowth, a grey peacock-pheasant sounds an echoing, guttural laugh. In the distance rise great grey cliffs, home of serow (a forest goat-antelope) and bear, overlooking the rainforests where every morning the hoolock gibbons still hoot and sing. Around the steep rock slope where I am stretched out on my back, the looming rainforest envelops me like an amphitheatre. I feel like a tiny flame steady in an evergreen sconce. As yet, I have no inkling of what we are about to witness.

    Read more here: http://www.thehindu.com/features/magazine/tr-shankar-raman-describes-an-encounter-with-the-clouded-leopard-in-dampa/article9197225.ece

  • Popular Article
    Crop cycles: Fire and renewal in Mizoram
    People's Archive of Rural India, 21 April 2015
  • Popular Article
    Field and fallow, farm and forest
    The Telegraph, Opinion page, 12 April 2014, page 12.
  • Popular Article
    Perils of oil palm
    Newslink (Aizawl), 20 August 2014, page 2.

    PDF, 710 KB

  • Popular Article
    Mizoram: bamboozled by land use policy
    The Hindu, Op-ed Comment page, 14 May 2014, page 9.

    Forest cover loss has occurred at a period when area under jhum cultivation is declining, suggesting that the land use policy has been counterproductive to forests.

    Available here: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/mizoram-bamboozled-by-land-use-policy/article6005950.ece

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