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Chapter 5

Developing a Model for the Gradual Phasing-Out of Shifting Cultivation

Policy considerations

The overview of the existing land use issues in Bhutan (as well as in many other countries) reveals that until now, land use goals have striven to attain certain short term objectives only. In order to deal with the phasing-out of shifting cultivation, it would be useful for this focus to be widened to include long-term objectives likely to result in sustainable and prosperous agricultural development. Hence, the following goals could be integrated into national land use policies:

An integrated inventory of land resources and a socio-economic survey should become standard design factors of any agricultural development project.

Some suggested policy improvements

Long-term land use planning is crucial to help achieve the goals described above. Integrated land use planning is a necessary component of future agricultural development strategies both in Bhutan and in other countries that have evolved similar shifting cultivation practices, and where the farm environment is characterized by a fragile biophysical setting and a complex socio-economic situation.

It has been observed that, at present, Bhutan's land use policy does not have any criteria to control land use changes from less intensive to more intensive use. Here, as in other countries, it would be very useful to develop treatment-oriented land capability classification criteria to control ad hoc land use changes. Policy that promotes development and application of such criteria is highly desirable if productivity is to be raised and environmental degradation is to be minimized.

The biophysical features and socio-economic situation in Bhutan and its neighbours demand land use strategies that combine the positive features of both traditional and modern resource conservation and utilization techniques. The multipleuse land management concept offers a good avenue to achieve such a goal.

The land tenure policy of a country greatly influences land use. In Bhutan, reviewing the land tenure policy10 to help achieve sustainable agriculture development was a necessary step. This review helped determine that future policy initiatives should be aimed at:

The present marketing and production policies of the government have been developed without consideration for their effects on land use. Such policies can create adverse effects on a farm family's income, land use and ultimately on the environment. It is therefore necessary in any system that marketing and production policies be coordinated with the land use policies.

The case for a gradualreduction of shifting cultivation

The major observation that emerges from this study regarding the problems associated with shifting cultivation is that drastic measures to eliminate it are not effective. In attempting to diminish the negative impact of this practice, the following points should be kept in mind.

The total phasing-out of shifting cultivation is not desirable. The commissioning of this study was prompted by the existence of two diverse schools of thought among land use practitioners in Bhutan. One school strongly believes that the total phasing-out of tsheri cultivation is a prerequisite for the progressive promotion of appropriate land use practices. The other believes that combining shifting cultivation practices with sedentary cultivation is the only way to allow subsistence farming with minimum damage to the environment in a biophysical and socio-economic context such as that in most parts of Bhutan.

Based on the diagnosis of the problem in Pema Gatshel district, this study suggests that satisfactory alternatives to the present system of shifting cultivation are essential and immediate positive action is required to avoid a larger environmental crisis in the future. The study also reveals that the continuation of shifting cultivation as a predominant land use practice for an extended period of time is not going to be helpful in the provision of adequate livelihoods for the farmers now in the study area. On the other hand, the consequences of phasing out shifting cultivation in one fell swoop would be extremely serious. The families who would no longer be able to sustain their livelihood would present a great social problem, far greater than any now experienced. Rather than take radical action in an attempt to stop shifting cultivation, an incremental and phased intervention is necessary.

A moderate beginning with gradual reduction in shifting cultivation is preferable. The phasing-out and modification of tsheri is best accomplished by a moderate beginning, dealing with the most threatened areas first and then gradually progressing towards the removal of shifting cultivation from the remaining areas. This is combined with the in situ improvement of tsheri cultivation while gradually phasing it out. Improvements would include more systematized tsheri cultivation practices for increased productivity, better managed crop fallow systems, and extension of fallow times to maturity before preparation and planting of the next crop. There should also be observation of good conservation practices, including contour bunding and mulch cover of newly opened/planted fields.

The ultimate aim would be to establish an efficient sedentary farming and livestock system that will maintain the soil and provide continued, stable production for an indefinite period of time, consequently raising the standard of living in the community.

A proposed model for a three-stage programme to reduce shifting cultivation

Effective means for implementing any planned changes from a traditional system such as that in Bhutan must be carefully thought out, successfully demonstrated on the site, and implemented by an interdisciplinary team well trained in the field of rural development. Such planned changes must be consistent with the overall economic development of the country and should be proportionate to the speed of development on other fronts. In addition, the phasing-out of shifting cultivation cannot be achieved in isolation. The proposed programme needs to be implemented together with integrated land use development activities. For the reasons stated above, it is recommended that the phasing-out of shifting cultivation be planned ii three stages. They are:

Years 0-5: the pilot demonstration and infrastructure development phase

The justification for a pilot demonstration and infrastructure development phase in Bhutan derives from a series of observations, many of which are applicable to situations found in other countries with similar problems.

First, the mountainous terrain, difficult communications and diversity of farming practices in various districts where shifting cultivation is predominant, mean that there is no single alternative that can address all the problems of shifting cultivation. Therefore, different approaches should be implemented on a small pilot scale at first. The impact of each approach, single or in combination, would be evaluated until a promising approach or approaches can be demonstrated. After the success of the approach is demonstrated and staff are trained, it can be extended to larger areas.

Second, there has been little time to accumulate experience with modernization of Bhutanese agriculture. However, the need for increasing production per unit area from all categories of land is great. Similarly, there are many unknown socio-economic forces that influence the rate of production. Therefore, several aspects of agricultural development need further study, and this could be accomplished through the use of a pilot demonstration area.

Third, the successful implementation of any shifting cultivation alternative is dependent on the active participation of the community. At present very little is known about the best mechanisms for motivating the subsistence farmer to participate in implementing scientific land use practices. Therefore, this phase is required to design, test and demonstrate several approaches to mobilizing community participation.

Fourth, any alternatives to or options for phasing out shifting cultivation require active cooperation among several district agencies. The pilot demonstration approach will provide the opportunity to train several extension staff on different aspects of land use planning, such as integrated land resources surveys and land use capability classification.

The lack of trained labour and of supporting infrastructure like soil laboratories or cartographic support precludes the implementation of the programme all over the country simultaneously. Adequate time is needed to train required labour and establish a minimum level of infrastructure.

For these reasons, the implementation of a pilot demonstration project on alternatives to shifting cultivation would appear to be an excellent means for initiating a larger-scale effort aimed at reducing this practice. In the case of Bhutan, the study team recommended setting up such a phase in the Uni Chu watershed in Pema Gatshel district, initially for a period of five years.

Years 5-10: the consolidation phase

The ultimate objective of the first-phase pilot demonstration activity is to develop ideas and experiences for solving different types of land use problems associated with shifting cultivation. Such a practical, solution-seeking strategy will help refine future policies and plans of the government. Some time will be required to consolidate the experiences gained and integrate them into revised national plans, policies and activities.

The arrangements for additional institutional and organizational capacity will require some planning time before an expanded programme can be implemented. Demonstrations of practices selected in phase one will need to be carried out in every district to the gain confidence of local communities before entering into a large-scale programme.

Therefore, a consolidation phase covering the next five-year period is advisable in order to complete the activities mentioned above. This phase is also useful to begin spreading an intensive programme to improve land use management in areas outside the pilot project. In this case, this would be implemented in all the blocks in Pema Gatshel. It could be a time for initiating demonstration activities in a selected watershed in each of the other districts with shifting cultivation problems.

Years 10-15: the expansion phase

If all goes well, the previous two phases would provide enough policy framework and required infrastructure to expand progressively into a large-scale project covering the whole of Bhutan. However, activities that have proven successful elsewhere should be demonstrated in each district for at least two years before entering into the large-scale programme.

Essential elements for the design of the pilot project. Criteria for site selection for the pilot demonstration project

The study recommended the implementation of a pilot demonstration project on alternatives to shifting cultivation in the Uni Chu watershed (Map 5), located in Bhutan's Pema Gatshel district, initially for a period of five years. This project was intended as a supplement to, and not as a substitute for, the many other activities required to improve overall land use in the country. Pema Gatshel was selected as lead district because it is a small district where a study team can physically cover the whole area in a limited period of time. In addition, this district represents almost all agro-ecological regions where shifting cultivation is practised in the country, and it is in the middle of six eastern districts where shifting cultivation is most intense.

Map 5. Uni Chu pilot demonstration watershed

The Uni Chu watershed was selected for pilot demonstration activities for similar reasons. One of the leading criteria for site selection for pilot demonstration activities is high visibility. Uri Chu watershed is located right at the Pema Gatshel district headquarters. Farmers from all the blocks have to pass by the watershed area and visitors from Thimphu and adjoining districts can easily observe the project activities. It is easily accessible, since most of the watershed area is approachable by motorable road. Uni Chu watershed covers almost 25 percent of the district, and is representative of all the various conditions that are found in Pema Gatshel. The altitude varies from 1 000 to 2 550 m, representing subtropical to temperate agroecological regions. The blocks covered by the watershed have a wide range of physical, biological, social and economic characteristics. The district development infrastructure, including agriculture, animal husbandry and forestry extension agencies, already exists in these blocks and is representative of other areas of the country.

Objectives of the pilot demonstration project

The main objective of this type of pilot demonstration project is to determine ingredients that will foster the balanced and optimum use of the land, paying particular attention to the growing demands on land for cultivation, grazing, forest products, watershed protection, wildlife protection, social needs and benefits, as well as for other development needs such as road construction, irrigation development, industrial development, etc.

This particular project, the Uni Chu watershed pilot project, is expected to promote the participation of local farmers in the implementation of policies and programmes leading to appropriate land use throughout the country. The project activities are expected to strengthen the institutional framework of the Royal Government of Bhutan through the application of multidisciplinary rural development efforts supported by scientific land management practices. The immediate objectives of the project are presented below.

Programmes and activities for immediate implementation under the pilot project

The alternatives to shifting cultivation identified need to be tested and demonstrated in an appropriate project area. In addition, in the particular case of the Uni Chu project, several preparatory activities will be required to achieve the objectives listed above. The most important ones are:

Activities recommended for demonstration in particular areas as determined by the land capability classification survey could be agroforestry, gradual conversion into fruit orchards, conversion into dryland terraces and forest plantation of fast growing species.

Activities that could be demonstrated for the improvement of existing shifting cultivation practices are improved land husbandry techniques, improved crop management practices, improved soil management and the introduction of cash crops. Further demonstration of soil management practices and improved crop management practices are also required for permanently cultivated land.

Benefits and outputs expected from the pilot project

The pilot demonstration is the first phase of a long-term programme recommended to control the transition from shifting cultivation practice to more sustainable and permanent land use. Among the anticipated major outputs of the project in Uni Chu is a field-tested manual on soil surveys and treatment-oriented land capability classification surveys, with recommendations on appropriate land use practices for sustained production of goods and services from each category of land.

A pilot demonstration project in a watershed of regional importance will be capable of offering another major output in the form of training and education opportunities for several target groups including students, farmers and middle-level technicians. This training would cover the following subjects:

The project should also supply study reports on the feasibility of establishing an integrated forest industry complex in eastern Bhutan. Studies on ways and means of improving agricultural marketing procedures and on the economics of different land use models conceived and tested as alternatives to shifting cultivation.

The pilot project in Un Chu should also aim to provide research results on different aspects of agricultural production and practices. It will be a source of agroclimatic information and help to establish an agroclimatic monitoring network. The studies Gamed out under the project will be useful in the establishment of a socio-economic benchmark for impact assessment. The preparation of all these materials will also result in the creation of a trained cadre of multidisciplinary staff in Pema Gatshel district.

Physically, the project will undertake the actual site rehabilitation of the 100 ha of critical watershed area presently under shifting cultivation, the implementation of a management plan for 58 km2 of forest area, the protection of 20 km of road against erosion and farm development of several households.

The major share of the projected investment during this pilot demonstration phase is expected to be used in institution building, awareness campaigns, training, special studies, adaptive research and natural resources inventories. All these activities require skilled and specialized human resources. For this reason, almost 60 percent of the allocated funding is expected to be used to procure the services of skilled incountry staff, expatriate experts and consultants.

Therefore, this project and other pilot demonstration projects are not expected immediately to produce remarkable direct economic benefits in the project area.

One of the important study aims during the development of demonstration projects is to conduct comparative cost-benefit analysis of different models proposed as alternatives to shifting cultivation. In the next phase, the implementation phase, the investment pattern would be expected to favour production-oriented actities, ince the basic institutional infrastructure would already be in place to organize expanded activities covering larger areas.

10 In Bhutan, the land tenure system was reviewed and changes recommended in mid 1993.

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