Bioversity international

Chapter 3. Treasures from shifting cultivation in the Himalayan’s evergreen forest Jhum, fishing and gathering food system of the Khasi people in Meghalaya, India

  • Khasi of Nongtraw village
    Meghalaya, India
  • Bhogtoram Mawroh, Ruth Sohtun, Pius Ranee, Melari Nongrum
    North East Slow Food and Agrobiodiversity Society-NESFAS
  • Phrang Roy
    The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty-TIP
  • Gennifer Meldrum
    Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

At a glance

This study characterized the food system of Nongtraw Village in Meghalaya, India that is inhabited by people of the Khasi ethnic group, which is one of the dominant groups of the northeast region of the Indian subcontinent that follows a matrilineal system based on matriarchal values. The community sources food from jhum (shifting cultivation), kper (home gardens), wild sourcing and the market. The jhum lands and the forests are communally managed. A high diversity of crops is produced (more than 60 were named), including a rich heritage of indigenous and traditional varieties. Access to local resources is vital for local food security and diet quality, since the landscape provides 50 to 60 percent of local diets and approximately 60 percent of income derives from crops and livestock. Local markets are important destinations for sale of food and non-food products from the community, contributing to household income. Access to land has so far not been a major issue, but since 2016, the Government has started to restrict local people of the practice of shifting cultivation, which could have an adverse affect on local food production in the future. Decline in soil fertility and scarcity of land are other challenges faced by the community. People are of the opinion that local diets are adequate for fulfilling their nutritional needs but they are not completely immune to food insecurity, which has been experienced as a result of extreme weather conditions in recent years. Markets are reasonably accessible and stocked with a diversity of locally produced nutrient-dense foods, but prices can be a barrier. Local systems of governance, which have persisted from pre-colonial times, that are inclusive and led by respected elders are a strength in the community that support land access, sustainable use of natural resources and development in alignment with local values.

“Burom ia ka mei ramew bad ka hi kan sa theh ia ki jingkyrkhu ha ngi.”

“Respect Mother Earth and she will shower her blessings on us.”

Richard Ranee, custodian farmer and artisan in Nongtraw.
United Nations Geospatial. 2021. Map of the World. Washington, D.C., UN. [Cited 7 June 2021.]