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Oil palm plantations vs. shifting cultivation for indigenous peoples: Analyzing Mizoram's New Land Use Policy

Bose, Purabi
Land use policy 2019 v.81 pp. 115-123
Elaeis guineensis, abandoned land, bamboos, business enterprises, farmers, focus groups, forests, fruits, gender, indigenous peoples, interviews, labor, land policy, land tenure, land use, men, minorities (people), plantations, roads, shifting cultivation, stakeholders, traditional technology, women, India
Mizoram state of Northeast India is referred to as ‘Bamboo Queen’ for its largest bamboo forest. It is becoming famous for country's first commercial oil palm plantations. The state's 90% of the population are diverse ethnic minority tribes otherwise identified as indigenous peoples, traditionally practicing jhum or shifting cultivation. In 2011, Mizoram implemented New Land Use Policy (NLUP) to formalize forestland titles that has been till date decentralized and managed by traditional laws. How the centralized NLUP brings change by replacing shifting cultivation through settled farming i.e. mainly palm oil plantation is examined here. The paper analyzes the NLUP using empirical data collected from focus group discussions and interviews of diverse stakeholders, including indigenous peoples of two districts: Kolasib, and Lai Autonomous District Council of Lawngtlai. The study result indicates even after the NLUP the bamboo forests are allocated for shifting cultivation. These abandoned lands are then promoted by the Agriculture Department for palm oil plantations. Gender dynamics is observed wherein women's roles become ‘submissive’ in settled cultivation of oil palm as compared to their contribution in shifting cultivation. Private palm oil companies do not collect fruits from farmers living away from motorable roads, which pushes men to do daily-wage labour work, and women to do artisanal palm oil extraction at home. The key recommendations for implementing the NLUP are (a) introduce the RSPO sustainable certificate for palm oil, (b) acknowledges indigenous system of land-use for conservation and gender equity, and (c) prioritizing household land titling as well community land tenure.