It is believed that the slash and burn form of agriculture, wherein huge trees are slashed or felled and burnt on the hills slopes, has been in practise by the hill tribes across the globe since the neolithic times.

The tribal people in the Agency areas of Eastern Ghats have been practising podu, or the slash and burn, or the shifting form of agriculture for subsistence since ages. It is believed that the slash and burn form of agriculture, wherein huge trees are slashed or felled and burnt on the hills slopes, has been in practise by the hill tribes across the globe since the neolithic times.

The primitive tribal groups (PTGs) - be it the porjas or the didoyis, or for that matter, the Khonds who live in the hill ranges, only have the slopes at their disposal to cultivate a crop of millet or pulses. They slash the trees for open space and burn them to use the ash as fertilisers. After cultivating a piece of land for about three years, they move to a fresh patch, to allow the cultivated land to regenerate. Though basically the PTGs are hunter gatherers, podu is also a part of their daily life and existence. And in the process, by practising this form of agriculture, the forest cover is being degraded with every passing year.

According to a GIS survey by the AP Forest Department, the total forest cover in the state in 2009 was about 46,670 sq km and by 2011 it had dropped to 46,389 sq.km., thereby measuring a drop by 281 sq km. Though, the entire drop cannot be classified under podu, the slash and burn form of agriculture, does play a major role, said the Additional PCCF (GIS) H.C Mishra.

“It is realised that podu is an essential form of self-subsistence for the PTGs, but at the same time one must understand its implications. According to the Land Capability Classification by the Government of India - hills should be left alone for the flourishing of forest and wildlife for the benefit of everybody,” said Conservator of Forest A. Bharat Kumar.

Adverse effects

Detailing the adverse effects, the Conservator noted that felling of trees have multiple effects over the years. “It has a direct impact on global warming and climate change, the soil erosion is very heavy that not only reduces the scope of regeneration on the slopes but also silts up the rivers down stream, which at times lead to floods. Tribals in the hill ranges depend on perennial streams for drinking water and soil erosion is one of the major reasons for water pollution.”

To stem the degradation, the state government has taken up many programmes such as the Joint Forest Management (JFM), Community Forest Management (CFM) and Compensatory Afforestation Fund Management and Planning Authority (CAMPA). “The idea was to include the community and the forest dwellers in the regeneration process,” said Bharat Kumar.

Though the success rate is debateable, the forest department is pinning its hope on the Green India Mission.

More In: Visakhapatnam