Postcards from the Edge

of Bangladesh

Jhum cultivation

My potato wedges rocked last night. Motivation to try harder in the kitchen from now on.

Today is mercifully cooler than yesterday. Good thing, as yesterday I fobbed off a walk to check out some Jhum cultivation on some of the surrounding hills. So tonight I go check that out. Hopefully with less sweating than would have occurred yesterday. Do I talk about sweating a lot? Can’t wait to live in a country again where sweating is only part of my gym/exercise regime and not a major topic of conversation/the deciding factor for or against any proposed activity.

So jhum cultivation is what is traditionally practised here in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (and parts of the world), usually by indigenous tribes. It’s like a shifting cultivation, also known as ‘slash and burn’ practised on hills and slopes, and was developed as a result of lack of flat agricultural land. A section of forest land is cleared of all natural vegetation, allowed to dry out, and then burned. After a few months seeds are sown, then later down the line, crops are harvested etc. The land is then left for 10-20 years for the natural forest to grow back and for the soil to regain its fertility. Traditionally, the village/community would own/control the forest land and would decide on this jhum pattern/frequency. Thus the community cultivated land for its livelihood while practising conservation and taking care of the ecological balance.

However, with the population pressure, communities wanting to grow more food have cleared greater chunks of forest lands and returned to the fallow plots much sooner than 10-20 years.The length of the fallow phase between two successive cropping phases has come down to even two to three years in some places. This has resulted in soil degradation, fall in yield, lower returns, and reduction in green cover. So these days its a pretty controversial agricultural practice, and something NGOs are trying to move indigenous people away from, with the introduction and training up on new agricultural methods. I can’t vouch for how successful this shift is/will be, as reaching all people in remote areas here in the CHT is quite the undertaking. But certainly a step in the right direction.

Anyway, history/agricultural lesson over. This evening I see some of the cultivation, which (hopefully) isn’t tooo far a walk away. Christ I’m lazy. Needless to say exercise regime has not gained much (any) momentum since return from Bali. Will try harder.


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