This Is How The New Land Use Policy Has Disrupted The Life Of Women In Mizoram
- IWB Post
- September 12, 2018
Jhum cultivation was the major source of livelihood in Saikaa village in Mizoram until the government introduced the New Land Use Policy in 2011.
A practice of rotating land for cultivation on a temporary basis, jhum is a common agricultural practice among tribal groups in the North Eastern states of India. The practice typically involves cutting, burning and cultivating about half a hectare of bamboo forests without using any chemical fertilisers.
After continuing the practice for five years, the field is then left to rest for the regeneration of the forest. No formal land tenures are owned by the jhum farmers owing to this unique cultivation technique, the knowledge of which is handed down to generations.
However, the New Land Use Policy changes all of this. While as per Pu Hiphei, speaker of the Mizoram Legislative Assembly, the policy aims for land reclamation and forestation by the introduction of permanent farming systems and land reforms, it seems to create more problems.
Under the same policy, the government has been promoting settled farming through oil palm plantations. The promotion of settled farming of palm oil combined with land titling has hit the women hard in Mizoram.
While earlier with shifting cultivation lands, women had equal say and participation in farming, with land titling, women are left out of ownership rights and land-use decision-making.
“I would not have given permission for oil palm plantation, but nobody asked me,” said 50-year-old Ngunchin Sangi of the Mara tribe in Kolasib district in an interaction with Scroll.
She adds, “Farming agricultural crops used to give us food security for our family. Oil palm plantations provide nothing to women. It is squeezing out blood both from my land and my body.”
The process of the palm oil extraction depends mainly on manual labour and this too has been taking a huge toll on women. “Oil palm is a man’s business. At least in jhum farming, we were equal partners. After giving up jhum for oil palm plantations, I’ve no option but to earn my livelihood from artisanal palm oil. Pounding the fruitlets all day hurts my hands and elbows,” explains 45-year-old Rinpui.
Rinpui’s sister-in-law, Sawmi Mas agrees with her as she says, “Approximately 10 clusters are produced in a year by the oil palm plant. Each bunch has about 1,000 to 2,000 fruitlets. With artisanal palm oil, we’ve to manually sort the fruits. Women do the labour-intensive work because we are the one without land rights.”
Sharing how the process is taking a huge toll on her health, 60-year-old Lalsangpuii from Thingdawl village, whose work is to roast crushed oil palm fruits, says, “This red oil palm and betel nuts are not native to Mizoram. It is because of this red palm [that] I’m indoors all day in front of the fire, manually roasting the crushed fruits. The smoke from the firewood stove has led to breathing problems and pain in my shoulders. Earlier I’d walk in forests and work with others in our community farm – it kept us healthy.”
Her entire family is engaged in the artisanal palm oil business. While the young men squeeze the oil out of the roasted fruits, the women are involved in sorting and pounding the fruitlets. The elderly women are left with the task of roasting the fruits and selling the bottled oil which again is a herculean task.
The sales remain largely unorganised. Lalsangpuii shares, “For 10 hours of work, we make maximum eight bottles of oil. It is unrefined and cannot be used for cooking, so we sell it as a beauty massage oil to outstation travellers passing via the main road. If I am lucky, I can sell four bottles a week, each costing between Rs 100 and 150.”
The problems faced by these indigenous women and the subsequent concerns raised by them actually reflect the global scenario of gender disparity when it comes to land rights, especially among indigenous people who live in tropical countries. “This is despite the fact that several studies have shown that women are the main knowledge holders and excellent observers and interpreters of change in the environment,” says Carol Colfer, visiting scholar at Cornell University, who is working on forest, health, and gender.
She adds, “The danger with oil palm is that traditional farming systems, like swiddening, are disrupted permanently. Land tenure is often solidified and handed over to men exclusively as [often externally-defined] heads of the household. Women, who may have had strong or at least reliable access to lands, may suddenly find themselves without such access or rights – as has happened in a number of Asian and other settings when oil palm comes in.”