Exploring Livelihood Strategies of Shifting Cultivation Farmers in Assam through Games
Bos, S.P. M.; Cornioley, T.; Dray, A.; Waeber, P.O.; Garcia, C.A.
Sustainability 12(6): 2438
Understanding landscape change starts with understanding what motivates farmers to transition away from one system, shifting cultivation, into another, like plantation crops. Here we explored the resource allocation strategies of the farmers of the Karbi tribe in Northeast India, who practice a traditional shifting cultivation system called jhum. Through a participatory modelling framework, we co-developed a role-playing game of the local farming system. In the game, farmers allocated labour and cash to meet household needs, while also investing in new opportunities like bamboo, rubber and tea, or the chance to improve their living standards. Farmers did embrace new options where investment costs, especially monetary investments, are low. Returns on these investments were not automatically re-invested in further long-term, more expensive and promising opportunities. Instead, most of the money is spend on improving household living standards, particularly the next generation's education. The landscape changed profoundly based on the farmers' strategies. Natural ecological succession was replaced by an improved fallow of marketable bamboo species. Plantations of tea and rubber became more prevalent as time progressed while old practices ensuring food security were not yet given up.