Barring the environmental cost of a tree, this article is purely my thoughts and analysis. Any thought-provoking idea or supplementary to my thoughts would be highly appreciated.
Born and raised in Ukhrul district, Manipur, I have a responsibility to address the issue of current forest destruction triggered by Jhum cultivation. Hitherto, Jhum cultivators mainly grow crops, vegetables and certain spices, and the forest clearing was less. But now, a new trend of forest patch clearing, I called it “neo-jhuming” has started on a large scale, poppy plantation that could prove to be disastrous to the forest ecosystem stability in the long-term.
Jhum cultivation has indeed been a part of our lifestyle or culture since time immemorial. However, the impacts of climate change that are experienced at present in the form of rainfall in odd seasons, rising temperature, dried up springs, crops infestation by new pathogens or pests, have incurred a huge economic loss to our villagers. Reports said that all the districts of Manipur are experiencing changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures affecting the agricultural yield of the state. And, among other causes of climate change, forest destruction is unequivocally one of the major reasons owing to its large-scale destruction in the district.
In this article, I want to specifically address the issue of current widespread poppy cultivation in the forested land of several villages in the district. I will not delve into the debate of whether Jhuming is a boon or bane, as many scholars have been contesting this debate. But, looking at the current trend or rate of forest destruction in our district, I would draw readers’ attention mainly to the cost-benefit analysis, climate change-associated issues, and vulnerability to our future generations.
Need for economic revolution
Economic revolution is inevitable in our region, now or later, to make us wealthier, stronger and powerful. I strongly believe that looking at the socio-economic-political situation of the district and the state, many strong predicaments existwhen weaving our way towardsan industrial revolution in our region, however, there is a propensity of bringing economic revolution, and poppy plantations are undoubtedly one of the key drivers. Many would agree or disagree on this standpoint, I would leave these dichotomous perspectives for the readers to scrupulously ponder upon it.
Is poppy plantation good or bad?
Having said that, I am not encouraging the cultivation here, however, for those who seek economic revolution in a hurry mode, this could be a good option, and the cultivation is advisable only in the already cultivated land in fields, not in the forest. Poppy plantation seems to be one easy method of acquiring handsome income in a short period. However, this cultivation incurs heavy input of fertilizers and water, manpower and investments, and during the rainy season, the rain might carry the fertilizers into the rivers and contaminate it, for which the river is the major drinking source of water in the villages. The drinking of water contaminated with fertilizers could affect lungs, liver and kidneys and even cause related cancer. Unknowingly, some of the villagers might have become a victim of such water contamination.
On the other hand, we also cannot overlook the medical use of poppy extracts for treating cancer patients and other pain killer drugs. In fact, it has saved millions of lives and also has cost millions of lives. Here, I don’t want to delve into the debate of whether poppy plantation is good or bad, I believe everything in this world has its pros and cons, the choice is ours. However, if we look from the perspective of religion, such plantation could be wrong as this contain psychotropic substances that can make a person intoxicated who consume this, probably many youths’ life might be affected from drug abuse or abrupt richness, and this is one of the negative social impacts for which we should not be ignorant about it either.
Below is a rough scientific estimate of the cost of environmental services provided by one tree in 50 years of life-cycle, as calculated by Indian biologist, Professor TM Das, in 2011-12,
Production of oxygen = $ 10,500, conversion to animal flesh and bones = $ 3,000, controlling of soil erosion and soil fertility = $ 10,000, recycling of water and controlling humidity and air, temperature = $ 154,560, sheltering of birch, squirrels & insects = $ 129,700, removal of SPM. CO2, SO2 from air = $ 402,500, grand total = $ 710,260 (₹ 5.4 crore). So, one tree for 50 years cost ₹ 5.4 crore, for 25 years it cost ₹ 2.7 crore, for 10 years it cost ₹ 1 crore and for 5 years it cost ₹ 54 lakh and so on. Now, for easy understanding of the general public, I would calculate for 5 years (₹ 54 lakh) for one tree, then the cost for 100 trees is ₹ 54 crore and for 1000 trees is ₹ 540 crore.
A hypothetical estimation, suppose a cultivator clears 100 trees for poppy plantation and thence the cost incurred is 54 crore and in return, his income from the cultivation is between ₹ 10 and 20 lakh. Here, we observe that the environmental cost isroughly 270 times more than the income of a cultivator. It means we are facing colossaleconomic and environmental loss whenever we clear forest for poppy plantation and the backfired triggered by natural calamities upon us would be innumerable and irreversible.
If we don’t take up adaptation measures or halt forest clearing now, then along with us, the future generations would be severely affected. Our future generations could confront extreme weather conditions, failed agriculture, the infestation of crops by a new variant of pathogens, dried up of forest streams, serious fertilizer-related health issues. Now,it’s our choice whether we protect and care for future generations or not. I want to leave two questions to all the readers; are we part of the problem or are we part of the solution? We should choose wisely; your choice could make all the differences and bring revolutionary development in our villages. We all need to reason together and work accordingly to make our life prosperous, strong and powerful.
Is there any alternative to poppy plantation?
An alternative to the poppy plantation is imperative to minimize or avoid all impending climate catastrophic events awaiting us in the future. Based on our geographical context and lifestyle, the following are some of the recommendations made by the author;
- Cultivation of cash crops on a largescale, for example, cardamom cultivation in the Senapati district, fruits, chilies, etc.
- Adopting the model of progressive villages like Talui, Marem, Nambasi, etc.
- Encouraging youth to take part in competitive examination, ITI and other income-generating skill development programs.
- Business venture or related large-scale animal husbandry projects.
I want to end this piece of article with Mahatma Gandhi quote, “The Earth has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed”.
Dr Mirinchonme Mahongnao is a Senior Fellow Citizens’ Foundation for Policy Solutions, New Delhi. Views are personal.