Title of document: Shifting Forests in Northeast India: Management of Alnus nepalensis as an Improved Fallow in Nagaland. ALDER CHAPTER 30

Authors: Malcolm Cairns, Supong Keitzar, and T. Amenba Yaden

Ministry/Government Agency/Organisation: the India-Canada Environment Facility (ICEF), the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), and the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF)

Year of publication:

Geographic focus: India


This chapter describes an ancient but little-documented example of farmer manipulation of A. nepalensis in Nagaland, Northeastern India, which has enabled a significant intensification of the swidden cycle without concomitant ecological decline (see color plate 35). It offers a hypothesis that this intensification was partly prompted by security concerns in an atmosphere of intertribal warfare and headhunting, and gives a brief cultural profile of the main innovators, the Angami Nagas. Much of the historical detail is drawn from early reports by the British colonial government. These provide rich insights into the people of Nagaland and the historical environment that spawned the innovation of alder fallows. The chapter then focuses on a village in Kohima District of Nagaland as a case study, and provides a description of standard jhum cultivation as it is practiced in the region as well as a more detailed diagnosis of the alder fallow innovation. It draws on these findings to elucidate pertinent research issues and to examine the role this system could play in enabling intensification of shifting cultivation in a sustainable way across a broader landscape.


If Asia-Pacific’s forest remnants and their contained biodiversity are to be protected, and swidden communities are to be afforded a better standard of living, pathways toward stabilizing and enhancing the productivity of stressed swidden systems are urgently needed. One of the most promising approaches to identifying biophysically workable and socially acceptable innovations is to document and understand indigenous adaptations toward improved fallow management.