Link: Skip banner
Commodity Intelligence Report
March 16, 2006

India: Northeast India Fires

The ongoing hot and dry conditions currently affecting India's agriculture regions are lowering production potential. From modern wheat production areas of northwest India (see article: Excessive Heat Stresses Wheat Crop) to northeastern regions marked by indigenous agricultural practices, below normal precipitation and high temperatures are wreaking havoc. Intense fires in the northeast state of Mizoram are being monitored by FAS with satellite imagery. The following map shows the location of India's northeast states that practice slash and burn agriculture.

Map of NE India States

Using data from the MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer), hot spots are identified as part of the NASA Rapid Response program. MOD'S is a key instrument aboard the Terra and Aqua satellites, part of NASA's Earth Observing System (EOS). Terra MODIS and Aqua MODIS are viewing the entire Earth's surface every 1 to 2 days, acquiring data in 36 spectral bands, or groups of wavelengths.

Data from the satellites reveal numerous fires in the Mizoram and surrounding Indian states of Tripura, Assam, Manipur, and along the border with Myanmar. The following image map of northeast India shows the location of the numerous large fires on March 8, 2006.

MODIS image map

Slash and burn shifting cultivation, or locally known as jhum, is the predominant form of agriculture in the hill tracts of northeast India. Jhum, or jhumming, is a traditional agricultural practice still in use in northeast India and Myanmar and is a way of life for many of the people in the region, Jhume refers to the set of techniques for clearing land through the burning off of natural vegetation, clearing burnt material, and sowing crops. It is cyclical process, with the land going fallow for several years after a period of cultivation. The length of time the land is allowed to go fallow influences whether bamboo stands or trees establish themselves on the formerly cultivated land. Shorter fallow periods of 4 to 5 years result in large stands of bamboo, rather than the native forest trees, repopulating the area.   

The burning operations and land preparation occur from February to March. Towards the end of April near the full moon, paddy rice is sown. The crops grown in the jhum are mixed, with paddy rice being the principal crop, There are early and late paddy crops with the latter providing the larger share of production. In Mizoram crops totally depend on monsoon water due to the lack of irrigation facilities. As a result, yield per hectare is quite low. Other major crops in the state include maize, pulses, mustard, sesame, and cotton.

This year there appears to be a rise in the number of fires due in part to the drier conditions in Mizoram. Since the preferred period for slash and burn is February and March, and this generally coincides with the dry and windy months of the year, incidences of fires spreading beyond the boundaries of designated plots into the adjoining forests are not uncommon. In extreme cases, such fires may even destroy entire villages or hamlets.

Though careful and experienced in the management of these burning operations, farmers practicing jhum this year are faced with usually dry conditions leading to fires expanding beyond control boundaries. Precipitation is less than 50 percent of normal with wind speeds of 10 to 12 knots, creating a fire prone environment for the traditional farmers of northeast India.

Current USDA area and production estimates for grains and other agricultural commodities are available on PECAD's Agricultural Production page or at PSD Online.

For more information contact Jim Crutchfield | | (202) 690-0135

Close Window