Exploring trajectories of shifting-cultivation landscapes through games the case of Assam, India.


Understanding landscape change starts with understanding what motivates farmers to transition away from one system, shifting cultivation, into another, like plantation crops, given that they often have limited labour and money available. In this study we explored the resource allocation strategies of the farmers of the Karbi tribe in Northeast India, who practise a traditional shifting cultivation system called jhum. Through Companion Modelling, a participatory modelling framework, we developed a model of the local farming system in the form of a role playing game. Within this environment local jhum farmers participated in a simulation that covered 18 years of farming, while also allowing us to analyse the impacts of their decisions together. 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. When given new opportunities, the farmers were eager to embrace those 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 the household living standards, and especially on the education of the next generation. The landscape changed profoundly as a result of the farmer 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. However, old practises that ensure food security are not yet given up.

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