India — Mizoram has set March 15 as the deadline for burning all abandoned jhum (shifting cultivation) fields so that the farms can be ready for fresh crops before the monsoons arrive in May.
The government has warned that igniting jhum fields after this date would be considered a criminal offence.
The annual practice of setting jhum land ablaze leads to bush fires which destroy forests on the fringe of the farms.
This has led the Mizoram government to sound a fire alarm, especially after repeated appeals from the state fire prevention committee to be cautious while setting the farms on fire.
Forest fires affect 10 of the 14 territorial divisions under the forest department between December and April each year.
A source said during the past three years, at least 17,100 hectares of forests have been swallowed by bushfire.
In early 2009, six farmers were burnt to death when they were engulfed by bush fire in Kolosib and Lunglei districts.
Though 80 per cent of Mizorams farmers are engaged in jhum cultivation, the state agriculture and horticulture departments feel this primitive farming practice is undependable.
Jhum or shifting farmers farm on a land for two to three years and then abandon it after choosing a land nearby.
Experts feel the method is unreliable since it produces Mizorams staple food rice for only four months, forcing the state to depend on subsidised rice from the godowns of the Food Corporation of India for the rest of the year.
There are conflicting opinions on jhum cultivation though. While some experts insist that the ash left after a jhum farm is burnt enrich the land, environmentalists feel it adversely affects soil fertility.