GUWAHATI: The Centre's National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) can help the state governments of the Northeast to stop jhum (shifting) cultivation in the Northeast, said an expert of the oil palm sector on Sunday.
Jhum cultivation has associated problems such as acute soil erosion and fast depletion of the valuable fertile topsoil, loss of flora and fauna, reducing water for drinking and irrigation, siltation of lakes and rivers, consequent floods, loss of valuable forest etc.
"The oil palm cultivation is the only way to stop jhum cultivation in the Northeast. It will also stop encroachment in the forest land," Nasim Ali, a consultant on palm oil production and plantation development, said.
"There is a huge potential to grow oil palm sustainably through farmers without touching any forest cover," Ali, who was the chief executive officer (CEO) of the oil palm plantation wing of Godrej Agrovet Ltd, said.
Ali rejected the overwhelming consensus among environmentalists that palm oil is detrimental to the ecology of the Northeast, which is rich in biodiversity and home to several endangered flora and fauna.
On August 18, the Union Cabinet approved Rs 11,040-crore National Mission on Edible oils -Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) with a special thrust for the Northeast to promote palm cultivation extensively and incentivize palm oil production.
The NMEO-OP aims to bring 6.5 lakh hectares of land under palm cultivation; of this 3.28 lakh hectares will be in the Northeast.
However, many environmentalists believe that replacing the wildlife habitats with palm oil risks the elimination of globally significant plants and wild animals. The palm oil plantations lead to permanent loss of forest cover.
Quoting the report of the Forest Survey of India, Ali said there was an increase in 549 sq km and 765 sq km in forest cover during 2009-11 and 2017-19 respectively. "This is mainly due to shortening of jhum cultivation cycle and biotic pressure.
"In 2007, the Tripura government considered that it cannot eradicate Jhum cultivation until and unless jhumias get an alternative livelihood. There were 20,000 jhumias in the state in 2007. Later, the tribal families got rehabilitated through rubber plantations with the help of jhumias successfully. It provided a steady source of income for them," he said.
"Oil palm cultivation will improve the socio-economic condition of farmers and local people under the NMEO-OP," he said.
"Oil palm is no more a monoculture in the country and the crop will give assured returns during the gestation period and thereafter to the growers," he also said.
The expert said that the water requirement for palm plantation in one hectare is less than that of rice and sugarcane.