Turmeric Farming, a Viable Income Source for Forest-Dependent Farmers in Mizoram, India


In the state of Mizoram in India, an acre of land is capable of producing turmeric worth as much as INR 150,000. Turmeric farmers currently rely on shifting cultivation to farm the precious crop, but with support, they would like to transition to permanent cultivation of turmeric on fertile terraces manured by cow dung. Sustainable turmeric production would also increase the incomes of local families substantially, allowing them to seek alternatives such as LPG gas for reducing their dependence on fuelwood for cooking, further reducing human pressure on local forests.

As part of the reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks in developing countries (REDD+)  programme, solar driers for the drying of raw turmeric have been distributed to local communities in Reiek, a village in Mizoram. In addition, a turmeric processing plant will be installed for local communities in the neighbouring village of Ailwang so that locals can process raw turmeric into the deep orange yellow powder so widely used in Asian cuisine and traditional medicine.

These efforts could contribute to Article 5 of the Paris Agreement, signed during the 22nd Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2015. Entirely devoted to REDD+, the article encourages developed as well as developing countries to conserve and enhance emission sinks and reservoirs, including forests. It also encourages countries to take action towards the implementation of REDD+ activities such as results based payments that give communities a chance to conserve forests. One of the objectives of the regional REDD+ initiative at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) is “working towards a harmonization in the region, an exchange of experience and mutual learning on good REDD+ implementation practices”. 

In order to understand the connection between shifting cultivation, the need for alternative income sources in Reiek, and the possibility of reducing stress on local forests, the REDD+ team recently had a conversation with C Lalduhkima, a famer, and other community members in Reiek. Below are excerpts from the conversation:

C Lalduhkima, a farmer from Reiek, a village in Mizoram, India
Photo: Nabin Bhattarai/ICIMOD

What are major drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Mizoram, India?

Shifting cultivation as well as fuelwood collection are the main drivers of deforestation and forest degradation around our villages. But shifting cultivation for paddy or seasonal vegetables like pumpkin and maize as well as with turmeric, since 2005, is a major contributor to our income. Nearly 70% of the families in Reiek in the project area are involved in some form of shifting cultivation. Nevertheless, paddy cultivation is not really profitable so we prefer turmeric cultivation. With turmeric, we can earn anywhere from INR 100,000 to 150,000 from every acre of land in one year.   

Turmeric cultivation in Reiek
Photo: Nabin Bhattarai/ICIMOD

What would you need to transition from shifting to permanent cultivation? 

We want to settle into permanent cultivation. This would protect forests from degradation, which is also good for the village and its people. In the past, some people did have success with permanent cultivation. They planted ginger by making terraces and using cow-dung. This worked very well. However, due to problems related to marketing, ginger cultivation has now stopped. From this experience, we know that if turmeric is cultivated on terraces with dung, then its growth rate will also be good on the same piece of land year after year. The terraces will also prevent soil erosion, which is common here during rainy season. If we get the support necessary for engaging in the permanent cultivation of turmeric on terraces using dung to increase soil fertility, then the government can also impose restrictions on shifting cultivation to protect forest areas. That is what we would want.

How has the REDD+ programme contributed to your communities so far? 

The REDD+ programme has distributed solar driers in Reiek and neighbouring villages. With these driers, our communities are now able to dry raw turmeric which can be processed into turmeric powder much easier and faster. The Reiek Multipurpose Farming Society also has its own turmeric processing plant which generally purchases the turmeric produced by local communities in the area. Hence, when the turmeric drying process will improve, it will in turn increase the production of turmeric powder, which will incentivize local communities to grow more turmeric. Along with the solar driers, a turmeric processing plant will be installed with the support of the REDD+ programme in Ailwang village. We hope that this will create competition between the two villages which could increase turmeric production as well as the incomes of families in the area. 

Solar drier supported by REDD+ Himalaya project in Reiek village
Photo: Nabin Bhattarai/ICIMOD

How can solar driers support you in conserving the forests around your villages?

Along with shifting cultivation, deforestation is a major driver of deforestation and forest degradation. Every family in our community consumes about 31 kilograms of fuelwood per day, which puts the local forests under a lot of stress. Almost 80% of the families here depend on fuelwood for cooking and heating. We cannot really afford anything else. We could use LPG gas, but we currently get hardly one cylinder a month when we need two to three cylinders to survive. With a higher income from turmeric production, we would be able to buy more LPG gas and we would not be dependent on fuelwood much longer. This will ultimately improve the health of local forests in our area. 

Mahesh Singson, Director, Advanced Research Centre for Bamboo and Rattan (ARCBR), Mizoram, India; Nemit Verma, Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), India; and Nabin Bhattarai, ICIMOD, contributed to the article. ARCBR is the regional centre of ICFRE in Aizawl, Mizoram, and ICFRE is the implementing partner for ICIMOD’s Regional REDD+ Initiative in India.