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The right to practice shifting cultivation as a traditional occupation in Nepal : A case study to apply ILO Conventions Nos. 111 (Employment and Occupation) and 169 (Indigenous and Tribal Peoples)
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Many indigenous peoples (or nationalities) in Nepal practice shifting cultivation; it is their traditional occupation and part of their cultural identity. It is an integrated farming system, locally known as khoriya or basme, and considered by many as the only viable option for the steep slopes they inhabit. Government and development organization, however, find it unproductive and wasteful of natural resources and see it as a sign of underdevelopment. This has resulted in a hostile policy environment, which either discourages shifting cultivation or ignores its existence. Recent research, however, has found that the unsupportive policy environment is the main reason for increased poverty and land degradation in shifting cultivation areas, rather than inappropriate land use by the farmers themselves.
Two cases were analysed as part of the study. One is the case of Sankhuwasabha district, where shifting cultivation is most commonly practiced by the Sherpa, Rai and Shingsa indigenous nationalities. The other is the case of the Chepang indigenous nationality that practices shifting cultivation mainly in Dhading, Gorkha, Chitwan and Makwanpur districts. A policy review was also undertaken, in order to come up with useful recommendations. It included the current policy environment and debate on shifting cultivation, tenure and management of land and other natural resources, on indigenous peoples and on poverty alleviation and social inclusion.
Several issues emerge when the ground-reality of the cases is compared with the rights protected in the conventions. The key issues found to be related to the right to practice shifting cultivation were: rights to land, natural resources and minerals; displacement; access to (government) services and facilities, health care, education and vocational training (including agricultural and forestry extension); access to employment, employers’ and workers’ organisations, and traditional economies; consultation and participation in decision-making; customs, traditions and customary law; the need for special measures and undoing past harm; and governments’ responsibilities.
Most issues will remain relevant even if (ex-shifting cultivators decide to engage in other occupations or use the land for other purposes. Even when shifting cultivators are forced to look for alternative options, they should be given the right inputs and opportunities to diversify their occupations. As it is, they often end up discriminated against and vulnerable to exploitation in the mainstream labour market. The Conventions in question were found to be very applicable, although capacity building is needed to spread awareness on their content and effective application on a wider scale.
ILO ,   (2008 )
Type / Script:
Progress Report in English
Thematic Group:
 ILO : International Labor & Labor
04.02.01  -  Crop Management
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