Shifting Cultivation

Shifting cultivation is an agricultural system in which plots of land are cultivated temporarily, then abandoned. This system often involves clearing of a piece of land followed by several years of wood harvesting or farming, until the soil loses fertility. Once the land becomes inadequate for crop production, it is left to be reclaimed by natural vegetation, or sometimes converted to a different long-term cyclical farming practice. The ecological consequences are often deleterious, but can be partially mitigated if new forests are not invaded. Of these cultivators, many use a practice of slash-and-burn as one element of their farming cycle. Others employ land clearing without any burning, and some cultivators are purely migratory and do not use any cyclical method on a given plot. Sometimes no slashing at all is needed where regrowth is purely of grasses, an outcome not uncommon when soils are near exhaustion and need to lie fallow.

Shifting cultivation used to be the backbone of smallholder agriculture throughout the tropics, but today it is abandoned in many places in favor of large scale cash crop production – e.g. for biofuels, cash crops. The extent of these changes is not well documented because shifting cultivation land rarely appears on official maps and census data seldom identifies shifting cultivators. Moreover, the consequences of these changes for livelihoods (e.g. food security) are not well known. The aim of this project is to analyze the extent and consequences of change in shifting cultivation by combining meta-analyses of existing studies and census data with case studies in selected areas. This interdisciplinary project focuses on: 1) Trends in change in shifting cultivation landscapes and demography and 2) Changes in livelihoods due to these changes. The project will compile data for eight countries (Mexico, Brazil, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Zambia and Tanzania) and the outcome is expected to be relevant to planning and policy-making on land and forest management.

Shifting agriculture, system of cultivation that preserves soil fertility by plot (field) rotation, as distinct from crop rotation. In shifting agriculture a plot of land is cleared and cultivated for a short period of time; then it is abandoned and allowed to revert to its natural vegetation while the cultivator moves on to another plot. The period of cultivation is usually terminated when the soil shows signs of exhaustion or, more commonly, when the field is overrun by weeds. The length of time that a field is cultivated is usually shorter than the period over which the land is allowed to regenerate by lying fallow.

One land-clearing system of shifting agriculture is the slash-and-burn method, which leaves only stumps and large trees in the field after the standing vegetation has been cut down and burned, its ashes enriching the soil. Cultivation of the earth after clearing is usually accomplished by hoe or digging stick and not by plow.

Shifting agriculture has frequently been attacked in principle because it degrades the fertility of forestlands of tropical regions. Nevertheless, shifting agriculture is an adaptation to tropical soil conditions in regions where long-term, continued cultivation of the same field, without advanced techniques of soil conservation and the use of fertilizers, would be extremely detrimental to the fertility of the land. In such environments it may be preferable to cultivate a field for a short period and then abandon it before the soil is completely exhausted of nutrients. See also slash-and-burn agriculture.


Read more about Shifting Cultivation:  Political Ecology of Shifting Cultivation, Shifting Cultivation in Europe, Simple Societies, Shifting Cultivation and Environmental Change, Shifting Cultivation in The Contemporary World and Global Environmental Change, Comparison With Other Ecological Phenomena, Alternative Practice in The Pre-Columbian Amazon Basin

Famous quotes containing the words shifting and/or cultivation:

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