Shifting cultivation is a form of agriculture practiced in the tropics. It is also known as slash and burn agriculture. This type of farming is practiced by indigenous peoples in the Amazon, Central Africa, and Indonesia.
Photo: shifting cultivation (Creative Commons: Richbro).
The Practice of Shifting Cultivation
Slash and burn agriculture is a nomadic farming system. Farmers begin by cutting down the natural vegetation in an area. The vegetation is then burned. This essentially fertilizes the soil by adding nutrients from the vegetation. Agriculturalists usually then grow a variety of vegetable and grain crops.
When the soil is no longer fertile or overgrown with weeds, the land is abandoned. The natural vegetation is allowed to regrow. The farmers move to a new location and begin the process of slash and burn again.
Shifting Cultivation as a Way of Life
Shifting cultivation has been a way of life for many indigenous people in the tropics. To some, it is seen as a primitive form of agriculture. And clearly, it does not produce as much food as modern commercial agriculture.
However, this has been a successful way of life for thousands of years. And, there may be lessons to be learned from these indigenous farmers. One aspect of slash and burn agriculture is that it is sustainable. Sustainable agriculture uses methods that do a minimum of harm to the environment. The method does not require a great deal of money and expensive technology. It is a practical farming technique for peoples without a lot of capital.
Many view this a ‘primitive’ form of agriculture. However, it may provide lessons that more advanced societies might learn from.
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