What is Shifting Cultivation
As mentioned before, shifting cultivation involves farmers routinely changing the field that they are growing crops on. This process is to entice the fields to replenish themselves with their nutrients after harvesting crops in a process known as fallowing the fields. This means that while the fields are indeed arable at this time, farmers let them be. This farming technique has been used many many years ago and is still used till this very day.
Past Shifting Cultivation Practices
A lot of past practices involved the Slash-and-Burn method. This is a method where a farmer would cut down all of the vegetation in a prospective field and leave it to dry. This brush, known as swiddden, is burned. This process leaves behind a very lush and fertile soil. Farmers use this soil to grow crops and repeat this process. While the arable soil is fallowing, farmers will shift to another patch of fertile soil and begin growing new crops. This back and forth method ensures that farmers get the most out of the land. Despite this being an old method of farming, the technique is still utilized throughout the world especially in LICS (Low Income Countries).
Despite the aforementioned complexities however, deforestation remains one of the concerning disadvantages of the slash-and-burn method of shifting cultivation. The land has to be burned again and again until there is no more nutrients left in the land. This process can leave quite a large expanse of land damaged and even non-fertile. This problem is amplified massively when commercial farming is taken into account.
Modern Day Shifting Cultivation Practices
The slash-and-burn method of shifting cultivation while problematic and controversial, is still often employed throughout the world. This is especially the case in countries such as India, Indonesia and many other southeast Asian and rural African countries.
A new philosophy about shifting cultivation and it’s consequences has developed where people are now exploring the idea that the practice in and of itself is not the harmful agent. What this means going forward is that this practice can be improved rather than terminated. Simple modern day solutions to fix some of the cons of shifting cultivation are:
- The introduction of Agro forestry practices where farmers care for the land while implementing shifting cultivation practices.
- Introduce a new variety of crops and commercial tree species that can be grown alongside crops in order to promote and enhance soil fertility while reducing soil erosion.
- Simply educating farmers to some of the long term consequences of the practice of shifting cultivation.
This are just a few of the known modern interventions against the cons of shifting cultivation around the world. As time progresses, there will inevitably be more innovations that will hopefully satisfy farmers and consumers of agricultural product.
Breaking Down Shifting Cultivation
While the practice of shifting cultivation is concerning because of it’s cons, it also has it’s share of benefits. Some of the pros of shifting cultivation regardless of modern or previous implementations include:
- Crops can be produced at a much faster rate because of the fertile nature of the soil.
- Before the soil becomes unfertile, it helps the soil gain back it’s nutrients naturally.
- The usage of shifting cultivation reduces the use of pest control chemicals which helps environmental health.
These pros of shifting cultivation are apparent and add to complexities of the issue. In other words, the concerns of this agricultural practice are extremely important and urgent. While it does have it’s share of advantages, it still has solid concerns if the practice continues the way it is now. The future of this industry, especially in poorer countries, relies on people coming up with better solutions to improve this practice for farmers and their consumers.