What Is Shifting Cultivation?

Shifting cultivation is a method that is followed by those who live in humid tropics such as Southeast Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. With the shifting of agriculture in India, farmers were known to cut and burn native plants. Afterward, they would sow the crops for 2-3 successive seasons within the ash-rich soil, but what exactly is shifting cultivation?

Governments all over the world have long wanted to end intensive agriculture, usually referred to as ‘slash and ‘ burn,’ because of the misunderstood belief that it causes deforestation.

Shifting cultivation is where farmers will cut down trees and end up clearing the land for cultivation. It is also known as Swidden agriculture, which refers to the rotational farming technique when the land is cleared for cultivation and then regenerated after only a few years.

For the most part, farmers will add amendments to increase the soil’s nourishment when they are cultivating. In fact, cultivation is a very important part of farming as well as in gardening, however, it is possible to completely overdo it. To ensure you make the best environment for your crops to be able to thrive it’s very important to know when and how to cultivate their specific soils, to learn more keep reading below.

What Are The Types Of Shifting Cultivation?

Shifting cultivation is a pretty low-input kind of system of farming that is practiced mainly by larger areas of humid and subtropical regions. The most common features of shifting cultivation are cycled in forest and savanna lowlands of the tropic regions and even some of the variants of this system are explained.

There are different forms of shifting cultivation that is described and some of them include the following:

  • Slash-and-burn type of shifting cultivation
  • The chitemene system
  • The hmong system
  • Shifting cultivation cycle in Orinoco floodplain
  • The slash-mulch system
  • The plough-in-slash system

The Advantages Of Shifting Cultivation

With this type of cultivation, the crop will actually start to grow much earlier, which means sometimes it can be ready to harvest much sooner. And that means there are no threats or fear of animals potentially destroying the crops. Some other advantages of shifting cultivation include the following:

  • With this farming, soil-borne disease is reduced to highly
  • Harvesting is ready after slash and burn
  • This type of farming is a traditional method that means the plot of land is cleared, burnt, and cultivated
  • This type of farming is a simple and quick preparation method for agriculture and the land
  • Done while using a very small amount of farming equipment
  • It can be very useful for those who live in hilly areas
  • Crops can be developed and harvested easily in a short period of time
  • Without any help using modern methods, the ground regains all of its nutrients
  • No fear of floods or animals destroying crops
  • The mountain streams on the hill provide easy access to water to supply water to the crops on a regular basis

Disadvantages Of Shifting Agriculture

One of the main disadvantages of this type of farming is of course deforestation. It can take many years to build forests, but this method of farming actually destroys them daily just for their livelihood. Deforestation can cause soil erosion, low-lying areas, and flooding rivers.

Because of the heavy population, the land overall that is available for shifting agriculture is decreasing rapidly. Shifting cultivation just on its own increases the load on the land that already exists, which results in more of the nutrients they need is completely lost without being able to replenish the soil.


And larger-scale deforestation can increase the chances of global warming becoming worse. It is actually very uneconomical and can lead to the loss of biodiversity. Shifting cultivation is responsible for decreasing the fertility of the cropland and the land is completely abandoned once the soil is depleted.

This type of farming causes a higher amount of national waste due to the fact that it turns green land into dry barren land. And it can take so many years to replenish the land at the cost of only getting 2-3 years of production. It in fact disturbs and disrupts the ecological balance when it affects many of the ecosystems of the region because of the overall destruction of natural vegetation.

Another really big disadvantage is that the farmers who are using these methods don’t even have ownership of the land. Therefore, they don’t even attempt to initiate soil conservation or improvement.

Shifting Cultivation Example

One example of shifting cultivation took place in India’s Northeastern states. They used the jhum or Jhoom cultivation which is the shifting cultivation practice they use there. Mostly this method is practiced by tribes that live in the Chittagong hill Region of Bangladesh. They have adapted a shifting cultivation system to their hilly habitat.

With their system, the trees are cut and then burned in January. The bamboo, wood, and sapling are then dried in the sun and afterward in about March or April, during that time the land is left clear and ready to be cultivated. Once the land is cleared, planting and reaping begin which include:

  • Sesame
  • Cotton
  • Paddy
  • Watermelon
  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Indian Spinach
  • Eggplant
  • Okra
  • Maise

Since there are an increased number of farmers that are now involved with this method of farming, the traditional 8-year fallow period has decreased. In Bangladesh, the overall threat of newer settlers, the many restrictions on the rainforest, and the submergence of land for damming the Karnafuli River have ultimately reduced over a 10-20 year traditional fallow period. For both of these countries, it has resulted in a reduction in farm productivity, which results in food shortages and many other hardships.

Characteristics Of Shifting Cultivation

Here are some of the many characteristics of shifting cultivation and they include the following:

  • Fire is typically used to clear the land for the cultivation process
  • The system adapts to prevailing circumstances and can be modified as time passes by
  • There is a high diversity in the types of foods that are grown through this method of farming which ensures there will be food all year around.
  • Those who use shifting cultivation usually live in and from the forest, therefore. They often also hunt fish and gather to fulfill their needs for food.
  • Unlike other forest clearings, the land that has been utilized in shifting cultivation seems to regenerate much faster.
  • The selection of the land that’s going to be shifted cultivated isn’t made on an ad hoc basis but instead, plots are selected very carefully

In Summary

Now that you know the end and outs of situated cultivation it’s up to you to decide whether you think it’s a great idea or a bad one. It does have many advantages and its own disadvantages. But it’s determined by who chooses to utilize this method or not.

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