The Effect Of Shifting Cultivation

Project and Seminar Material for Agricultural Economics and Extension

The Effect Of Shifting Cultivation

Chapter One


Background To The Study

Shifting cultivation in general, is a system of farming in which fields are prepared by cutting down the natural vegetations. Letting it dry and burning it off. This technique serves to clear the field and enrich the soil with nutrients from the ash. Shining cultivation fields are generally used not more than two years at a lime, after which the fanners move to a new area and repeat the process. The practice of shifting cultivation is accepted as an early stage of the agricultural evolution. This form of cultivation is still widely practised in different parts of the world. As this practice dates back to the earliest times, it is thus regarded as primitive and archaic and thereby it is said to have ‘survived longest’ (Rolwey-Conl, W. Y, 2004).

The shifting field agriculture is characterized by ill rotation of’ fields rather than of crops, with short period of cropping alternating and long fallow period, and clearing by means of slash-and-burI.1. The practice of shifting cultivation is also referred to as slash-md-burl1.

In Nepal, the shifting cultivation’ has various local names, such as Khoriya, bhasme, Ihose’, and, so on. In this study, t he researcher used the local term ‘Khoriya’ and the general term ‘shifting cultivation’ interchangeably. In this study, the researcher intend to review different approaches and perspectives to study the shifting cultivation. Finally, the researcher would present some arguments as the major findings of my own field study (Dhakal 2009) in the Arun valley of eastern Nepal’. The study, as the researcher expect, will shed some light on how shifting cultivation has been approached and studied. It further intensify to enhance the way of understanding how possibly the practice of shifting cultivation might be approached in a particular context.

Spencer (2006) observed that ‘it is culture and cultural history, rather than physiography, which dictate the broad environmental location of shifting cultivation as a cropping system’ (Spencer 2006). And many have argued and agreed upon that it is ‘a special stage in the evolution from hunting and food gathering to sedentary fanning’ (Geertz 2004), hence, it is an ‘ancient’, ‘primitive system’, therefore a ‘remnant of the past…’ (Spencer 2006, Found 2007: 2, Keesing & Strathern 2008). Spencer further maintains that ‘there are evidences to suggest that it spread progressively across almost the whole of southern and eastern Asia, Europe, and humid Africa in the early stage of settlement of these regions by agricultural folk’ (2006).

Although there is a long history of the practice of shifting cultivation, very little has been studied or explored in the anthropological context. Even up to the present, very little is known about the geographical range, characteristics, socio-cultural as well as ideological contexts, and diversity and dynamics of shining cultivation. This is because the studies of shifting cultivation have been limited to simple description of practices and its ecological consequences. There has been very little attempt to compare. Analyse, and classify them. Very few studies have been carried out with regard to the shifting cultivation (Shrestha 2009, Bajracharya el. al. 2003, Subedi 2004). These studies are basically concerned with the ecological and economic aspects of the shifting cultivation. These studies hardly look shifting cultivation as an integral part of social cultural practices with a cultural historical perspective. Therefore, efforts have yet to be made in order to understand shifting cultivation as a whole system of deriving a living from a particular environment Shifting Cultivation and Evolution of Agriculture:

It is certainly not an easy task to trace its historical background. However, it is argued that this type of agriculture was the simplest form of agriculture and was practiced by the earliest farmers. Today, such a different type of agricultural system can be observed throughout the globe in the tropical areas. The practice, however, varies greatly from place to place and from one group of people to another. Terry B. Grandstaff (2001) argues that the people who have used this form of cultivation for a long time have developed a highly rational system. Generally, the practice of shifting cultivation is viewed as ‘a technology that was practised in virtually every arable area of the earth during earlier historical periods but today survives as a major food producing method only in tropical region’ (Padoch & Vayda2003). Some even view that in terms of land use pattern shifting cultivation evolved to circumvent major problems of tropical agriculture like soil erosion, low nutrient status and pest pressure (Spencer 2006). In defence of this line of logic. Subash-Chandran maintains that the brief period of utilization. Small size of the plots and far-reaching preservation of the original surface roughness and soil texture due to residual tree stumps, absence of levelling prevent intensive erosion (Subash Chandran 2008).

Geertz summarized the distinctive features of shifting cultivation as, (i.) it is practised on a very poor soils, (ii.) it represents an elementary agricultural technique which utilizes no tool except the axe and the hoe. (iii.) it is marked by a low density of population. and, (iv.) It involves a low level of consumption (Geertz 2004). This type of cultivation is thus associated with traditional societies of low population density in regions of low soil fertility, such as the Amazon rainforest. Though recent theories have suggested that the system of shifting agriculture combined with hunting and gathering strategies may. in fact, permit much greater population densities and a greater degree of sedentarism and varying degree of intensification of labour input than was previously believed (Found 2007, Keesing & Slrathem 2008).

However, shifting cultivators are considered to be one of the primary agents for transforming the forested landscape into cultivable and cultural one. Historically, therefore, shifting cultivation has been one of the processes transforming wild. forested landscape into cultural landscape. In a strict epistemological sense, we cannot understand the past except via our present knowledge of process and events operating in the present (Watson 2009). This does not mean that every trait that existed in the past must have an analogy in the present. Nevertheless, the study like this can provide a wider socio-cultural context to analyse and explain archaeological data from specific sites. In the similar manner, the study might be used as a case study to test the hypothetical explanation of processes and procedures thought to have occurred in specific prehistoric communities.

Shifting cultivation is a very popular agricultural practice especially in the tropics. Christanty (2006) defined it as an agricultural system which is characterized by a rotation of field rather than of crops, short period of cropping (one to three years) alternated with long fallow period (up to twenty or more years, but often as short as six to eight years); and clearing by means of slash and burn. However, land used for agriculture and nonagricultural purposes have created land scarcity, leading to shorter fallow periods. In many cases, farmers have reduced their fallow periods below the sustainable level necessary to maintain an ecological balance under shifting cultivation (Harwood, 2006; Adesina et al., 2000; Brady,

2006; Essama-Nssah et al., 2002), thereby making the traditional sustainable slash and burn agriculture unsustainable and environmentally degrading.

The increase in human populations and urbanization particularly in the developing countries, have put tremendous pressure on land. As human populations continue to grow, land use intensity increases, and the negative effects of deforestation are likely to worsen (Chazdon, 2003). The extension of arable cropping for increased food production has been directly responsible for the reduction in forested areas. Reports have shown that 40% of the land surface of the earth was converted into cropland and permanent pasture by early 1990s (Rajiv and Upandhyay, 2009). Due to increase in human populations, fallow periods of shifting cultivation have drastically reduced, making the farmland to be infertile or

less fertile. As a result, the hunger for fertile forested lands is on the increase just to meet the demand for food security in the rural areas and to improve the economic situation of the rural dwellers.

Although, shifting cultivation is estimated to support the livelihoods of some 300-500 million people worldwide (Brady, 2006), the slash and burn tendency especially where fallow periods have drastically reduced due to increasing populations, has grave implications for trees and the majority of people that depend on them. The dependence of people on trees and forests is unlimited. More than 25 percent of the world’s population – an estimated 1.5 billion people – relies on forest resources for their livelihoods, and of these almost 1.2 billion live in extreme poverty (World Bank, 2001). Given the importance of trees to the environment

and rural livelihoods, the need for empirical ecological knowledge that will aid a systematic understanding of the impact of land use intensification through shifting agriculture, on tree populations, cannot be overemphasized.

Statement Of Problem

Shifting cultivation is said to be one of the unsustainable land uses contributing significantly to environmental degradation in Nigeria (Luoga, 2000; Zahabu, 2008). Clearing forests for shifting cultivation can contribute to climate change, biodiversity loss, reduced timber supply, flooding, siltation, soil degradation and change of forest vegetation from primary to secondary and eventually to grassland (Holden, 2001).

In the past, shifting cultivation was not considered to be amongst unsustainable agricultural practices due to long fallow period allowing enough time for regeneration (Luoga, 2000). Today due to increased population pressure, high demand of cereals and growth of urban markets for forest products shifting cultivation has been intensified with fallow period reduced from 25 years to less than 3 years (Luoga, 2000; Mwampamba, 2009; Nduwamungu et al., nd).

Despite the fact that shifting cultivation was identified long time ago as a threat to tropical forests (FAO 1999) to date there is limited information to demonstrate its impact on forest cover change and nutrients dynamics in Nigeria. The few studies which have been conducted were based on assessment on the impacts of shifting cultivation on biodiversity and carbon in high forests (Mwampamba, 2009) and other researchers are based on general overview of the contribution of shifting cultivation to deforestation in Kitulangalo Forest Reserve (Luoga,2000; Nduwamungu et al.,nd) Either, shifting cultivation has always been linked to decline in soil fertility. However, there is limited information with regards to dynamics of essential nutrients in areas practicing shifting cultivation. The information on nutrients dynamics at different fallow ages and cultivation duration is even scarcer (Diekmann, 2004). Also other factors which can contribute to shifting cultivation, such lack of proper farming techniques, site and crop matching, weak land tenure in acquiring land remain largely untested.

Objective Of The Study

The overall objective: To address the contribution of shifting cultivation on forest cover change and nutrients dynamics in Nigeria through comparison of forests with and without shifting cultivation and forests under different fallow age and cultivation history in selected parts of Nigeria

Specific Objectives;

  1. To identify the socio- economic drivers of shifting cultivation
  2. To asses nutrients status of fields under different fallow age and cultivation history
  3. To asses forest cover change due to shifting cultivation since 1980s,
  4. To determine the role of institution for prevention and control of shifting cultivation
  5. To assess the perception of local people toward shifting cultivation
  6. To assess the effects of crops under shifting cultivation on nutrients dynamics

Research Questions

Why do farmers practice shifting cultivation?

  1. What is the role of formal and informal institutions on control and prevention of shifting cultivation?
  2. What is the effect of shifting cultivation on forest cover?
  3. How does nutrients and vegetation recovery vary on farms at different fallow periods?
  4. How does cultivation period and fallow age correlated to soil nutrient dynamics?

Significance Of The Study

This study is expected to bridge this information gap. The findings will contribute towards understanding of the dynamics of forest cover and soil nutrition in areas practicing shifting cultivation.

Given the importance of trees to the environment and rural livelihoods, the need for empirical knowledge that will aid a systematic understanding of the impact of land use intensification through shifting agriculture, on tree populations, cannot be overemphasized.

The study was a step in that direction. The importance of the study is that it will help to find out the abundance of uncultivated forestland and arable farmlands of different ages.

This study will also help to ascertain the agriculture on tree diversity; and to determine the extent of tree species compositional variation between the uncultivated forestland and different chronosequences of cultivated lands; and lastly, to ascertain the extent of change in individual tree populations due to varying degrees of shifting cultivation.

This study will also find out how farmers relate their farming practices to various environmental consequences. And how different crops under shifting cultivation affect soil nutrient?

Scope Of The Study

The study is set out to find out the effect of shifting cultivation on agricultural land a case study of Ovia North East Local Government of Edo State. Five communities were selected in Ovia North East Local Government they include; Ekiadolor Village, Okokhuo Community, Ekoabetu Community, Iyowa Community and Iguikhimwin Community.

The Effect Of Shifting Cultivation

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The Effect Of Shifting Cultivation


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