Shifting Cultivation

What is Shifting Cultivation?

Shifting cultivation refers to a type of farming in which you use a piece of land for some time and abandon it or change the initial use of the land after a while. Once the land gets to a point it cannot support agricultural practices, the farmer leaves it idle to reclaim its lost fertility. Others convert parcels of land into cyclic farming practices for a long period. Notably, this type of farming is common at individual level. However, in some cases, the entire village can choose to be practice it. According to research, about 250 million people in the world practice shift farming, and rely on it for their daily upkeep.

Understanding the process of shift cultivation

For you to practice shift cultivation, you must go through several stages. In this section of the article, you will discover some of these processes, including what farmers do at every stage. The first stage is identifying the spot where you will apply this type of agricultural system. The selection of this land is important since not every spot can support shifting agriculture. Importantly, it must be near settlements.

The second stage is clearing the land by removing vegetation cover that helps in maintaining soil fertility.  Farmers use axes, machetes and sometimes power saws to cut down tall trees. In the process, the tall trees destroy the older ones, leaving the soil exposed to the other hazards that affect its productivity. After this, farmers burn the debris, destroying organic matter and microbial organisms present in the soil.  The ashes, which are left serve as a source of nutrients whenever it rains.

The area that you clear and prepare for farming is called a swidden. This explains why shifting farming is sometimes called swidden cultivation. This land is always week and can only support productive farming for three years. After this, you have no option but to find another piece of land for farming. At this point, farmers go to the initial stage of finding a new plot and clearing it. This makes the process continuous. They always leave the previous land uncultivated to allow it regain lost value. While this is the case, the spot could take up to twenty years before it recovers the nutrients.

What crops can you use for shifting cultivation?

If you are thinking of shifting cultivation, it is worth noting that not all crops support this system of agriculture. Therefore, a farmer must be keen when deciding on the type of crops to cultivate on the farm. Oftentimes, farmers use these crops for subsistence, meaning that the system is a source of food, which support human life. In addition, it supports more crops even though some do not perform well under this.

Moreover, the crops that villager choose to cultivate vary from village to village because of existing differences in tastes and preferences among farmers and human beings in general. This implies that what village A recognizes to be important could less important or unrecognized in village B.

Besides the type of crop to plant, you should know your climate. Shifting cultivation is not practiced in every climatic condition around the world. In most cases, it is practiced in areas with Humid Low-Latitude. Such areas have high temperatures and experience high rainfalls annually. In case you are in regions that receive low rains, then it might be difficult to practice this type of farming.

Benefits of shifting farming

Shifting cultivation has a wide range of pros and cons. For example, today, land that was previously under this system is declining because of pressure. Due to rising population, it is not possible to set aside land to reclaim its fertility. Critics of shifting farming argues that is contributes to declining forest cover. As farmers clear forests, land remains bear and exposed to erosion. This causes land degradation.

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