Shifting cultivation is the most primitive type of subsistence farming. A farmer clears a small piece of land of about half a hectare and plants his crops in this clearing. After a few harvests have been taken from the plot for 1-3 years, crop yields decline and the farmer abandons that particular plot and makes the clearing else where. The shifting cultivator clears land through burning and use of elementary tools like pangas, hoes, digging sticks and through axes.
He then sows seeds in the intermixed ash and soil. Several different kinds of crops are grown on the same piece of land. Little attention is given to crops until they sprout and ripen. When crop yields decline, usually after about three years, the patch is abandoned and a fresh area cleared.
Disadvantages of shifting cultivation
- Soil Degradation: Shifting cultivation involves the practice of clearing and burning forests or vegetation, which leads to the loss of organic matter and nutrients in the soil. Over time, this can result in soil degradation and reduced fertility, making it challenging to sustain agricultural productivity.
- Deforestation and Habitat Loss: Shifting cultivation often involves clearing large areas of natural forests to create agricultural plots. This leads to deforestation and the loss of valuable habitats for various plant and animal species. It contributes to biodiversity loss and can disrupt ecosystems.
- Time and Labor Intensive: Shifting cultivation requires substantial time and effort to clear land for cultivation. As farmers frequently move to new sites, they need to repeat the process of land clearing, which can be time-consuming and labor-intensive. This can limit the time available for other economic activities or crop diversification.
- Limited Economic Development: Shifting cultivation tends to focus on subsistence agriculture rather than cash crops or commercial farming. This can hinder the development of a robust cash-based economy, as the focus is primarily on meeting immediate food needs rather than generating income from agricultural activities.
- Disrupted Infrastructure Development: The transient nature of shifting cultivation, where farmers move from one site to another, can disrupt the development of infrastructure in rural areas. It becomes challenging to establish long-term infrastructure such as roads, schools, healthcare facilities, and other community services, as the population keeps shifting.
- Limited Land Use Efficiency: Shifting cultivation is often associated with low crop yields due to factors like soil degradation, limited time for land preparation, and reliance on traditional farming practices. This inefficiency in land use can result in lower overall agricultural productivity.
- Unsustainable Population Pressure: Shifting cultivation requires ample land availability to support the practice. As populations grow, the availability of suitable land becomes limited, leading to increased pressure on the remaining forested areas or less suitable lands. This can further exacerbate deforestation and contribute to environmental degradation.
It is important to note that while shifting cultivation has its disadvantages, it has also been practiced sustainably by indigenous communities in certain regions, with careful management of land and natural resources. Efforts are being made to develop more sustainable agricultural practices that integrate traditional knowledge with modern techniques to address the challenges associated with shifting cultivation.