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shifting cultivation

  Minimally, shifting cultivation is an agricultural system characterized by a rotation of fields rather than of crops, by discontinuous cropping in which periods of fallowing are typically longer than periods of cropping, and by the clearing of fields (usually called swiddens) through the use of slash and burn techniques. Known by a variety of terms (including field-forest rotation, slash and burn, swiddening), shifting cultivation is widespread throughout the humid tropics, but was also practised in temperate Europe (Conklin, 1962). It is estimated that there are over 250 million shifting cultivators world-wide, 100 million in South-east Asia alone. Shifting cultivation is enormously heterogeneous and subtypes can be distinguished according to crops raised, crop associations and successions, fallow lengths, climatic and edaphic conditions, field technologies, soil treatment and the mobility of settlement. Many distinguish between integral (shifting cultivation as an integral part of subsistence) and partial (shifting cultivation as a technological expedient for cash cropping, see peasants) forms of shifting cultivation (Conklin, 1962). In all shifting cultivation systems the burning of cleared vegetation is critical to the release of nutrients, which ensures field productivity. Shifting cultivation by definition is land-extensive and is threatened by population growth and expanding land settlement (see carrying capacity; intensive agriculture). (MW)

Reference Conklin, H. 1962: An ethnoecological approach to shifting cultivation. In P. Wagner and M. Mikesell, eds, Readings in cultural geography. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 457-64.



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