Shifting cultivation is a type of cultivation in which an area is cultivated temporarily for a period of time which differs from place to place and then abandoned for some time so that it restores nutrients in the plot naturally. This is very essential for the fertility of the land.
It is a primitive method of cultivation which was practiced in the Neolithic period, from 13,000 to 3,000 B.C. It may be the first method which is adopted by Neolithic man to cultivate and to use soil to produce crops. But the probability of it being the first method is still a matter of debate as it has been only proved through some records but still it’s as certainty is a matter of doubt.
This type of cultivation is generally practiced in the northern region of India, which includes the states like Assam, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh. It is mainly practiced in Hilly areas. Other than India, it is also practiced in rain forest of South America, central and western and south east India.
It is also known as slash-and –burn agriculture.
First the farmer clears the land which he has to cultivate. He then removes all the plants and vegetation from the land. He burns all these vegetation in a controlled way. Whenever the rain comes, it washes the ashes of plants into the soil and in this way the soil fertility enriches as potash is added to the soil.
This cleared land which is now perfect for cultivation is called Swidden and for the next two to three years fit for the crop-production. Holes are dug in the soil in which seeds are sowed by generally female workers without any plough. They just accomplish this task with the help of simple instruments like dibblers or digging sticks.
Females and children work together to raise the crops for their sustenance. After three years when the fertility of the soil starts decreasing and does not support the soil to nourish the crops. They abandon the lands and start cultivating the other land. They leave that old land to allow it to regain its fertility naturally so that they can cultivate it after fifteen to twenty years.
In different regions of India, it is known by different names for e.g. slash-and-burn agriculture, migratory primitive agriculture, nomadic agriculture, hoe and burn agriculture and in north-east India, it is known as ‘Jhumming’ or ‘Jhum’ cultivation.
Many countries have discontinued this practice for more advance technological farming. India’s cultivators are still practicing this traditional method in North-eastern states, Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Odisha is the state having largest area under the shifting cultivation.
Previously lands were left for 20 years for replenishment but now-a-days due to high population it is reduced to much lower 4-6 years.
Mostly cultivators who are practicing this method have used it for the purpose so that they can sustain their lives and eat two square meals. They produce large varieties of crops from the same field for themselves only. Crops like food gains, vegetables, paddy, beans, millets etc. are generally grown.
Advantages of shifting Cultivation
- It is very useful for the people living in hilly areas. It is the easiest way to cultivate their crops. Small bushes and weeds can be easily removed with small manual instrument.
- Within short period of time crops can be easily produces and harvested.
- No danger of flood or drought as stream water in hills can easily irrigate this land regularly.
- It helps the used land to get back all lost nutrients naturally without any help from the modern methods of replenishing the soil.
- It saves a wide range of resources as only a small plot is used for such cultivation.
- This method is environmental friendly as it is organic.
- It reduces the environmental degradation.
- Soil borne diseases also decreases by using this method.
- It reduces the use of pest control medicine.
Disadvantages of shifting agriculture
- Destruction of forest is the biggest disadvantage of this type of cultivation. Forest takes years to build but this method destroy them in a day for their own motives of livelihood for example in Cherrarpunji, Meghalaya this type of cultivation has turned and evergreen forest belt into a dry and brown land.
- Destruction of forest causes heavy soil erosion which in turn causes flood in rivers and low-lying areas.
- Due to heavy population, the land provided for shifting agriculture is declining. The burden on existing land available for such kind of cultivation increases which results in the loss of more nutrients from the soil without replenishing it.
- Large scale of deforestation increases global warming also.
- It is uneconomical.
- It leads to the loss of bio-diversity.
- This method is responsible for reducing the soil-fertility of crops as the land is abandoned when the soil is exhausted.
- Shifting cultivation causes a high national waste as it converts the green land into a barren land. The land takes many years to replenish just at the cost of providing yield for 2 to 3 years.
- It upsets the ecological balance as it disturbs many eco-systems of that region due to destruction of natural vegetation.
- One more disadvantage is that the cultivators do not have any private ownership of land. Therefore they do not take any initiative for soil-conservation and improvement.
- Farmers should be given education so that they can understand the harmful effects of shifting cultivation.
- Afforestation should be stated again to replenish the large abandoned are of land.
- Close monitoring of the land should be done to keep a check on the land under such cultivation.
- The practice of Agro forestry should be encouraged in which both the crops and the tall trees are cared by farmers simultaneously.
- It is almost impossible to completely check Shifting cultivation in some parts of India like Nagaland. But we can find a solution to it. Instead of restricting this method it can be improved. A new variety of crop or commercial tree species can be grown as an additional crop which increases soil fertility and reduces soil erosion.
All the solutions vary region to region. It’s only government and cultivators together who can find solutions of the problems of that areas.