188.8.131.52 Shifting Cultivation
Shifting cultivation is a type of farming in which the land
under cultivation is periodically shifted so that fields that
were previously cropped are left fallow and subject to the
encroaching forest. It is an original method of making use
of land and can still be found today in the tropical rain
forests. Shifting cultivation in the narrower sense means
shifting both the land under cultivation and the settlement.
More recently, however, the tendency has been to shift only
the land that is cropped while the settlement remains permanent
due to the increasing population density and influence of
The land is common property and is controlled by social groups,
usually tribes. The chieftain or land priest designates land
to the individual families for their use. The land is cleared
by cutting down the trees and burning the land. This land
is cropped for several years and then left forest fallow while
another piece of land is cleared. The regeneration period
maintains the fertility of the land if it leasts long enough-in
other words, if the population is very small. In this case,
such extensive usage suffices, with limited input, to enable
a meager, self sufficient existence.
Labour is carried out by the family and is designated according
to a culturally specific division of labour. Usually, the
men clear the land whereas the women are responsible for planting,
cultivation, and- in modern forms- marketing. This basically
egalitarian social system is restricted to small groups, particularly
families and tribes in which all needs can be satisfied and
there is a strong solidarity, The groups practicing shifting
cultivation have little contact with the new national states.
At a time when the land was only sparsely settled, this system
allowed a secure and lasting existence at a low level. There
was no landless class, no land speculation and exploitation
on the basis of private ownership, and the fertility of the
land was maintained.
In recent times, the population increases in many regions
have made it necessary to clear land more and more frequently
and cut down on the time when the land is left fallow and,
thus, endangered the fertility of the soil. An adjustment
through tribal wars between tribes controlling a lot of land
and tribes with little land is hardly possible today. The
continual shifting of the settlements and fields hinders building
up an infrastructure. The growing cities' demand for foodstuffs
can only be satisfied with difficulty as it is hardly possible
to intensify production while using this system.
A transition of this system that no longer complies with
today's demands, however, would meet with tremendous problems.
It would necessitate the new states intervening in the traditional
rights of the tribes. There is also a lack of suitable concepts.
The concept that has been most frequently discussed to date
is the individualization of rights in land. This, however,
is a Western model that is so alien to the indigenous culture
that it is only practiced hesitatingly.