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 state.

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.