, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 39-54

Agroforestry pathways for the intensification of shifting cultivation

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Abstract

As a system of land use which entails the deliberate association of trees with herbaceous field crops in time, shifting cultivation is one of the most ancient, widespread and, until recently, ecologically stable forms of agroforestry. However, under pressure of population and competing uses for land and labour, traditional swidden systems have been observed historically to undergo more or less predictable processes of intensification. Since shifting cultivation is an indigenous form of agroforestry, scientific agroforestry is not, strictly speaking, an ‘alternative’ to shifting cultivation, but rather a systematic approach to the recombination of its basic elements into more intensive, sustainable and politically viable forms of land use, whenever pressures signal the need for change in traditional swidden systems.

Different agroforestry options open up from different stages of intensification in swidden systems. A review of evolutionary typologies of shifting cultivation gives rise to a framework for the identification of agroforestry interventions and development pathways appropriate to specific systems. technological proposals are limited to a short list of the most promising agroforestry interventions in ‘main sequence’ swidden systems. These include ‘integral taungya’, economically and biologically enriched fallows, variations on the “alley cropping” theme, and various tree crop alternatives to annual cropping systems. Examples and quantitative data are cited to substantiate the main hypotheses behind the proposals.