Article

Human Ecology

, 37:269

First online:

An Assessment of Trends in the Extent of Swidden in Southeast Asia

  • Dietrich Schmidt-VogtAffiliated withSchool of Environment, Resources and Development, Asian Institute of Technology
  • , Stephen J. LeiszAffiliated withDepartment of Anthropology, Colorado State University Email author 
  • , Ole MertzAffiliated withDepartment of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen
  • , Andreas HeinimannAffiliated withSwiss National Centre of Competence in Research North South, Institute of Geography, University of Berne
  • , Thiha ThihaAffiliated withWalai Rukhavej Botanical Research Institute, Mahasarakam University
  • , Peter MesserliAffiliated withSwiss National Centre of Competence in Research North South, Institute of Geography, University of Berne
  • , Michael EpprechtAffiliated withSwiss National Centre of Competence in Research North South, Institute of Geography, University of Berne
  • , Pham Van CuAffiliated withVietnam National University
  • , Vu Kim ChiAffiliated withVietnam National University
    • , Martin HardionoAffiliated withJl. Bukit Nusa Indah No. 70
    • , Truong M. DaoAffiliated withCenter for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies

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Abstract

Swidden systems consisting of temporarily cultivated land and associated fallows often do not appear on land use maps or in statistical records. This is partly due to the fact that swidden is a diverse and dynamic land use system that is difficult to map and partly because of the practice of grouping land covers associated with swidden systems into land use or land cover categories that are not self-evidently linked to swiddening. Additionally, in many parts of Southeast Asia swidden systems have changed or are in the process of changing into other land use systems. This paper assesses the extent of swidden on the basis of regional and national sources for nine countries, and determines the pattern of changes of swidden on the basis of 151 cases culled from 67 articles. Findings include (1) a majority of the cases document swidden being replaced by other forms of agriculture or by other livelihood systems; (2) in cases where swiddening is still practiced, fallow lengths are usually, but not always, shorter; and (3) shortened fallow length does not necessarily indicate a trend away from swidden since it is observed that short fallow swidden is sometimes maintained along with other more intensive farming practices and not completely abandoned. The paper concludes that there is a surprising lack of conclusive data on the extent of swidden in Southeast Asia. In order to remedy this, methods are reviewed that may lead to more precise future assessments.

Keywords

Swidden cultivation Land use and land cover change Fallow Southeast Asia