An Assessment of Trends in the Extent of Swidden in Southeast Asia
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- Schmidt-Vogt, D., Leisz, S.J., Mertz, O. et al. Hum Ecol (2009) 37: 269. doi:10.1007/s10745-009-9239-0
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.