SLASH-AND-BURN AGRICULTURE, or FIRE–FALLOW CULTIVATION, is a
farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a
forest or woodland to create a field called a _swidden_. (Preparing
fields by deforestation is called _assarting _.) In subsistence
agriculture , slash-and-burn typically uses little technology. It is
often applied in shifting cultivation agriculture (such as in the
Amazon rainforest ) and in transhumance livestock herding.
Slash-and-burn is used by 200–500 million people worldwide. In
2004 it was estimated that in
Brazil alone, 500,000 small farmers each
cleared an average of one hectare (2.47105 acres) of forest per year.
The technique is not scalable or sustainable for large human
populations. Methods such as
Inga alley farming have been proposed as
alternatives which would cause less environmental degradation .
* 1 History
* 2 Historical references
* 2.2 Modern Western world
* 2.2.1 Northern European heritage
* 2.3 South Asia
* 3 Ecological implications
* 4 See also
* 5 References
* 6 Further reading
Historically, SLASH-AND-BURN cultivation has been practiced
throughout much of the world, in grasslands as well as woodlands .
Neolithic Revolution , which included agricultural
advancements, groups of hunter-gatherers domesticated various plants
and animals, permitting them to settle down and practice agriculture,
which provides more nutrition per hectare than hunting and gathering.
This happened in the river valleys of Egypt and Mesopotamia . Due to
this decrease in food from hunting, as human populations increased,
agriculture became more important. Some groups could easily plant
their crops in open fields along river valleys, but others had forests
blocking their farming land.
In this context, humans used slash-and-burn agriculture to clear more
land to make it suitable for plants and animals. Thus, since Neolithic
times, slash-and-burn techniques have been widely used for converting
forests into crop fields and pasture. Fire was used before the
Neolithic as well, and by hunter-gatherers up to present times.
Clearings created by fire were made for many reasons, such as to draw
game animals and to promote certain kinds of edible plants such as
Slash-and-burn fields are typically used and owned by a family until
the soil is exhausted. At this point the ownership rights are
abandoned, the family clears a new field, and trees and shrubs are
permitted to grow on the former field. After a few decades, another
family or clan may then use the land and claim usufructuary rights .
In such a system there is typically no market in farmland, so land is
not bought or sold in the open market and land rights are traditional.
In slash-and-burn agriculture, forests are typically cut months before
a dry season. The "slash" is permitted to dry, and then burned in the
following dry season. The resulting ash fertilizes the soil and the
burned field is then planted at the beginning of the next rainy season
with crops such as upland rice, maize, cassava, or other staples. Most
of this work is typically done by hand, using such basic tools as
machetes , axes , hoes , and makeshift shovels .
Large families or clans wandering in the lush woodlands long
continued to be the most common form of life through human prehistory
. Axes to fell trees and sickles for harvesting grain were the only
tools people might bring with them. All other tools were made from
materials they found at the site, such as fire stakes of birch , long
rods (vanko), and harrows made of spruce tops. The extended family
conquered the lush virgin forest, burned and cultivated their
carefully selected swidden plots, sowed one or more crops, and then
proceeded on to forests that had been noted in their wanderings. In
the temperate zone the forest regenerated in the course of a lifetime.
So swidden was repeated several times in the same area over the years.
But in the tropics the forest floor gradually depleted. It was not
only in the moors , as in Northern Europe, but also in the steppe ,
savannah , prairie , pampas and barren desert in tropical areas where
shifting cultivation is the oldest type of farming (Clark 1952
Eero Järnefelt of forest-burning
Southern European Mediterranean climates have favored evergreen and
deciduous forests . With slash-and-burn agriculture, this type of
forest was less able to regenerate than those north of the Alps.
Although in northern
Europe one crop was usually harvested before
grass was allowed to grow, in southern
Europe it was more common to
exhaust the soil by farming it for several years.
Classical authors mentioned large forests, with
Homer writing about
Sicily , and other woodlands. These
authors indicated that the Mediterranean area once had more forest;
much had already been lost, and the remainder was primarily in the
Although parts of
Europe aside from the north remained wooded, by the
Roman Iron and early Viking Ages , forests were drastically reduced
and settlements regularly moved. The reasons for this pattern of
mobility, the transition to stable settlements from the late Viking
period on, or the transition from shifting cultivation to stationary
farming are unknown. From this period, plows are found in graves.
Early agricultural peoples preferred good forests on hillsides with
good drainage, and traces of cattle enclosures are evident there.
Greek explorer and merchant
Pytheas of Marseilles made a voyage to
Europe around 330 BC, with part of his itinerary recorded by
Polybios , Pliny , and
Thule , a six-day
voyage north of Britain: "The barbarians showed us the place where the
sun does not go to sleep. It happened because there the night was very
short—in some places two, in others three hours—so that the sun
shortly after its fall soon went up again." He describes a fertile
land, "rich in fruits that were ripe only until late in the year, and
the people there used to prepare a drink of honey. And they threshed
the grain in large houses because of the cloudy weather and frequent
rain. In the spring they drove the cattle up into the mountain
pastures and stayed there all summer."
In Italy, shifting cultivation was a thing of the past by the birth
Tacitus describes it as a strange cultivation method,
practiced by the Germans. In 98 AD, he wrote about the Germans that
their fields were proportional to the participating cultivators but
their crops were shared according to status. Distribution was simple,
because of wide availability; they changed fields annually, with much
to spare because they were producing grain rather than other crops.
According to the original text, "Agri pro numero cultorum ab universis
in vices occupantur, quos mox inter se secundum dignationem
partiuntur, facilitatem partiendi camporum spatia praestant. Arva per
annos mutant, et superest ager; nec enim cum ubertate et amplitudine
soli labore contendunt, ut pomaria conserant et prata separent et
hortos rigent; sola terrae seges imperatur." This is the practice
of shifting cultivation.
Migration Period in Europe, after the Roman Empire and
before the Viking Age, the peoples of Central
Europe moved to new
forests after exhausting old parcels. Forests were quickly exhausted;
the practice had ended in the Mediterranean, where forests were less
resilient than the sturdier coniferous forests of Central Europe.
Deforestation had been partially caused by burning to create pasture.
Reduced timber delivery led to higher prices and more stone
construction in the Roman Empire (Stewart 1956, p. 123). Although
forests gradually decreased in northern Europe, they have survived in
the Nordic countries.
Tribes in pre-Roman Italy (including the Etruscans , Umbrians,
Ligurians, Sabines , Latins , Campanians, Apulians, Saliscans, and
Sabellians) apparently lived in temporary locations. They cultivated
small patches of land, kept sheep and cattle, traded with foreign
merchants, and occasionally fought. These Italic groups developed
identities as settlers and warriors around 900 BC. They built forts in
the mountains which are studied today, as are the ruins of a large
Samnite temple and theater at
Italic peoples saw benefits in allying with Rome. When the
Romans built the _Via Amerina _ in 241 BC, the
Falisci settled in
cities on the plains and aided the Romans in road construction; the
Roman Senate gradually acquired representatives from Faliscan and
Etruscan families, and the Italic tribes became settled farmers.
Classical writers described peoples who practiced shifting
cultivation , which characterized the
Migration Period in Europe. The
exploitation of forests demanded displacement as areas were
Julius Caesar wrote about the
Suebi in _Commentarii de
Bello Gallico_ 4.1, "They have no private and secluded fields
("_privati ac separati agri apud eos nihil est_") ... They cannot stay
more than one year in a place for cultivation’s sake" ("_neque
longius anno remanere uno in loco colendi causa licet_"). The Suebi
lived between the
Rhine and the
Elbe . About the Germani, Caesar
wrote: "No one has a particular field or area for himself, for the
magistrates and chiefs give year by year to the people and the clans,
who have gathered together, as much land and in such places as seem
good to them and then make them move on after a year" ("_Neque
quisquam agri modum certum aut fines habet proprios, sed magistratus
ac principes in annos singulos gentibus cognationibusque hominum, qui
tum una coierunt, a quantum et quo loco visum est agri attribuunt
atque anno post alio transire cogunt_" ).
Strabo (63 BC—c. 20 AD) also writes about the
Suebi in his
_Geography_ (VII, 1, 3): "Common to all the people in this area is
that they can easily change residence because of their sordid way of
life; they do not cultivate fields or collect property, but live in
temporary huts. They get their nourishment from their livestock for
the most part, and like nomads , pack all their goods in wagons and go
on to wherever they want". Horace writes in 17 BC (_Carmen Saeculare_,
3, 24, 9ff.) about the people of Macedonia : "The proud
live happily, growing free food and cereal for themselves on land they
do not want to cultivate for more than a year" ("_Vivunt et rigidi
Getae, / immetata quibus iugera liberas / fruges et Cererem ferunt, /
nec cultura placet longior annua_"). _ Locations of Norwegian
tribes described by
Jordanes in his Getica_
Jordanes , of Gothic descent, became a monk in Italy. In his
mid-sixth-century AD _
Getica _ (_De origine actibusque Getarum_; _The
Origin and Deeds of the Goths_) , he described the large island of
Scandza , on which the
Goths originated. According to Jordanes, of the
tribes living there, some are Adogit from within 40 days of the
midnight sun. After the Adogit were the Screrefennae and Suehans , who
also lived in the north. The Screrefennae did not raise crops, instead
hunting and collecting bird eggs. The Suehans, a semi-nomadic tribe
with good horses (comparable to the
Thuringii ), hunted furs to sell;
grain could not be grown so far north. In about 550 AD,
described a primitive hunting people he called "Skrithifinoi": "Both
men and women engaged incessantly just in hunting the rich forests and
mountains, which gave them an endless supply of game and wild
Småland , Sweden (1904)
Adam of Bremen described Sweden from information he received from the
Danish king Sven Estridson (also called
Sweyn II of Denmark
Sweyn II of Denmark ) in 1068:
"It is very fruitful, the earth holds many crops and honey, it has
greater livestock than all other countries, there are many useful
rivers and forests; with regard to women they do not know moderation;
they have for their households two, three, or more wives
simultaneously; the rich and the rulers are innumerable ... livestock
grazing, as with the Arabs, far out in the wilderness". The use of
fire in northeastern Sweden changed as agriculture evolved. Although
Sami people did not burn land (since burning killed the lichen
required by their reindeer), later farmers frequently used
slash-and-burn techniques. The 19th-century Swedish timber industry
moved north, clearing the land of trees but leaving waste behind as a
fire risk; during the 1870s, fires were frequent. There was a fire in
Norrland in 1851, followed by fires in 1868 and 1878; two towns were
lost in 1888.
Huuhta cultivation spread: within the circle in 1500 AD, within
the line in 1600, and to the dashed line in 1700.
One culture which flourished in pre-agricultural
Europe survives: the
Forest Finns in Scandinavia. Martin Tvengsberg, a descendant the
Forest Finns, studied them in his capacity as curator of the Hedmark
Museum in Norway. The Savo-
Karelians had a sophisticated system for
cultivating spruce forests. A runic poem about Finland's spruce
forests reads, _"Gåivu on mehdien valgoinen valhe"_ ("The birch is
the forest’s white lie"). The best spruce forests reportedly contain
birch trees, which grow only after a forest has burned once or twice.
MODERN WESTERN WORLD
Slash-and-burn may be defined as the large-scale deforestation of
forests for agricultural use. Ashes from the trees help farmers by
providing nutrients for the soil.
In industrialized regions, including
North America , the
practice was abandoned with the introduction of market agriculture and
Slash-and-burn agriculture was initially practiced by
European pioneers in
North America such as
Daniel Boone and his
family, who cleared land in the
Appalachian Mountains during the late
18th and early 19th centuries. However, land cleared by
slash-and-burn farmers was eventually taken over by systems of land
tenure focusing on long-term improvement and discouraging practices
associated with slash-and-burn agriculture.
Northern European Heritage
Farm and Nature Reserve in Kaavi,
Some areas of the reserve are burned annually in Telkkämäki,
Telkkämäki Nature Reserve in
Finland , is an open-air
museum which still practices slash-and-burn agriculture.
can see how people farmed when slash-and-burn agriculture became the
norm in the Northern Savonian region of eastern
Finland beginning in
the 15th century. Areas of the reserve are burnt each year.
Tribal groups in the northeastern Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh
Nagaland and the Bangladeshi districts of
Sylhet refer to slash-and-burn
agriculture as _jhum_ or _jhoom_ cultivation. The system involves
clearing land, by fire or clear-felling, for economically-important
crops such as upland rice , vegetables or fruits. After a few cycles,
the land's fertility declines and a new area is chosen. _Jhum_
cultivation is most often practiced on the slopes of thickly-forested
hills. Cultivators cut the treetops to allow sunlight to reach the
land, burning the trees and grasses for fresh soil. Although it is
believed that this helps fertilize the land, it can leave it
vulnerable to erosion . Holes are made for the seeds of crops such as
sticky rice , maize, eggplant and cucumber are planted. After
considering _jhum_'s effects, the government of
Mizoram has introduced
a policy to end the method in the state.
Slash-and-burn is typically
a type of subsistence agriculture , not focused on a need to sell
crops globally; planting decisions are governed by the needs of the
family (or clan) for the coming year.
The use of slash-and-burn farming technique in Ceará, Brazil
contributes to the already mass scale deforestation in the Amazonian
forest. Modern slash-and-burn practice Sumatra,
Thailand Santa Cruz,
Democratic Republic of Congo
Although a solution for overpopulated tropical countries where
subsistence agriculture may be the traditional method of sustaining
many families, the consequences of slash-and-burn techniques for
ecosystems are almost always destructive. This happens particularly
as population densities increase, and as a result farming becomes more
intensively practiced. This is because as demand for more land
increases, the fallow period by necessity declines. The principal
vulnerability is the nutrient -poor soil, pervasive in most tropical
forests . When biomass is extracted even for one harvest of wood or
charcoal, the residual soil value is heavily diminished for further
growth of any type of vegetation.
Sometimes there are several cycles of slash-and-burn within a few
years' time span. For example, in eastern
Madagascar , the following
scenario occurs commonly. The first wave might be cutting of all trees
for wood use. A few years later, saplings are harvested to make
charcoal, and within the next year the plot is burned to create a
quick flush of nutrients for grass to feed the family zebu cattle. If
adjacent plots are treated in a similar fashion, large-scale erosion
will usually ensue, since there are no roots or temporary water
storage in nearby canopies to arrest the surface runoff . Thus, any
small remaining amounts of nutrients are washed away. The area is an
example of desertification , and no further growth of any type may
arise for generations.
The ecological ramifications of the above scenario are further
magnified, because tropical forests are habitats for extremely
biologically diverse ecosystems, typically containing large numbers of
endemic and endangered species . Therefore, the role of slash-and-burn
is significant in the current
Holocene extinction .
Slash-and-char is an alternative that alleviates some of the negative
ecological implications of traditional slash-and-burn techniques.
1997 Indonesian forest fires
2006 Southeast Asian haze
2013 Southeast Asian haze
2013 Southeast Asian haze
2015 Southeast Asian haze
* Oil palm plantations
* History of the forest in Central
Slash-and-burn in Heritage Farm, 2012 (Telkkämäki Slash-and-burn
Heritage Farm, Kaavi, Finland)
Slash-and-burn -video (Nordic Museum, Stockholm)
* Wikisource:Slash and burn
* ^ Waters, Tony (2007). _The Persistence of Subsistence
Agriculture_. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 3. ISBN 978-0-7391-0768-3 .
OCLC 70334845 .
* ^ "Slash and burn". _
Encyclopedia of Earth _.
* ^ Skegg, Martin (24 September 2011). "True Stories: Up in Smoke".
The Guardian _.
* ^ Kettler, J. S. (1996-08-01). "Fallow enrichment of a
traditional slash/mulch system in southern Costa Rica: comparisons of
biomass production and crop yield". _
Agroforestry Systems_. 35 (2):
165–176. ISSN 0167-4366 . doi :10.1007/BF00122777 .
* ^ Elkan, Daniel (21 April 2004). "
Slash-and-burn farming has
become a major threat to the world's rainforest". _
The Guardian _.
* ^ Jaime Awe, _Maya Cities and Sacred Caves_, Cu bola Books (2006)
* ^ Clark J.G.D. 1952, Farming: Clearance and Cultivation II
Prehistoric Europe: The Economic Basis, Cambridge.
* ^ Semple E.C.1931, Ancient Mediterranean Forests and the Lumber
Trade, vol. II., p. 261-296. Henry Holt et al., The Geography of the
Mediterranean Region, New York.
* ^ Homer, e.g., Iliad XIII.11–13, Odyssey IX.22–24.
* ^ Darby, H.C., 1950, Domesday
Woodland II Economic History
Review, 2d ser.,III, London; Darby, H.C., 1956, The clearing of the
Europe II, p 186.
* ^ _A_ _B_ A W Liljenstrand wrote 1857 in his doctoral
dissertation, "About Changing of Soil" (p. 5 ff.), that Tacitus
discusses shifting cultivation: "arva per annos mutant".
* ^ Perkins and Marvin, Ex Editione Oberliniana, Harvard College
Library, 1840 (Xxvi, 15–23).
* ^ Arenander E.O. 1923, Germanemas jordbrukskultur ornkring
KristifØdelse // Berattelse over Det Nordiska Arkeologmotet i
Stockholm 1922, Stockholm.
* ^ "U.S. Department of
Agriculture Lacey Act Guidance". USDA
APHIS. October 26, 2011.
* ^ Stewart O.C. 1956, Fire as the First Great Force Employed by
Man, II. Thomas W.L. Man's Role in Changing the Face of the Earth,
* ^ Zwingle, E. (January 2005), "Italy before the Romans",
_National Geographic_, Washington, D.C.
* ^ Late antique writers commonly used
Goths mixing the
peoples in the process.
* ^ G. Costa, 32. Also: _De Rebus Geticis_: O. Seyffert, 329; _De
Getarum (Gothorum) Origine et Rebus Gestis_: W. Smith, vol 2 page 607
* ^ Alexander, Andrew C. Scott, David M.J.S. Bowman, William J.
Bond, Stephen J. Pyne, Martin E. (2013). _Fire on Earth : An
Introduction_. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons Inc. p. 287. ISBN 1118570715
* ^ Pyne, Stephen J. (1997). _World Fire : The Culture of Fire on
Earth_ (Pbk. ed.). Seattle: University of Washington Press. p. 85.
ISBN 0295975938 .
* ^ Svedjebruk.Hedmark 2010.Foreword by Ragnhild Queseth Haarstad
Styreleder i Norsk Skogfinsk Museum. ISBN 978-82-93036-00-5 .
* ^ "Slash and Burn
Agriculture – An Overview of Slash and Burn".
Geography.about.com. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
* ^ "Blog Archive » Farmer Power: The Continuing Confrontation
between Subsistence Farmers and Development Bureaucrats".
Ethnography.com. 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
* ^ "Telkkämäki Nature Reserve". Outdoors.fi. 2013-05-14.
* ^ "Jhum". _banglapedia.org_.
* ^ TI Trade (2011-01-17). "The Assam Tribune Online".
Assamtribune.com. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
* ^ Tony Waters, _The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture._
Lexington Books (2007), p. 48.
* ^ "The
Forest Buddies". _thinkquest.org_. Retrieved 2015-12-16.
* Karki, Sameer (2002). "Community Involvement in and Management of
Forest Fires in South East Asia" (PDF). Project FireFight South East
Asia. Retrieved 2009-02-13.
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