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Slash-and-burn agriculture is a farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a
forest A forest is an area of land dominated by tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, or trunk (botany), trunk, usually supporting branches and leaves. In some usages, the definition of a tree may ...
or
woodland A woodland () is, in the broad sense, land covered with trees, or in a narrow sense, synonymous with wood (or in the U.S., the ''plurale tantum'' woods), a low-density forest forming open habitats with plenty of sunlight and limited shade (see ...
to create a field called a swidden. The method begins by cutting down the trees and woody plants in an area. The downed
vegetation Vegetation is an assemblage of plant species and the ground cover they provide. It is a general term, without specific reference to particular Taxon, taxa, life forms, structure, Spatial ecology, spatial extent, or any other specific Botany, bo ...
, or "slash", is then left to dry, usually right before the rainiest part of the year. Then, the
biomass Biomass is plant-based material used as a fuel A fuel is any material that can be made to react with other substances so that it releases energy as thermal energy or to be used for work (physics), work. The concept was originally applied ...
is burned, resulting in a nutrient-rich layer of ash which makes the soil fertile, as well as temporarily eliminating
weed A weed is a plant considered undesirable in a particular situation, "a plant in the wrong place", or a plant growing where it is not wanted.Harlan, J. R., & deWet, J. M. (1965). Some thoughts about weeds. ''Economic botany'', ''19''(1), 16-24. ...
and pest species. After about three to five years, the plot's
productivity Productivity is the efficiency of production of goods or services expressed by some measure. Measurements of productivity are often expressed as a ratio of an aggregate output to a single input or an aggregate input used in a production proc ...
decreases due to depletion of nutrients along with weed and pest invasion, causing the farmers to abandon the field and move to a new area. The time it takes for a swidden to recover depends on the location and can be as little as five years to more than twenty years, after which the plot can be slashed and burned again, repeating the cycle. In
Bangladesh Bangladesh (}, ), officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, eighth-most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 165 million pe ...
and
India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, the List of countries and dependencies by population, second-most populous ...
, the practice is known as
jhum The traditional shifting cultivation farming technique of indigenous communities and Bengalis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh and nearby regions in Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Nagaland in India is known as jhum cultivation. Tec ...
or jhoom. Slash-and-burn is a type of
shifting cultivation Shifting cultivation is an agricultural Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating Plant, plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of Sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of Dome ...
, an
agricultural Agriculture or farming is the practice of cultivating Plant, plants and livestock. Agriculture was the key development in the rise of Sedentism, sedentary human civilization, whereby farming of Domestication, domesticated species created food ...
system in which farmers routinely move from one cultivable area to another. A rough estimate is that 200 million to 500 million people worldwide use slash-and-burn. Slash-and-burn causes temporary
deforestation Deforestation or forest clearance is the removal of a forest or stand of trees from land that is then land conversion, converted to non-forest use. Deforestation can involve conversion of forest land to farms, ranches, or urban area, urban ...
. Ashes from the burnt trees help farmers by providing nutrients for the soil. In low density of human population this approach is very sustainable but the technique is not
scalable Scalability is the property of a system to handle a growing amount of work by adding resources to the system. In an economics, economic context, a scalable business model implies that a company can increase sales given increased resources. For ...
for large human populations. A similar term is
assarting Assarting is the act of deforestation, clearing forested lands for use in agriculture or other purposes. In English land law, it was illegal to assart any part of a royal forest without permission. This was the greatest trespass that could be c ...
, which is the clearing of forests, usually (but not always) for the purpose of agriculture. Assarting does not include burning.


History

Historically, slash-and-burn cultivation has been practiced throughout much of the world. Fire was already used by hunter-gatherers before the invention of agriculture, and still is in present times. Clearings created by the fire were made for many reasons, such as to provide new growth for game animals and to promote certain kinds of edible plants. During the
Neolithic Revolution The Neolithic Revolution, or the (First) Agricultural Revolution, was the wide-scale transition of many human cultures during the Neolithic period from a lifestyle of hunter-gatherer, hunting and gathering to one of agriculture and sedentism, ...
, groups of
hunter-gatherers A traditional hunter-gatherer or forager is a human living an ancestrally derived lifestyle (sociology), lifestyle in which most or all food is obtained by foraging, that is, by gathering food from local sources, especially edible wild plants bu ...
domesticated various plants and animals, permitting them to settle down and practice agriculture, which provided more nutrition per hectare than hunting and gathering. Some groups could easily plant their crops in open fields along river valleys, but others had forests covering their land. Thus, since Neolithic times, slash-and-burn agriculture has been widely used to clear land to make it suitable for crops and livestock. Large groups wandering in the woodlands was once a common form of society in European
prehistory Prehistory, also known as pre-literary history, is the period of human history between the use of the first stone tools by hominins 3.3 million years ago and the beginning of recorded history with the invention of writing systems. The use of ...
. The extended family burned and cultivated their swidden plots, sowed one or more crops, and then proceeded on to the next plot.


Technique

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 on 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 rice, maize, cassava, or other staples. This work was once done using simple tools such as
machete Older machete from Latin America Gerber machete/saw combo Agustín Cruz Tinoco of San Agustín de las Juntas, Oaxaca">San_Agustín_de_las_Juntas.html" ;"title="Agustín Cruz Tinoco of San Agustín de las Juntas">Agustín Cruz Tinoco of San ...
s, axes, hoes and
shovel A shovel is a tool used for digging, lifting, and moving bulk materials, such as soil, coal, gravel, snow, sand, or ore. Most shovels are hand tools consisting of a broad blade fixed to a medium-length handle. Shovel blades are usually made of ...
s.


Benefits and drawbacks

This system of agriculture provides millions of people with food and income. It has been ecologically sustainable for thousands of years. Because the leached soil in many tropical regions, such as the Amazon, are nutritionally extremely poor, slash-and-burn is one of the only types of agriculture which can be practiced in these areas. Slash-and-burn farmers typically plant a variety of crops, instead of a monoculture, and contribute to a higher biodiversity due to creating mosaic habitats. The general ecosystem is not harmed in traditional slash-and-burn, aside from a small temporary patch. Slash and burn agriculture may be thought of as a form of
agroforestry Agroforestry is a land use Land use involves the management and modification of natural environment or wilderness into built environment such as Human settlement, settlements and semi-natural habitats such as Arable land, arable fields, past ...
. This technique is most unsuitable for the production of cash crops. A huge amount of land, or a low density of people, is required for slash-and-burn. When slash-and-burn is practiced in the same area too often, because the human population density has increased to an unsustainable level, the forest will eventually be destroyed.


Regionally


South Asia

Tribal groups in the northeastern Indian states of
Tripura Tripura (, Bengali language, Bengali: ) is a States and union territories of India, state in Northeast India. The List of states and union territories of India by area, third-smallest state in the country, it covers ; and the seventh-least po ...
,
Arunachal Pradesh Arunachal Pradesh (, ) is a States and union territories of India, state in Northeastern India. It was formed from the erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) region, and became a state on 20 February 1987. It borders the states of Assam a ...
,
Meghalaya Meghalaya (, or , meaning "abode of clouds"; from Sanskrit , "cloud" + , "abode") is a states and union territories of India, state in northeastern India. Meghalaya was formed on 21 January 1972 by carving out two districts from the state of As ...
,
Mizoram Mizoram () is a state in Northeast India, with Aizawl as its seat of government and capital city. The name of the state is derived from "Mizo people, Mizo", the endonym, self-described name of the native inhabitants, and "Ram", which in the Mizo ...
and
Nagaland Nagaland () is a landlocked state in the northeastern region of India India, officially the Republic of India (Hindi: ), is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by area, seventh-largest country by area, ...
and the
Bangladesh Bangladesh (}, ), officially the People's Republic of Bangladesh, is a country in South Asia. It is the List of countries and dependencies by population, eighth-most populous country in the world, with a population exceeding 165 million pe ...
i districts of
Rangamati Rangamati (Bengali: রাঙ্গামাটি;) is the administrative headquarter and town of Rangamati Hill District in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The town is located at 22°37'60N 92°12'0E and has an altitude of . The distr ...
,
Khagrachari Khagrachari ( bn, খাগড়াছড়ি) is a district in the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh, Southeastern Bangladesh. It is a part of the Chittagong Hill Tracts region. History The Chittagong Hill Tracts was under the reign of the ...
, Bandarban and
Sylhet Sylhet ( bn, সিলেট) is a metropolis, metropolitan city in northeastern Bangladesh. It is the administrative seat of the Sylhet Division. Located on the north bank of the Surma River at the eastern tip of Bengal, Sylhet has a subtropica ...
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 Upland rice is a type of rice Rice is the seed of the Poaceae, grass species ''Oryza sativa'' (Asian rice) or less commonly ''Oryza glaberrima'' (African rice). The name wild rice is usually used for species of the genera ''Zizania (genus) ...
, 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 Erosion is the action of surface processes (such as Surface runoff, water flow or wind) that removes soil, Rock (geology), rock, or dissolved material from one location on the Earth's crust#Crust, Earth's crust, and then sediment transport, tra ...
. Holes are made for the seeds of crops such as
sticky rice Glutinous rice (''Oryza sativa ''Oryza sativa'', commonly known as Asian rice or indica rice, is the plant species most commonly referred to in English as ''rice''. It is the List of rice cultivars, type of farmed rice whose cultivars are ...
, maize, eggplant and cucumber. After considering ''jhum''s effects, the government of
Mizoram Mizoram () is a state in Northeast India, with Aizawl as its seat of government and capital city. The name of the state is derived from "Mizo people, Mizo", the endonym, self-described name of the native inhabitants, and "Ram", which in the Mizo ...
has introduced a policy to end the method in the state.


Americas

Some American civilizations, like the Maya, have used slash-and-burn cultivation since ancient times.
Native Americans in the United States Native Americans, also known as American Indians, First Americans, Indigenous Americans, and #Terminology differences, other terms, are the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, Indigenous peoples of the mainland United States (Indigenous peopl ...
also used fire in agriculture and hunting. In the Amazon, many peoples such as the Yanomami also live off the slash and burn method due to the Amazon's poor soil quality.


Northern Europe

Slash-and-burn techniques were used in northeastern Sweden in agricultural systems. In Sweden the practice is known as . Telkkämäki Nature Reserve in
Kaavi Kaavi is a municipalities of Finland, municipality of Finland. It is located in the Northern Savonia regions of Finland, region. Kaavi is also a part of historical Karelia. The municipality has a population of () and covers an area of of which ...
, Finland, is an
open-air museum An open-air museum (or open air museum) is a museum that exhibits collections of buildings and artifacts out-of-doors. It is also frequently known as a museum of buildings or a folk museum. Definition Open air is “the unconfined atmosphere ...
where slash-and-burn agriculture is demonstrated. Farm visitors can see how people farmed when slash-and-burn was the norm in the
Northern Savonia North Savo (or Northern Savonia; fi, Pohjois-Savo; sv, Norra Savolax) is a region In geography Geography (from Ancient Greek, Greek: , ''geographia''. Combination of Greek words ‘Geo’ (The Earth) and ‘Graphien’ (to describe ...
n region of eastern Finland beginning in the 15th century. Areas of the reserve are burnt each year.


is a Swedish and Norwegian term for
slash-and-burn agriculture Slash-and-burn agriculture is a farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a forest A forest is an area of land dominated by tree In botany, a tree is a perennial plant with an elongated Plant stem, stem, ...
derived from the
Old Norse Old Norse, Old Nordic, or Old Scandinavian, is a stage of development of North Germanic languages, North Germanic dialects before their final divergence into separate Nordic languages. Old Norse was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and t ...
word , which means "to burn". This practice originated in Russia in the region of
Novgorod Veliky Novgorod ( rus, links=no, Великий Новгород, t=Great Newtown, p=vʲɪˈlʲikʲɪj ˈnovɡərət), also known as just Novgorod (), is the largest city and administrative centre of Novgorod Oblast, Russia. It is one of the ol ...
and was widespread in Finland and Eastern Sweden during the Medieval period. It spread to western Sweden in the 16th Century when Finnish settlers were encouraged to migrate there by King
Gustav Vasa Gustav I, born Gustav Eriksson of the House of Vasa, Vasa Swedish nobility, noble family and later known as Gustav Vasa (12 May 1496 – 29 September 1560), was King of Sweden from 1523 until his death in 1560, previously self-recognised Prot ...
to help clear the dense forests. Later, when the Finns were persecuted by the local Swedes, farming was spread by refugees to eastern
Norway Norway, officially the Kingdom of Norway, is a Nordic countries, Nordic country in Northern Europe, the mainland territory of which comprises the western and northernmost portion of the Scandinavian Peninsula. The remote Arctic island of ...
, more specfically in the eastern part of Solør, in the area bordering Sweden known as Finnskogen ("the Finnish woods"). The practice also spread to
New Sweden New Sweden ( sv, Nya Sverige) was a Swedish colony along the lower reaches of the Delaware River in what is now the United States from 1638 to 1655, established during the Thirty Years' War when Swedish Empire, Sweden was a great military power. ...
in North America. Reinforced by the use of fire in agriculture and hunting by Native Americans, it became an important part of pioneering in America.


Description of process

involved stripping a ring of bark completely around the trunk of coniferous trees like
pine A pine is any conifer tree or shrub in the genus ''Pinus'' () of the family (biology), family Pinaceae. ''Pinus'' is the sole genus in the subfamily Pinoideae. The World Flora Online created by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Missouri Botanic ...
or
spruce A spruce is a tree of the genus ''Picea'' (), a genus of about 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees in the family Pinaceae, found in the northern temperate and boreal ecosystem, boreal (taiga) regions of the Earth. ''Picea'' is the sole gen ...
or felling them, allowing them to dry, setting fire to the dried forest and growing crops on the fertile ash-covered soil. The resulting ash was highly fertile, but only for a short period. The clearing was initially planted to rye as soon as the ash had fully settled and sufficiently cooled. When the rain came, it packed the ash around the rye. The rye germinated and grew prolifically, with anywhere from 25 to 100 stalks (or straws), each with multiple grains. Only two tools were required, the axe and the sickle. The axe cut the trees to start the cycle. When the rye had ripened, it was harvested with a
sickle A sickle, bagging hook, reaping-hook or grasshook is a single-handed agricultural tool designed with variously curved blades and typically used for harvesting, or reaping, grain crops or cutting succulent forage chiefly for feeding livest ...
, which could reach among the rocks and stumps where a
scythe A scythe ( ) is an agriculture, agricultural hand tool for mowing grass or Harvest, harvesting Crop, crops. It is historically used to cut down or reaping, reap edible grain, grains, before the process of threshing. The scythe has been largely ...
would have been ineffective. In the second and third year the field would be sown with
turnip The turnip or white turnip (''Brassica rapa'' subsp. ''rapa'') is a root vegetable commonly grown in temperate climates worldwide for its white, fleshy taproot. The word ''turnip'' is a compound (linguistics), compound of ''turn'' as in turned/r ...
s or
cabbage Cabbage, comprising several cultivars of ''Brassica oleracea'', is a leafy green, red (purple), or white (pale green) biennial plant grown as an Annual plant, annual vegetable crop for its dense-leaved heads. It is descended from the wild cabb ...
s. It then might be grazed for several years before being allowed to return to woodland.


culture

required felling new forest and burning a new area every year. It was necessary to allow the former fields to regrow with forest for 10–30 years before repeating the cycle. As a result, the dwellings were often many kilometers from the fields. Furthermore, since the process was man-power intensive, extended families tended to work together and live in compact communities. The farming approach required a large area. When forest was plentiful, the Finns were very prosperous. As population grew and restrictions were placed on the forest which could be burned, it became increasingly difficult. By 1710, during the conflict with Sweden, because of their suspect loyalties Norwegian authorities considered expelling them from the border area, but did not do so because it was judged they were too poor to survive if evicted.


Research

This type of agriculture is discouraged by many developmental or environmentalist organisations, with the main alternatives being promoted are switching to more intensive, permanent farming methods, or promoting a shift from farming to working in different, higher-paying industries altogether. Other organisations promote helping farmers achieve higher productivity by introducing new techniques. Not allowing the slashed vegetation to burn completely and ploughing the resultant charcoal into the soil ( slash-and-char) has been proposed as way to boost yields. Promoters of a project from the early 2000s claimed that slash-and-burn cultivation could be reduced if farmers grew black pepper crops between '' Inga'' trees, which they termed ' Inga alley cropping'. A method of improving the yields in a type of traditional assarting cultivation used to grow common beans in Central American called 'slash-and-cover', has been proposed, by additionally planting
leguminous A legume () is a plant in the family Fabaceae (or Leguminosae), or the fruit or seed of such a plant. When used as a dry grain, the seed is also called a pulse. Legumes are grown agriculturally, primarily for human consumption, for livestock for ...
shrubs to act as a fallow crop after the soil is exhausted and one is ready to clear a new patch of forest.


Gallery

Bolivia slash & burn lo (4386225275).jpg , Santa Cruz,
Bolivia , image_flag = Bandera de Bolivia (Estado).svg , flag_alt = Horizontal tricolor (red, yellow, and green from top to bottom) with the coat of arms of Bolivia in the center , flag_alt2 = 7 × 7 square p ...
An example of slash and burn agriculture practice Thailand.jpg ,
Chiang Mai Chiang Mai (, from th, เชียงใหม่ , nod, , เจียงใหม่ ), sometimes written as Chiengmai or Chiangmai, is the largest city in northern Thailand, the capital of Chiang Mai province Chiang Mai ( th, เ ...
,
Thailand Thailand ( ), historically known as Siam () and officially the Kingdom of Thailand, is a country in Southeast Asia, located at the centre of the Mainland Southeast Asia, Indochinese Peninsula, spanning , with a population of almost 70 mi ...
Jhum fire.jpg ,
Arunachal Pradesh Arunachal Pradesh (, ) is a States and union territories of India, state in Northeastern India. It was formed from the erstwhile North-East Frontier Agency (NEFA) region, and became a state on 20 February 1987. It borders the states of Assam a ...
, India


See also

*
2006 Southeast Asian haze The 2006 Southeast Asian haze event was caused by continued uncontrolled burning from "slash and burn Slash-and-burn agriculture is a farming method that involves the cutting and burning of plants in a forest or woodland to create a Field ( ...
* 2013 Southeast Asian haze *
2015 Southeast Asian haze The 2015 Southeast Asian haze was an air pollution Air pollution is the contamination of air due to the presence of substances in the atmosphere that are harmful to the health of humans and other living beings, or cause damage to the ...
* 2019 Amazon rainforest wildfires * History of the forest in Central Europe *
Scorched earth A scorched-earth policy is a military strategy that aims to destroy anything that might be useful to the enemy. Any assets that could be used by the enemy may be targeted, which usually includes obvious weapons, military vehicles, transport v ...


General literature

* * Nesholen, Birger (1994). "Svedjebrukerne", ''Østlandske Skogsområder'', Den Norske Turistforening. * Pyne, Stephen J. (1997). ''Vestal Fire: An Environmental History, Told Through Fire, of Europe and Europe's Encounter with the World''. Seattle and London: University of Washington Press. . * * Stagg, Frank Noel (1956). ''East Norway and Its Frontier''. Allen & Unwin.


Citations


External links

*
Video of slash-and-burn
at the Telkkämäki Nature Reserve, Finland, in 2012
Video of slash-and-burn
in Sweden around 1930–32 (from the YouTube channel of the
Nordic Museum The Nordic Museum ( sv, Nordiska museet) is a museum A museum ( ; plural museums or, rarely, musea) is a building or institution that Preservation (library and archival science), cares for and displays a collection (artwork), collection o ...
) {{DEFAULTSORT:Slash-and-burn Agriculture by type Environmental issues with forests Fire in culture Tropical agriculture Forest management Agriculture in Sweden Agriculture in the United Kingdom Forestry in Finland Forestry in Norway Forestry in Russia Forestry in Sweden Forestry in the United Kingdom Agriculture in Russia Agriculture in Finland