Shifting Cultivation and Environmental Change : Indigenous People, Agriculture and Forest Conservation book cover
1st Edition

Shifting Cultivation and Environmental Change
Indigenous People, Agriculture and Forest Conservation

Edited By

Malcolm F. Cairns

ISBN 9780415746052
Published April 6, 2015 by Routledge
1058 Pages

USD $69.95

Prices & shipping based on shipping country


Book Description

Shifting cultivation is one of the oldest forms of subsistence agriculture and is still practised by millions of poor people in the tropics. Typically it involves clearing land (often forest) for the growing of crops for a few years, and then moving on to new sites, leaving the earlier ground fallow to regain its soil fertility. This book brings together the best of science and farmer experimentation, vividly illustrating the enormous diversity of shifting cultivation systems as well as the power of human ingenuity. 

Some critics have tended to disparage shifting cultivation (sometimes called 'swidden cultivation' or 'slash-and-burn agriculture') as unsustainable due to its supposed role in deforestation and land degradation. However, the book shows that such indigenous practices, as they have evolved over time, can be highly adaptive to land and ecology. In contrast, 'scientific' agricultural solutions imposed from outside can be far more damaging to the environment and local communities. 

The book focuses on successful agricultural strategies of upland farmers, particularly in south and south-east Asia, and presents over 50 contributions by scholars from around the world and from various disciplines, including agricultural economics, ecology and anthropology. It is a sequel to the much praised "Voices from the Forest: Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Sustainable Upland Farming" (RFF Press, 2007), but all chapters are completely new and there is a greater emphasis on the contemporary challenges of climate change and biodiversity conservation.

Table of Contents


Jefferson Fox 


Part 1: Introduction 

A) Overview Chapters: The Context in which this Book was Prepared 

i) A Backwards Glance, Over Our Shoulders… 

1. The View of Swidden Agriculture by the Early Naturalists, Linnaeus and Wallace 

Michael R. Dove 

2. Shifting Cultivators and the Landscape: An Essay through Time 

Harold Brookfield 

3. Swiddens and Fallows: Reflections on the Global and Local Values of ‘Slash and Burn’ 

Carol J. Pierce Colfer, Janis B. Alcorn and Diane Russell 

4. Agroforestry Pathways Revisited: Voices from the Past 

John Raintree and Katherine Warner 

5. Shifting Agriculture and its Changes in Yunnan Province, China 

Shaoting Yin 

6. Swiddeners at the End of the Frontier: 50 years of Globalization in Northern Thailand, 1963 – 2013 

Peter Kunstadter 

ii) Looking towards the Future 

7. The Future of Swidden Cultivation 

Joseph A. Weinstock 

8. Shifting Agriculture and Fallow Management Options: Where do we Stand? 

P. S. Ramakrishnan 

9. Chena Cultivation in Sri Lanka: Prospects for Agroforestry Interventions 

Herath P. M. Gunasena and D. K. N. G. Pushpakumara 

10. Learning from Migratory Agriculture around the World to Improve both Swidden and Modern Agriculture in Southeast Asia 

Roland Bunch 

11. Learning to Cope: Evergreen Agriculture Transformations and Insights Exchanged between Africa and Asia 

Dennis P. Garrity 

Part 2: Is Shifting Cultivation really the ‘Bogeyman’ of Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss? 

A) Shifting Cultivation in an Era of Climate Change 

12. Swidden Transitions in an Era of Climate Change Debate 

Meine van Noordwijk, Peter A Minang and Kurniatun Hairiah 

13. Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Transformations of Shifting Cultivation Landscapes: Are we Throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater? 

Kamal Aryal and Dhrupad Choudhury 

14. Best REDD Scenario: Reducing Climate Change in Alliance with Swidden Communities and Indigenous Peoples in Southeast Asia 

Janis B. Alcorn and Antoinette G. Royo 

15. Earning Carbon Credits through Fallow Management on lands Affected by Shifting Cultivation in Northeast India 

Imtienla Ao 

16. Formal and Indigenous Forest-Management Systems in Central Vietnam: Implications and Challenges for REDD+ 

Mucahid Mustafa Bayrak, Tran Nam Tu and Paul Burgers 

17. Changing Strategies of Shifting Cultivators to Match a Changing Climate 

Prasert Trakansuphakon 

18. Fallows and Flooding: A Case Study on the Potential Contribution of Fallows to Flood Mitigation 

Peter D. Suson, Rex Victor O. Cruz, Ruth P. Serquiña, Nathaniel C. Bantayan, Daisy Lou L. Polestico and Jerson N. Orejudos 

19. Dynamics of an Island Ecosystem: Where to Now? 

Marjorie V. Cushing Falanruw and Francis Ruegorong 

B) Is Shifting Cultivation Friend or Foe to Biodiversity? 

20. Second thoughts on Secondary forests: Can Swidden Cultivation be Compatible with Conservation? 

Dietrich Schmidt-Vogt 

21. Biodiversity and Swidden Agroecosystems: An Analysis and some Implications 

Percy E. Sajise 

22. Shifting Cultivators, Curators of Forests and Conservators of Biodiversity: The Dayak of East Kalimantan, Indonesia 

Herwasono Soedjito 

23. Fallow Management Practices among the Tangkhuls of Manipur: Safeguarding Provisioning and Regulatory Services from Shifting Cultivation Fallows 

L. Jitendro Singh and Dhrupad Choudhury 

24. Some Lesser Known Facts about jhum in Nagaland, Northeast India 

Temjen Toy and POU (Project Operations Unit) Members 

25. Plant Genetic Diversity in Farming Systems and Poverty Alleviation in Vietnam’s Northern Mountain Region 

Tran Duc Vien, Vu Van Liet and Nguyen Thanh Lam 

26. Experimenting with Change: Shifting Beliefs and Rice Varieties in Swidden Communities in Northern Laos 

Karen McAllister 

27. Is the ‘Bogeyman’ Real? Shifting Cultivation and the Forests, Papua New Guinea 

Bryant Allen and Colin Filer 

28. The End of swidden in Bhutan: Implications for Forest Cover and Biodiversity 

Steve Siebert, Jill M. Belsky, Sangay Wangchuk and James Riddering 

29. Valuation and Management of Forest Ecosystem Services: A Skill Well Exercised by the Forest People of Upper Nam Theun, Lao P.D.R 

Laurent Chazee 

30. Benuaron: The Fruit Gardens of the Orang Rimba 

Bambang Hariyadi and Dedi Harmoko 

31. Ancestral Domain and National Park Potection: Mutually Supportive Paradigms? A Case Study of the Mt.Kitanglad Range Nature Park, Bukidnon, Philippines 

Malcolm Cairns 

32. Shifting Cultivation and Wildlife Sanctuaries in Ancestral Domains: Friend or Foe to Biodiversity Conservation? 

Butch Dagondon and Easterluna Canoy 

33. Missing Link of Forest Regeneration: Dwindling Shifting Cultivation from North Western Ghats 

Archana Godbole, VJayant Sarnaik and Yogita Gokhale 

34. Fallows and Forest Restoration 

Kuswata Kartawinata and Rochadi Abdulhadi 

35. Characteristics and Roles of Fallow and Riparian Forests in a Mountainous Region of Northern Laos 

Isao Hirota 

36. A Plant Resources Survey and Festival: A Community-based Approach to Biodiversity Education and Conservation 

Venacio A. Acebedo, Lorna F. Acebedo and David M. Bates 

37. Developing Information Systems on Indigenous Plant Resources in the Cordillera Administrative Region, Philippines 

Damasa B. Magcale-Macandog, Edwin R. Abucay, Lorenza G. Lirio, Lito O. Ayyokad, Joyce N. Paing, Jovita E. Saguibo, Enesto T. Miguel and Marlyn Tombali 

Part 3: Specialization for Markets or Continued Agrodiversity for Subsistence? 

A) When Swidden Fallows Become the Domain of Commodity Crops 

38. Oil Palm as a Productive Fallow? Swidden Change and new Opportunities in Smallholder Land Management 

Ole Mertz 

39. Where are the Swidden Fallows Now? An Overview of Oil Palm and Dayak Agriculture across Kalimantan, with Case Studies from Sanggau, in West Kalimantan 

Lesley Potter 

40. Busy People, Idle Land: The Changing Roles of swidden Fallows in Sarawak 

Rob Cramb 

41. Socially Constructed Rubber Plantations in the Swidden Landscape of Southwest China 

Jianchu Xu and Zhuangfang Yi 

42. Rubber Plantation, Swidden Agriculture and Indigenous Knowledge: A Case Study of a Bulang Village in Xishuangbanna, China 

Lun-Yin, Dayuan Xue and Jing Wang 

43. Impacts of Smallholder Rubber on Shifting Cultivation and Rural Livelihoods in Northern Laos 

Vongpaphane Manivong and Rob Cramb 

44. From Subsistence Swidden Fallows to Market-oriented Monoculture Production: Drivers of Land Use Change in the Lao PDR in the Context of Market Globalization 

Paulo Pasicolan and Thatheva Saphangthong 

45. Transformation of a Landscape: Shifting Cultivation, Biodiversity, and Tea 

Janet C. Sturgeon 

B) Shifting Cultivation on an Island Frontier: An Examination of the Main Swidden Communities in Palawan, the Philippines 

Sub-edited by James Eder 

46. Tree Crops, Fallow Management and Agricultural Settlement in the Cuyonon System of Shifting Cultivation 

James Eder 

47. Governmental Pressures on Swidden Landscapes in Palawan Island, the Philippines 

Wolfram Dressler 

48. Rice-related Knowledge, Farming Strategies and the Transformation of Swiddens Amongst the Batak of Palawan island, the Philippines 

Dario Novellino 

Part 4: Conclusions 

49. Gender Analysis: Shifting Cultivation and Indigenous People 

Carol J. Pierce Colfer, Rebakah Daro Minarchek, Malcolm Cairns, Anungla Aier, Amity Doolittle, Valerie Mashman, Helen Hambly Odame, Michelle Roberts, Kathryn Robinson and Penny Van Esterik 

50. The Bidayuh of Sarawak: Gender, Spirituality and Swiddens 

Valerie Mashman and Patricia Nayoi 

51. Cartoons about Shifting Cultivation: Using Humour to Emphasize some Important Points 

Malcolm Cairns 

52. Afterword 

A. Terry Rambo

View More



Malcolm Cairns is a consultant and researcher based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. He was recently a Research Fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS) at Kyoto University, Japan and has extensive experience working across South and Southeast Asia. He is editor of Voices from the Forest (RFF Press, 2007).


"Modernity – the belief that what is newest is best – blinds us from recognizing the ecological knowledge and wisdom that suffuse traditional practices like swidden agriculture which encompass thousands of years of painstakingly accumulated knowledge and insights.  With greater humility, we have much to learn." – David Suzuki. 

"This book represents a multifaceted analysis of the transformation of shifting cultivation. The diverse views of a large team of experts are superbly knit together by the experienced editor to present an authoritative vision of what the future holds for not only shifting cultivation in the Asia-Pacific region, but subsistence farming the world over. The comprehensive book is very timely now when traditional farming systems are drastically impacted by environmental upheavals and economic realities – which could be an opportunity for reinvention rather than a threat of disruption." P. K. Ramachandran Nair, Distinguished Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA. 

"Those writing about shifting cultivation at the beginning of the modern era must have imagined it as a way of life unlikely to survive a few more decades. What has surprised many is less that it still exists, but that it is so resilient. This attractive and comprehensive book captures the diversity of adaptations, and celebrates the lives of the people involved. Malcolm Cairns is to be congratulated on seeing an awesome publishing project to a magnificent conclusion."Roy Ellen, Centre for Biocultural Diversity, University of Kent, UK. 

"The appearance of these collectively definitive volumes on swidden cultivation represents an intellectual event of great importance. Finally, a comprehensive account of the form of agriculture most widely practiced in world history; most responsible for changing landscapes, and most grievously misunderstood by high-modernist agriculture. So much to learn here, so much to digest, so much to ponder as we imagine a less catastrophic agricultural future."James C. Scott, Sterling Professor of Political Science and Anthropology and Co-Director Program in Agrarian Studies, Yale University, USA.

"Once again Cairns has produced a magnus opus at least as valuable as the original: while the immediate impact may be less, the quality is surely even higher. And what makes it all the more remarkable is that the editor – with his constant team - has managed to bring this all together so cohesively from a position of considerable personal indisposition. Read the preface to find out what I mean: a compelling tale of adversity overcome by determination and perseverance."Dr William Critchley, Pitlochry

"The multiple authors successfully argue in the first two sections that it is the preferred agricultural management system in many environments with respect to resilience to climate change and preservation of biodiversity. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers."CHOICE, M. S. Coyne, University of Kentucky

"As the contributions to this volume demonstrate, understanding of the environmental and economic benefits of this system in comparison to modern agricultural systems has grown, but there is much still to be demonstrated to improve policy and support the farmer innovations that will enable shifting cultivators to adapt and survive into the future. This volume lays a broad and strong foundation for these efforts." - Danna J. Leaman, Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada