Agroforestry pathways: Land tenure, shifting cultivation and sustainable agriculture

Many people today have great expectations for agroforestry, some of which would seem to be justified on technological grounds. However, if current efforts to understand, develop and disseminate agroforestry technology are to have any hope of meeting even a reasonable proportion of current expectations, its deployment, as a newly organized branch of applied science, must take place with a clearer than usual view of the human context of supposed land-use improvements.

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FAO Corporate Document Repository, Shifting Cultivation

An appeal by FAO to governments, research centers, associations and private persons who are in a position to help

Shifting cultivation, in the humid tropical countries, is the greatest obstacle not only to the immediate increase of agricultural production, but also to the conservation of the production potential for the future, in the form of soils and forests. This has been borne out in several FAO conferences and in correspondence with many Member Governments.

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Points of View Shifting cultivation

Shifting cultivation is estimated to support currently between 300-500 million people worldwide. Shifting cultivators include indigenous groups, who have been practising swidden cultivation for centuries as well as migrant farmers who reclaim forest areas but, unlike indigenous communities, have no intimate knowledge of their new environment nor traditional resource management system. This latter group is generally less successful in achieving a sustainable use of natural resources. However, opinions remain divided as to exact role that shifting cultivation, also known as swidden agriculture or slash-and-burn, plays in accounting for the high levels of deforestation and loss of biodiversity in the tropics. The two main causes of tropical deforestation are largely attributed to logging activities and the expansion of small-scale agriculture. But the underlying factors are complex and attempts to change farmers' traditional practices have shown that a better appreciation of the broad range of land use types, which are described generally as 'shifting cultivation', is required. But what is the future for this type of farming?

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Shifting Cultivation Systems and Practices in the Lao PDR

When applying a participatory approach in helping shifting cultivators convert their shifting systems into more sedentary systems it is very useful to first understand their traditional practices. The main objective of this brief overview is to provide those who have to deal with the challenging task of shifting cultivation stabilisation with a general understanding of the complexity and diversity of the systems and practices used in Lao shifting cultivation. The emphasis here is on describing crop production activities under slash-and-burn agriculture. In addition, other activities such as livestock, agroforestry and NTFP collection are also briefly presented due to their importance in the livelihoods of shifting cultivators.

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