Seeing swidden

‘Swidden’, also known as ‘shifting cultivation’ has long been criticised as an unsustainable agricultural practice in Southeast Asia. Research is revealing its complexities and benefits.

Swiddening, that is, the practice of clearing forest for annual crops and then managing the fallowed plot for a period of time as regrowth occurs and restores the soil before again clearing and planting, is common through much of upland Southeast Asia. It has been practised for generations as a means of securing primary, or additional, food supply and has latterly been adapted to new economic realities to also provide income from cash crops. It has been viewed by most governments in the region as unsustainable environmentally, economically and culturally. However, research is showing that swiddening provides benefits that have been previously overlooked.

‘Successful swiddening actually brings together a lot of social and livelihoods’ goals as well as impact on climate change, food security and nutrition’, said Christine Padoch, director, Forests and Human Well-being Research of the Center for International Forestry Research. She was speaking at the tenth annual meeting of the ASEAN Social Forestry Network held 14–16 June 2016 in the Philippines. ‘It’s combining that entire spectrum that might be considered success’.

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