Shifting cultivation is described as agricultural system through which an individual uses a given piece of land and abandons it later or alters its initial use after a short duration. It involves clearing the piece of land which is followed by a couple of wood harvesting or farming years till the fertility of the soil is lost.
The land is used till it becomes inadequate for crop production after which is it reclaimed by natural vegetation or alternatively gets converted to another kind of cyclical farming practice. Cultivation can also be stopped when the piece of land gets overrun by weeds. The duration the piece of land is cultivated is often shorter compared to the time the land is given to renew by lying uncultivated.
The most common type of cultivation used in this case is known as slash and burn which involves the slashing and burning of vegetation, woodlands and forests. Others clear the lands without any burning while some cultivators are migratory and they don’t employ any cyclical techniques on the given piece of land.
There are instances when no slashing is needed and especially where the regrowth is purely of grass. This is not uncommon especially when the soil is close to exhaustion and the land needs to lie fallow for some time. Eventually, a piece of land that was previously cultivated will once more be cleared of natural vegetation and used for purposes of planting crops once more.
Fields in stable shifting systems and established fields are fallowed and cultivated cyclically. Ideally this kind of farming is known as jhumming in India. Most of the fallow fields aren’t productive and during fallow period, cultivators will use consecutive vegetation species for construction and timber for fencing, clothing, firewood, ropes, medicines, tools and carrying devices.
It is quite common for nuts and fruit trees to get planted in fallow fields making some of the fallows orchards. There are also instances when tree species and soil enhancing shrubs get protected from burning and slashing in fallows. Some of the species have been found to fix nitrogen and fallows contain plants known to attract animals and birds hence they are important for purposes of hunting.
Note that the longer any piece of land gets cropped, the greater the loss of nitrogen and phosphorus, soil organic matter and citation exchange capacity. In addition to this, it also leads to increase in soil acidity, soil porosity and reduction of infiltration capacity as well as seeds that naturally occur from soil seed banks.
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