Shifting cultivation, also known as swidden agriculture, is probably the oldest farming practice from which many other farming practices have been developed. It is still widespread in tropical and subtropical areas of the world, including Myanmar, where it is mainly practiced by ethnic minorities in the uplands, especially in the highlands of northern Myanmar. As in most other countries that practice shifting cultivation, Myanmar's official attitude towards it is negative.
In a situation like this, farmers often adopt permanent cropping systems based on the currently marketable cash crop and rely on heavy inputs of agrochemicals. Governments, because of their negative view of shifting cultivation, are mostly supportive of these changes. Agroforestry systems which substitute nutrient cycling between tree and crop layers for burning of woody biomass (in shifting cultivation systems) or use chemical fertilizer (modern cropping systems) as a means of maintain productivity, can be a more sustainable alternative.
The project is the first systematic attempt in Myanmar to develop agroforestry systems on the basis of indigenous land use systems by combining indigenous and scientific knowledge, e.g. by enhancing the contribution of already existing system components (such as nitrogen-fixing trees) to productivity and by promoting marketable crops that can be grown under the canopy of trees. Other innovative aspects of the project are to develop tools and techniques to train farmers in agroforestry by progressively incorporating experiences and results from the research for development component of the project, and to develop a knowledge platform for information exchange between different stakeholders. The aim of the project is to encourage strategies for improving livelihoods through increased productivity, diversification and commercialisation, and for promoting a varied and sufficient diet.
Shifting cultivation landscape in the southern Shan States