How blaming 'slash and burn' farmers is deforesting mainland Southeast Asia

Publication Date: January 2000

Publisher: East-West Center

Author(s): Jefferson Fox

Research Area: Agriculture, forestry and fishing; Environment

Type: Report

Coverage: Southeast Asia


For decades, international lenders, agencies, and foundations as well as national and local governments have spent millions of dollars trying to modernize the traditional practices of farmers in many mountainous areas of Southeast Asia-an agenda driven by the belief that their age-old shifting cultivation practices (known pejoratively as slash and burn ) are deforesting Asia. But a new look at how forests fare under shifting cultivation (as opposed to under permanent agriculture) clearly demonstrates that efforts to eliminate the ancient practice have actually contributed to deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and reduction in carbon storage. In fact, shifting cultivation, rather than being the hobgoblin of tropical forest conservation, may be ecologically appropriate, culturally suitable, and under certain circumstances the best means for preserving biodiversity in the region. The real threat to these tropical forests is posed by the steady advance of large-scale permanent and commercial agriculture.