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What ever happened to shifting cultivation?

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Addressing second generation issues in shifting cultivation landscapes

Our work over the last decade and a half on managing change in shifting cultivation landscapes showed that state and civil society efforts to replace shifting cultivation with settled agriculture had resulted in second generation issues – loss of dietary diversity, declining ecosystem services, and compromised tenurial security leading to landlessness and poverty. Other issues relate to access to government programmes, credit and appropriate technologies for shifting cultivators. This underlines the need for developing a better understanding of these issues and for approaches that allow transformation while avoiding pitfalls that give rise to second generation issues.

This year, we brought together academics, development practitioners and government officials from Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Nepal and Vietnam to share their experience of transformations in their shifting cultivation landscapes and discuss issues that have emerged in recent years. There was general consensus on the need to develop a community of practice for exchanging good practices related to livelihoods, biodiversity conservation, institutional arrangements, and tenurial rights.

In India, our work with the NITI Aayog has supported their transformational approach to shifting cultivation. To further the approach, one of their five working groups focused on shifting cultivation and all groups issued reports in 2018 to which we also contributed and which continue to guide action towards sustainable development in the Indian Himalayan States. The Government of India has also set up an inter-ministerial task force under the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare and has asked states where shifting cultivation is prevalent to improve farmers’ access to all schemes and programmes currently under implementation to help shifting cultivators.

Our work over the last decade and a half on managing change in shifting cultivation landscapes showed that state and civil society efforts to replace shifting cultivation with settled agriculture had resulted in second generation issues – loss of dietary diversity, declining ecosystem services, and compromised tenurial security leading to landlessness and poverty.

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