What is Shifting Agriculture: Characteristics, Process and Advantages

14 May 2023
What is Shifting Agriculture: Characteristics, Process and Advantages
Shifting cultivation as a farming practice has been in existence in India since many years. It is farming practice in which a part of the land is cleared for agricultural use and then regenerated after a particular time span. It is also known as jhoom cultivation.

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Shifting agriculture is a type of farming practice in which farmers cut trees and clear some parts of the agricultural land for the plantation of crops. This agriculture practice is also known as Swidden agriculture. It is a type of practice in which a part of the land is cleared for agricultural use and then regenerated after a particular time span.

Government authorities in different countries are trying to put a ban on intensive farming, also known as ‘slash and burn agriculture’, because of a mistaken belief that it leads to deforestation. This agriculture practice is known by different names in different states of India, such as Jhoom in Assam, Onam in Kerala, Podu in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, and Bewar in Madhya Pradesh.

What is Shifting Agriculture?

Shifting farming is a type of farming method which is highly practiced in the humid tropics of South America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia. Shifting agriculture in India involves the process of cutting and burning native plants. After that, when the soil becomes loose and ash-rich, farmers plant crops for 2 or 3 successive seasons.

Shifting cultivation is a scientific approach that tries to enhance the fertility of the soil via afforestation. The fertility is circulated through slash and burn. Subsequently, heavy rainfall and steep slopes wash all the nutrients from the soil away quickly.

Farmers plant a wide range of crops, sometimes more than 30 to 35 crops, via a diversified cropping system to make sure nutrients are used optimally, such as fibre, grain and protein.

Shifting farming is sometimes termed slash-and-burn agriculture because small pots of vegetation formed naturally are removed by the fire. The ashes developed due to the burning of this natural vegetation aid in improving the fertility of the soil.

Key Features of Shifting Agriculture in India

It is a type of farming method in which farmers plant crops on land temporarily for two to three seasons. After that, they leave the land and let the natural vegetation grow independently, and they move to another land. The time of cultivation is usually shorter than the time allowed for soil regeneration. It is widely practiced in the North-Eastern part of India. Some key features of shifting agriculture are listed below:

  • Rotation of the agricultural land.
  • Using fire to remove natural vegetation from the field.
  • Leaving the land empty for regeneration for a few years.
  • Non-employment of draft animals.
  • Mixed cropping of different crops.
  • No ploughs are used; only simple tools such as scrapers and dibble sticks are used.
  • Gathering and hurting are some essential sub-occupations of this type of farming in the Northeast region of India.

Characteristics of Shifting Agriculture

Some primary characteristics of Shifting Agriculture are listed below:

  • Shifting farming is ecologically feasible if enough land is restored over a long time (around 10 to 20 years).
  • The demand for food should be low.
  • This system is ideal for critical climate conditions and unstable ecosystems of tropical zones.
  • There has been limited success in searching for feasible substitutes to transform India’s agriculture system.
  • Cutting and burning practice is used to remove the plants.
  • The use of ash/manure is very little or negligible.
  • The agricultural field is jointly owned.
  • The yield degrades after a certain period of continuous use, and the land is abandoned.
  • Farming is done mainly using family labour.
  • Simple tools are used in this type of farming.
  • The fields used in shifting farming are small and scattered.

Process of Shifting Agriculture in India

The process of shifting agriculture in India is listed in the following steps:

  • The first step involves the selection of sites by the farmers every year.
  • The second step involves the removal of natural vegetation that usually covers the land.
  • Most of the plants are cut by hand using helpful axes.
  • Then, the debris is burned carefully.
  • Ashes left after the burning process mix with the soil, providing essential nutrients to the soil.
  • The cleared areas are Chena, Milpa, Ladang, Swidden, and Kaingin.
  • The cultivation takes place briefly, mostly for two seasons or three, on the prepared land.
  • The farmers leave the old fields uncultivated for almost 10 to 25 years.
  • The farmers return to the land after almost 10 to 20 years for cultivation. In the meantime, they may watch over the fruit crops on that land.

First of all, farmers need to search for a place for cultivation that is close to their village or town. Now, before farming, they have to remove all the trees and plants grown naturally and cover the field. The tall trees should be cut down using hoes and axes, and then burn the debris carefully. After that, when rainfall occurs, it washes all the remaining ashes into the soil, offering important nutrients, thereby improving soil fertility.

Advantages of Shifting Agriculture

Some advantages of using shifting agriculture in India are listed below:

  • In this farming method, the crops may start growing faster and get ready to harvest early. There is no fear or threat of animals also that may destroy the crops.
  • The diseases born through the soil are also less in this farming method.
  • Harvesting is easy in shifting farming after slash and burn.
  • This farming method is a traditional type in which an area of land is emptied, burnt and prepared for cultivation.
  • This farming method is a simple and quick preparation process for fields and agriculture.
  • This agriculture method requires significantly less equipment.
  • It is one of the best farming methods for people residing in mountain regions.
  • In shifting cultivation, the production and harvesting of crops require a short time.
  • This farming method ensures that the land gains all the nutrients naturally without using any modern methods of soil amendment.
  • The best part of shifting agriculture is that it provides a direct way of land preparation for cultivation. The additional advantage is that there is no fear or threat of floods or animals that can damage the crops.
  • The mountain streams present on the hill are very beneficial for shifting farming as it provides a continuous supply of water to the land at affordable rates.


So, it was all about the shifting cultivation in India. We have covered various topics on shifting agriculture, including features, characteristics, processes, advantages, etc. We hope that you learn everything regarding shifting agriculture in India. If you want to learn more, you can contact the executives of Tractorkarvan. Moreover, if you want to explore different aspects of agriculture or farming in India, stay tuned with Tractorkarvan.

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