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Rotational Farming-Shifting Cultivation and Climate Change

November 10th, 2010

IKAP’s (Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples Foundation) Concept Paper of March 2010, written by Prasert Trakansuphakon, presents an overview on rotational farming and shifting agriculture and the positive and negative implications of this practice in face of climate change.

In current discourse concerning climate change, prejudice against rotational farming is increasing because people blame rotational farming as being the cause of carbon emissions and understand “traditional agriculture,” or “shifting cultivation/rotat

IKAP’s (Indigenous Knowledge and Peoples Foundation) Concept Paper of March 2010, written by Prasert Trakansuphakon, presents an overview on rotational farming and shifting agriculture and the positive and negative implications of this practice in face of climate change.

In current discourse concerning climate change, prejudice against rotational farming is increasing because people blame rotational farming as being the cause of carbon emissions and understand “traditional agriculture,” or “shifting cultivation/rotational farming,” as the main cause of deforestation and environmental destruction. UNREDD also mentions that in many developing countries the majority of carbon dioxide emissions are created as a result of deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires and slash-and-burn practices.
The opportunities in rotational farming adaptation to climate change are linked to the fallow system, because fallows are essential to shifting/rotational cultivation - without regenerating forests through correct fallowing practices, productivity (harvest ratios) in shifting cultivation cannot be assured. Shifting cultivators, therefore, nurture the forests into their fallows even during the cultivation phase. Fallow forests are the backbone of rotational/shifting cultivation.

According to the findings of the research on shifting cultivation in Indonesia, if fallow periods are long enough, rotational/shifting cultivation is a stable system in which soil fertility is maintained. Thus, rotational/shifting cultivation can be expected to be carbon neutral. The biomass accumulation in rotational farming is lowest after two cycles (cycles being at least six years), highest after one or four cycles, and intermediate after six to ten cycles.

Research findings from North East India show that high crop diversity is fundamental to building resilience and ensuring adaptation. At the landscape level, shifting cultivation keeps forests young and growing, thus giving rise to a landscape level ‘carbon bank.’ Shifting cultivation results in a mosaic of differently aged, growing forests. A shifting cultivation landscape will have a higher probability of being a ‘carbon sink’ - a landscape level ‘carbon bank,’ compared to mature forest landscapes. Thus, shifting cultivation does offer opportunities for mitigation approaches.

This shows clearly that rotational farming/shifting cultivation is an institutionalized resource management practice at the landscape level and therefore communities practicing shifting cultivation are landscape-level natural resource managers who can contribute to mitigation measures. Hence, recognition for indigenous peoples’ land use practices also offers opportunities to seek solutions for climate change mitigation.

The recognition and acceptance of the landscape management principles inherent in shifting cultivation will encourage and strengthen the fallow management approaches for the conservation of fallow forests resulting from shifting cultivation. Finally, it should be formally recognized that the traditional land management practices of indigenous peoples can facilitate adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
Local strategies and priorities should also be reflected in National Adaptation and Mitigation Action and National Adaptation Plans and Action Strategies, with indigenous peoples participating fully and effectively in their development and implementation.

Some findings in Thailand

Carbon storage in the community forest of Huay Hin Lad Nai and two nearby communities, Huay Hin Lad Nok and Pha Young,Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, which cover 3,120 ha, is approximately 661,372 tons.

While carbon storage in 568 ha of farming areas covering rotational fields, paddy fields and tea gardening, is about 59,459 tons, total carbon storage in the community is around 720,831 tons.

Rotational agriculture (fallow fields left to recover for 1-10 years) covers 236 ha: the net carbon storage from this kind of farming system accounts for 17,348 tons, while carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of rotation fields are only 480 tons.

This generates an effect that lowers carbon emissions (476 tons from rice fields, 68 tons from corn fields), produces only 0.8 tons of methane gas from terraced paddy fields, and 0.1 tons of nitrous oxide from chemical fertilizers. Meanwhile, the capacity to store carbon reaches 720,627 tons and the communities produce only the 0.08% of carbon emissions [Prayong Doclamyai et al., (2010)].

By summary, the way of life and farming system of the communities in the mountainous areas are not the cause of climate change. Instead, the farming system and ways of life help to maintain the balance of the ecosystem, are of benefit and have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and are in a position to maintain food security.

Read more about Rotational Farming-Shifting Cultivation and Climate Change in the Concept Paper by Prasert Trakansuphakon, IKAP, here.

This report is also on Delicious.

See another PAR article related to rotational farming and climate change.

http://www.ongitaliane.it/ong/master/visualizza.asp?ID=1&spot=600&cartella=sinistra&pagina=1

ional farming,” as the main cause of deforestation and environmental destruction. UNREDD also mentions that in many developing countries the majority of carbon dioxide emissions are created as a result of deforestation, forest degradation, forest fires and slash-and-burn practices.
The opportunities in rotational farming adaptation to climate change are linked to the fallow system, because fallows are essential to shifting/rotational cultivation - without regenerating forests through correct fallowing practices, productivity (harvest ratios) in shifting cultivation cannot be assured. Shifting cultivators, therefore, nurture the forests into their fallows even during the cultivation phase. Fallow forests are the backbone of rotational/shifting cultivation.

According to the findings of the research on shifting cultivation in Indonesia, if fallow periods are long enough, rotational/shifting cultivation is a stable system in which soil fertility is maintained. Thus, rotational/shifting cultivation can be expected to be carbon neutral. The biomass accumulation in rotational farming is lowest after two cycles (cycles being at least six years), highest after one or four cycles, and intermediate after six to ten cycles.

Research findings from North East India show that high crop diversity is fundamental to building resilience and ensuring adaptation. At the landscape level, shifting cultivation keeps forests young and growing, thus giving rise to a landscape level ‘carbon bank.’ Shifting cultivation results in a mosaic of differently aged, growing forests. A shifting cultivation landscape will have a higher probability of being a ‘carbon sink’ - a landscape level ‘carbon bank,’ compared to mature forest landscapes. Thus, shifting cultivation does offer opportunities for mitigation approaches.

This shows clearly that rotational farming/shifting cultivation is an institutionalized resource management practice at the landscape level and therefore communities practicing shifting cultivation are landscape-level natural resource managers who can contribute to mitigation measures. Hence, recognition for indigenous peoples’ land use practices also offers opportunities to seek solutions for climate change mitigation.

The recognition and acceptance of the landscape management principles inherent in shifting cultivation will encourage and strengthen the fallow management approaches for the conservation of fallow forests resulting from shifting cultivation. Finally, it should be formally recognized that the traditional land management practices of indigenous peoples can facilitate adaptation and mitigation to climate change.
Local strategies and priorities should also be reflected in National Adaptation and Mitigation Action and National Adaptation Plans and Action Strategies, with indigenous peoples participating fully and effectively in their development and implementation.

Some findings in Thailand

Carbon storage in the community forest of Huay Hin Lad Nai and two nearby communities, Huay Hin Lad Nok and Pha Young,Chiang Rai province, northern Thailand, which cover 3,120 ha, is approximately 661,372 tons.

While carbon storage in 568 ha of farming areas covering rotational fields, paddy fields and tea gardening, is about 59,459 tons, total carbon storage in the community is around 720,831 tons.

Rotational agriculture (fallow fields left to recover for 1-10 years) covers 236 ha: the net carbon storage from this kind of farming system accounts for 17,348 tons, while carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of rotation fields are only 480 tons.

This generates an effect that lowers carbon emissions (476 tons from rice fields, 68 tons from corn fields), produces only 0.8 tons of methane gas from terraced paddy fields, and 0.1 tons of nitrous oxide from chemical fertilizers. Meanwhile, the capacity to store carbon reaches 720,627 tons and the communities produce only the 0.08% of carbon emissions [Prayong Doclamyai et al., (2010)].

By summary, the way of life and farming system of the communities in the mountainous areas are not the cause of climate change. Instead, the farming system and ways of life help to maintain the balance of the ecosystem, are of benefit and have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and are in a position to maintain food security.

Read more about Rotational Farming-Shifting Cultivation and Climate Change in the Concept Paper by Prasert Trakansuphakon, IKAP, here.

This report is also on Delicious.

See another PAR article related to rotational farming and climate change.

http://www.ongitaliane.it/ong/master/visualizza.asp?ID=1&spot=600&cartella=sinistra&pagina=1
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