5. Socio-economic and institutional considerations in improving shifting cultivation in tropical Africa.
In: FAO Soils Bulletin No. 53; FAO, Rome, Italy, 1984, pp. 117-120
The traditional peasant in the tropics has adopted bush fallow or shifting cultivation in response to declining soil fertility and sparse population density, with its implied unlimited land supply. The multiple cropping system to accomodate subsistence production is linked to several factors: the prevailing closed economy, a limited work force, and the low level of technology available. These cropping systems ensured that all the food products the family required or wanted were grown simultaneously on the same plot of land. In addition, these systems allowed the family to reduce the size and number of plots needing clearing. This enabled them to save limited labour for other important household tasks, as well as for leisure. These mixed cropping systems also provided biological disease and pest control.
Today the practice or adoption of shifting cultivation, like other farming systems, results from a combination of factors. Some of these are socio-economic; others are physical, including land, labour, technology, and all forms of capital; still others are institutional, such as cultural values, land tenure systems, social organization, traditional and new or modern institutions, input and output price policy.
Among the inherent disadvantages of these systems a few are listed below:
- The low remuneration of shifting cultivation, relative to its labour requirements and to the shifting cultivator's labour supply. It is also low because shifting cultivators cannot get a good price for their produce, because there are no markets for it.
This results from the low remuneration which makes all investments economically unappealing; this in turn leads to low productivity (thus completing a vicious circle).
The disadvantages imposed on shifting cultivation by various socio-economic and institutional changes relate to two phenomena: growing population and a growing need for cash income.
Traditional practices, with their low productivity, cannot produce enough to raise the peasant's consumption above the subsistence level or satisfy new needs which depend on cash.
Shifting cultivators today need more and more cash to buy new goods and services not produced by the family including transistor radios, gas lamps, sugar, schools, medical bills, security, etc. Peasants are finding it more difficult to practise classic shifting cultivation while producing the marketable surplus necessary to meet these new needs.
The major constraints to improving shifting cultivation in the African tropics are, by and large, the same constraints that limit agricultural development generally in those regions. The constraints in this paper deal with socio-economic aspects of the problem.
- Government assistance (financial and otherwise) should be made available to peasants. This will enable total output, per family and per caput, to increase.
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Traditional land-use systems
Africa, Nigeria, traditional methods, survey, study, land tenure, socio-economy, inheritance, organization of farming, income of farmers, credit, government aid, on-farm diagnostic research
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