Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Researcher Finds Negative Effects of Colonization on Slash-and-Burn Farming Method in Western Borneo

27.04.2007
Method often criticized as harmful to environment, sustainability

A researcher at the University of Missouri-Columbia has examined the slash-and-burn farming method traditionally used by the Iban, a widespread indigenous population that lives in northwestern Borneo in Southeast Asia. Researchers have long argued about the environmental effects of this type of agriculture.

Reed L. Wadley, assistant professor of anthropology in the College of Arts and Science, found that an intense 50-year period of colonial fighting to subdue the Iban contributed to an increased use of slash-and-burn farming, also called swidden or shifting cultivation.

"The Europeans called the Iban methods 'plunder-farming,' but the unsustainable aspects of this farming at the time were, in part, exacerbated by the Europeans' methods of pacifying the Iban," Wadley said. "The fear, insecurity and demoralization that this fighting produced created short-term survival strategies, including a preference for old growth forest and unsustainable farming practices."

According to Wadley, the Iban traditionally lived in longhouses (compounds made of semi-autonomous, usually related families) and still practice a variety of agricultural techniques, including swidden farming. The swidden method involves cutting down forested areas, burning the vegetation to produce fertile ash and then farming that land for a period of time. Sometimes the Iban used old growth forest, while at other times this was done with secondary forest (forest that had been more recently farmed and then left fallow, which is most common today). Rice farming remains essential to the Iban, both economically and spiritually.

Wadley's study, based on Dutch archival data, has been published in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute. In the study, Wadley argued that the pacification methods used by the colonial Dutch and British in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries contributed to increased slashing and burning of old growth forests. During this period, the colonial powers sought to pacify the Iban and stop their traditional practice of headhunting. Punitive expeditions involved burning Iban longhouses, slashing rice fields and felling fruit trees. In the process, Wadley argues, the Iban became unsettled and demoralized, which caused them to increase their use of swidden practices on old growth forest and take subsistence shortcuts.

Wadley said that slashing and burning old growth forests was safer and less time consuming for the Iban because the dense forest cover prevented the growth of many weeds, which had to be removed for good harvests. On the other hand, the weeding process was lengthy for swidden plots of secondary forest, and during the weeding period, men had to guard the women and children in the fields from possible attack by raiders. If old growth forest was slashed and burned, weeding time was greatly reduced. Immediately after European pacification expeditions, however, farmers also would cultivate plots without adequate fallow because they had no time to cut new fields, resulting in low yields and soil infertility.

Wadley also argued, as have others, that the Iban's traditional swidden farming techniques do not produce such environmental degradation as many believe, since the Iban have farmed the same areas for a long period of time with adequate fallow and little loss of plot fertility.

"For decades, swidden cultivation and tropical deforestation have been linked in national and international governmental discourse. Colonial and national governments have sought to outlaw it, while scientists have variously vilified, apologized for, and tried to contextualize swidden," Wadley said. "My research argues that tropical agriculture is a historically contingent phenomenon, and farmers have always adjusted and responded to conditions in front of them, both positively and negatively."

Katherine Kostiuk | EurekAlert!

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht The future of crop engineering
08.12.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für Biochemie

nachricht Maize pest exploits plant defense compounds to protect itself
28.11.2017 | Max-Planck-Institut für chemische Ökologie

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Towards data storage at the single molecule level

The miniaturization of the current technology of storage media is hindered by fundamental limits of quantum mechanics. A new approach consists in using so-called spin-crossover molecules as the smallest possible storage unit. Similar to normal hard drives, these special molecules can save information via their magnetic state. A research team from Kiel University has now managed to successfully place a new class of spin-crossover molecules onto a surface and to improve the molecule’s storage capacity. The storage density of conventional hard drives could therefore theoretically be increased by more than one hundred fold. The study has been published in the scientific journal Nano Letters.

Over the past few years, the building blocks of storage media have gotten ever smaller. But further miniaturization of the current technology is hindered by...

Im Focus: Successful Mechanical Testing of Nanowires

With innovative experiments, researchers at the Helmholtz-Zentrums Geesthacht and the Technical University Hamburg unravel why tiny metallic structures are extremely strong

Light-weight and simultaneously strong – porous metallic nanomaterials promise interesting applications as, for instance, for future aeroplanes with enhanced...

Im Focus: Virtual Reality for Bacteria

An interdisciplinary group of researchers interfaced individual bacteria with a computer to build a hybrid bio-digital circuit - Study published in Nature Communications

Scientists at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria (IST Austria) have managed to control the behavior of individual bacteria by connecting them to a...

Im Focus: A space-time sensor for light-matter interactions

Physicists in the Laboratory for Attosecond Physics (run jointly by LMU Munich and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics) have developed an attosecond electron microscope that allows them to visualize the dispersion of light in time and space, and observe the motions of electrons in atoms.

The most basic of all physical interactions in nature is that between light and matter. This interaction takes place in attosecond times (i.e. billionths of a...

Im Focus: A transistor of graphene nanoribbons

Transistors based on carbon nanostructures: what sounds like a futuristic dream could be reality in just a few years' time. An international research team working with Empa has now succeeded in producing nanotransistors from graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, as reported in the current issue of the trade journal "Nature Communications."

Graphene ribbons that are only a few atoms wide, so-called graphene nanoribbons, have special electrical properties that make them promising candidates for the...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Innovative strategies to tackle parasitic worms

08.12.2017 | Event News

AKL’18: The opportunities and challenges of digitalization in the laser industry

07.12.2017 | Event News

Blockchain is becoming more important in the energy market

05.12.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Making fuel out of thick air

08.12.2017 | Life Sciences

Rules for superconductivity mirrored in 'excitonic insulator'

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

Smartphone case offers blood glucose monitoring on the go

08.12.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>