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“Shifting Cultivation and Biodiversity Conservation in Bhutan”

by on September 24, 2011

This short article by Namgyel, Siebert, and Wang examines an alternative view of the effect slash and burn agriculture (shifting cultivation) has on biodiversity.  According to the authors, shifting cultivation does not always have a negative impact on biodiversity.

In the first paragraph, the authors explain how shifting cultivation has been banned in Bhutan as well as other areas of the world.  They then explain how there is another form of shifting cultivation that is integral to certain sites as opposed to “destructive and unsustainable” (p. 1).  The main difference is that integral shifting cultivation is heavily controlled by the people who practice it, making the practice more managed.  In Bhutan, there has been evidence presented that biodiversity has increased around “disturbed” sites in the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park (JSWNP).  This article calls for more research to be done on shifting cultivation due to the evidence that some methods of this may actually increase biodiversity.

This article gives evidence that challenges the view of there being a divide between nature and culture, as we have seen in previous readings (e.g., Bates & Tucker’s human ecology).  Whereas shifting agriculture has been traditionally seen as destroying nature, Namgyel, Siebert, and Wang provide a different view that supports the interaction of people and their environment.  The authors address how previous human impact may have helped shape the biodiversity of today.  The way they see it, nature and culture seem interrelated.

I like that this article calls in to question the traditional view of slash and burn agriculture and makes the reader question their previous assumptions.  The authors also do a good job in stating facts and asking more questions as opposed to coming to a resolution.

Should there be more research done on the effects of shifting cultivation on biodiversity?  Should the ban be completely lifted on shifting cultivation in Bhutan?  The authors address other reasons that this practice has declined in the park.  Could shifting cultivation even be brought back?

What do you think are reasons some animals in the JSWNP are drawn to disturbed areas of the park?  What are some effects these animals could have on the local population (harmful or otherwise)?

  1. This article seems like it is an example of SE-social ecology model from “Beyond Parks and reserves…” by Sarkar. The social ecology model believes that conservation is maintained at the local level through beliefs and values embedded in that culture. In the article by Namgyel, he suggests that “shifting cultivators are controlled, managed, and an ancient practice” (1349). Namgyel suggest that shifting cultivators was not necessarily a bad thing, but instead a practice that worked for the local community. Yet, now that community in central Bhutan is slowly abandoning “shifting cultivation” to “increased their harvest of wild bamboo and rattan for cash income” and benefit off of ecotourism (1350). This community in Bhutan reflects similar economic, social, cultural, and political changes that are taking place in the Amazon in the article by Padoch.

  2. More research definitely needs to be done if anthropologists are finding evidence of wild animals benefiting from this form of agriculture, then there is obviously something that we are missing. The negative outlook on shifting cultivation is destroying any possibility for a positve impact on the environment. There has already been research done from past societies that practiced this form of cultivation and scientists have found that if done in a controlled environment, slash and burn agriculture does in fact benefit both the wild plant life as well as animal life.

  3. 242colleencarey permalink

    Humans have implemented slash and burn agriculture for hundreds of years. I think that rather than having negative assumptions, we should take this history of agriculture into consideration along with the evidence this article provides. I like this article because it gives a different view on slash and burn agriculture. There must be some positive aspects if animals are being drawn to it and more research should definitely be done.

  4. i believe that the aspect of “shifting cultivation” should be looked at as a more case by case basis. i feel that in some aspects the shifting could definitely impede the environment, and be a downfall within the existing culture and environment. with that said, i think that in this particular article it is clear that the shifting of cultivation is purely a benefit. i think that the ban in Bhutan should be looked at more closely, and if it makes sense…..then it should be allowed. i definitely agree with the author that nature and culture are definitely integrated. i think those that live in these circumstances would know what’s best for their community. i think essentially these communities should have more say in their own cultivation to better their community. if it takes shifting the cultivation than so be it,

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