The widespread failure of slash and burn agriculture
Slash and burn agriculture, and the pattern of shifting cultivation it drives, is a major threat to tropical rainforests across the world. Slashed and burnt land will produce a harvest for a couple of years after it is first cleared, but the soil rapidly loses its fertility, forcing farmers to clear fresh land every few years.
This cycle of shifting cultivation is causing destruction of both primary and secondary rainforest on a massive scale. While this practice may allow farmers to get by and secure a harvest, it is widely acknowledged that it offers them no way of tackling poverty and improving their quality of life. It offers no sustainable development opportunities and the practice cannot withstand intensification in any conventional sense. Now, over vast areas of former rainforest, and for perhaps hundreds of millions of subsistence farmers, this process often fails even to provide food security and the cash crops families need to meet the costs of everyday life.
A new set of techniques are urgently required which will be effective and sustainable; a set of techniques which will provide food and cash crop security without exposing the family to debt, dependence or other externalities or requiring incredibly high amounts of labor in locations far from home. And, crucially, a technique that can break the cycle of deforestation caused by slash and burn by allowing families to produce a harvest year after year from the same plot of land. After many years of scientific research the Inga Foundation has developed a technique that can deliver all this; Inga Alley Cropping.
Slash and burn subsistence versus logging as destroyers of the rainforest
The destructive effects of over-intensive slash and burn agriculture are exponentially greater than those of logging because the logged-over forest at least contains the seed and root of its own regeneration. By fragmenting the forest and allowing former forest to become dominated by invasive grasses, slash-and-burn agriculture not only closes the door on regeneration, but throws away the key. We are seeing today a slowly enacted environmental and human catastrophe which seldom makes television news headlines.
Carbon Inputs to the Global Atmosphere
It is estimated, today, that annual atmospheric inputs of CO2 due to slash and burn agriculture amount to the equivalence of 1.5-2 billion tonnes of elemental Carbon; or about 20-25% of all human-induced inputs. When it is considered that all this is solely to create transient fertility for subsistence food-crops, then the irony which is built into the catastrophe becomes apparent.