ABSTRACT Although shifting cultivation is practiced by millions of farmers, it is often blamed for caus-ing deforestation and keeping farmers in pov-erty. Our study focused on the Amazon basin, where small-scale farmers widely practice shift-
ing cultivation. The objective was to identify the diversity in land use after initial slash-and-
burn land clearing among migrant peasants. Our research aimed at documenting typical crop sequences, plant species composition and specific lengths of particular phases of shifting cultivation cycles on the basis of farmers re-lated field histories. Land use was examined in two settlements: Antonio Raimondi and Pimen-tal in Ucayali region, Peru. Data was gathered via semi-structured questionnaires that focused on the socio-demographic characterization of agriculture-dependent households and their land use characteristics. More in-depth as-sessments of crop occurrence, cropping se-quence and length of the different shifting cul-tivation cycles were conducted on 114 fields in Pimental and 44 fields in Antonio Raimondi. In-terview analysis showed that in both villages, forest cover has substantially decreased over the last 10 years. Results also indicate consid-erable variation in swidden-fallow systems. Whereas settlers in Antonio Raimondi plant annual crops after slashing and burning the forest, settlers in Pimental gave more impor-tance to perennial crops. Progress in deforesta-tion and land degradation is relatively more pronounced in the younger settlement (Antonio Raimondi). These differences are likely caused by the different social backgrounds of settlers and histories of each site. Small-scale farmers in the study area are now facing a problem with the transition from shifting cultivation to sed-entary farming. Farmers in areas with a preva-lence of annual cropping use a significantly shorter fallow period, which causes a higher rate of forest degradation. As annual cropping seems to be unsustainable in relation with for-est degradation, farmers should either use a longer natural fallow to sustain longer cropping cycles, or shift to tree-based land use systems.
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