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Rattan and tea-based intensification of shifting cultivation by Hani farmers in Southwestern China

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The forest cover in the Xishuangbanna Prefecture of China’s Yunnan Province has decreased significantly, from 62.5% in 1950 to only 33.9% in 1985. According to the government census, the population has increased from 200,000 to nearly 800,000over roughly the same time. Indigenous people, particularly swidden cultivators, are often blamed for destroying the forests of Xishuangbanna.The concept of carrying capacity is often applied in measuring population densities in agro ecosystems. However, the potential for indigenous technologicalinnovation and institutional evolution to contribute to increased carrying capacity is often ignored. For instance, swidden farmers have often accumulated comprehensive indigenous technical knowledge about crop selection, cropping patterns, and crop and land rotations. They have also learned how to use different micro-environments and niches within swidden agroecosystems in response to changes in biophysical or socioeconomic conditions. In addition, they have developed practices for enhancing forest regeneration. They protect useful tree species through successive swidden cycles, combine annual crops with perennial tree crops, selectively weed their fieldsto preserve forest tree seedlings, and plant favored trees and plants for both economicand ecological benefits. As stated by Warner (1991):The swidden cultivator’s goal is not to destroy, but through clearing and then managing the regeneration of the forest, to obtain a continuous harvest of cultigens on the way to a new forest of rich diversity, containing stands of trees that are highly valued.The Hani, who are also known as Akha, have cultivated rattan (Calamus spp.) infallow fields for about one hundred years in Mengsong, and they have grown tea plantations in both natural forest and swidden fallows for about eight hundred yeain Nannuoshan. That they began planting rattan in fallow fields in the first place was due to a scarcity of rattan in the wild, illustrating the fact that indigenous innovations in swidden cultivation are often triggered by resource scarcity.However,these Hani practices, now that they are mature and proven,be extended intoother degrading swidden systems.
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    Xu J C




    ecology, farmers, farming systems, shifting cultivation, research



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