Hundreds of millions of people in Asia are dependent on shifting cultivation, yet the practice has tended to be seen in a negative light and discouraged by policy makers. This document challenges prevailing assumptions, arguing that shifting cultivation – if properly practised – is actually a ‘good practice’ system for productively using hill and mountain land, while ensuring conservation of forest, soil, and water resources. Focusing on Eastern Himalayan farmers, it looks at whether there is a need for new, more effective and more socially acceptable policy options that help to improve shifting cultivation, rather than replace it. The authors discuss common trends in shifting cultivation across the eastern Himalayas, which span six countries: Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Myanmar, and Nepal. They point out that policy lessons can be learned and exchanged at the regional and global levels by taking a hard look at changes needed to improve shifting cultivation. The key recommendations discussed include:
policy makers should re-examine the policies in place, to remove explicit policies and policy instruments that discourage shifting cultivation, and to strengthen the implementation of existing beneficial policies
issues of land tenure security, research, and extension should be addressed together with their impact on traditional shifting cultivation practices, market development and commercialisation of niche products of shifting cultivation
market development and commercialisation of traditional and new niche products of shifting cultivation systems should be encouraged
existing credit policies should be make more sensitive and proactive to situations where common property regimes apply.
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