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Are All Shifting Cultivators poor? Evidence from Sri Lanka's Dry zones

Prabath Nishantha Edirisinghe

No 113, Working papers from The South Asian Network for Development and Environmental Economics

Abstract: Shifting cultivation is one of the main causes of deforestation and forest degradation in Sri Lanka. This study uses household data and satellite images to investigate the determinants of shifting cultivation and the potential to control the intensity of this practice. Some 50% of households studied in Monaragala district of Sri Lanka practiced shifting cultivation during the 2011/2012 cultivation season. This practice is largely characterized by a short fallow period, mono cropping and high input use and repeated annual use of the same plot of land.Households practicing shifting cultivation, on average, use less than 1 hectare every year for this activity. Some 59% of shifting cultivation farmers indicated that they had cultivated the same piece of land every year during the 2006-2011 period. The practice is not restricted to poor landless farmers. Regression results show that households that possess more private land and other assets tend to cultivate larger areas of land. Therefore, the contribution of relatively wealthy households to shifting cultivation is more than that of poor households. Furthermore,households with more adult family members in a family tend to cultivate larger areas of shifting cultivation lands. Full-time non-farm occupations are a deterrent to this practice. To reduce the area of shifting cultivation, the study recommends an integrated plan with alternate income generation options for people who may have to give up existing swidden lands.

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