Slash and burn is the practice where you clear a piece of farmland and set the residual vegetation on fire to burn and make the land easily accessible and convenient for planting and other farm activities. Farmers have used this technology for centuries and they still use it today.
In the phase of population increase, increasing demand for food and climate change there has to be a substitute for this technology and conservation agriculture comes as a better alternative.
Slash and burn is not a good practice and farmers must do well to avoid it for the following reasons;
1. Burning leaves the land exposed to erosion
Burning vegetation residues after slashing exposes the soil surface to direct contact with rain. Exposed soil surface erode easily with rainfall impact leaving gullies on your field. Erosion takes away the fertile topsoil of your field. Moreso, you expose the soils and wind can easily erode them too.
2. It is not sustainable
Previously, when “slash and burn” was encouraged by farmers, they practised land rotation where after some time when the soil has lost its fertility. They leave the land and move to a fertile one while the previous regain its fertility. After burning the land severally, it takes between 10 to 25 years and sometimes even 40 years to regain its fertility. The practice of leaving the land fallow for that long is more difficult with the growing population and increasing demand for food.
3. Burning reduces organic matter content in soils
The vegetation residue on the soil creates a certain shade and helps keep moisture in the soil. This helps the activities of some very beneficial insects and organisms to improve the soil. They improve aeration in the soil. Their faeces are a major fertilization to the soil. The vegetation residue on decomposition fertilizes the soil. This adds to the organic matter content of the soil and helps the soil to retain moisture. Burning kills or drives these organisms away and eliminates all these benefits.
4. It is an extra cost to production
Burning becomes an additional activity in farming and therefore comes with a cost. When you do not burn, you reduce total cost of production and you save time too. Why not save energy and time for a better practice?
5. Burning might cause bushfires
Uncontrolled burning on farms has been a major cause of bushfires spreading to destroy vast areas of forests, plantations and other properties in Ghana and across the globe. Farmers, annually are troubled with litigation concerning fires that burnt their farms or another’s farm. Slash and burn has been a major cause of deforestation worldwide. Avoiding burning of residual vegetation after slashing can save one from all these troubles while we protect our forest cover. It goes a long way to improving climatic conditions.
“Slash and burn” is not a sustainable practice.
Adopting sustainable agricultural technologies like no-till under conservation agriculture is a better substitute for slash and burn in our current climatic trends and food demands. It comes with very noticeable soil improvements.