3 Hidden Dangers of Slash-and-Burn Farming Techniques

Slash and Burn farming techniques are known for their destructive qualities, but rainforest conservationists are finding more dangers that threaten the health of this fragile environment.

organic farmer in field near Gunung Palung National Park
An organic farmer in their field | Photo: Katie Homes

In Indonesia, some farming takes place in areas that have been cleared by slash and burn practices. This technique involves cutting trees and vegetation and leaving it on the ground as it falls. After it dries out, the area is set ablaze. Farmers then plant crops in the soil that’s left behind.

After a few years, this soil is depleted of it’s essential nutrients and farmers must move on. In their wake they leave a destroyed ecosystem that was the former home to numerous species of plants, insects, and animals. It can take up to twenty years for this land to recover and be useful again.

Hidden Danger #1: Soil Quality is Depleted to Dangerous Levels
Initially, soil quality gets a boost from the new addition of ash and other biomass in the aftermath of slash and burn activity. After a few years however, those nutrients are used up and farmers must leave the depleted soil in search of other land.

After the plots are abandoned, it can take up to twenty years for the soil to reach its optimum health again. Healthy soil is a result of a relationship between the native trees, insects, and moisture in the area. Trees and other natural vegetation provide shade, fruit, and animals necessary to the health of soil.

Slash and burn practices disrupt the natural balance of the tropical rainforest in Indonesia, sending the soil in a downward spiral that it cannot recover from quickly.

Hidden Danger #2: The Health of Endangered Species is Put in Jeopardy
The tropical rainforest in Indonesia supports a range of biodiversity not found anywhere else on the planet. When slash and burn practices are used, a number of species that rely on the protection and food of native trees are put in jeopardy.

Some of the world’s most amazing creatures call the rainforest home. The number of orangutans in Borneo has reached dangerously low levels. Tigers, elephants, numerous birds, and insects are also very dependent on the vegetation that’s obliterated with slash and burn techniques.

To stay healthy, these amazing animals need the shade, roots, fruits, and cover that the leafy vegetation of rainforests in Borneo provide.

Hidden Danger #3: Respiratory Problems Plague the Local Community
There’s more to rainforest conservation than plants and animals. Indonesia is home to many diverse communities of people, many of whom live in close proximity to the rainforest. The smoke and air pollution from slash and burn practices causes significant health problems

Smoke from slash and burn fires in the rainforests of Indonesia can travel for hundreds of miles, affecting the young and elderly all across the region.This smoke causes significant respiratory issues that require modern medical technology to treat.

The leaves and vegetation that are lost in these fires are vital to filtering pollutants and adding oxygen to the air. Additionally, these health problems limit the ability of local people to go to school and work.

There is something you can do to help.

Through our pilot program, ASRI, Health In Harmony has been able to make great progress in combating the hidden dangers of slash and burn practices. We’ve identified innovative solutions by involving local communities in rainforest conservation efforts at every step.

These efforts require tremendous amounts of training, financial resources, and technical know-how. Without our incredible volunteers, interns, and donors the program’s success could not be possible.

If these slash and burn practices continue, farmers will continue to move from plot to plot, leaving expired and depleted soil in their wake. Donate today to save forests AND save lives. Rainforest conservation is successful because of donations and support from people like you who insist on having a healthy planet.

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