Proposal for farming_system=jhum

As I understand it, at present, farming_system is used in Nepal to mark bari and khet , referring to specific farming practices in the area. I am proposing to use this tag with jhum (or something semantically equivalent) to mark farmland in NE India / Myanmar where traditional jhum shifting cultivation (slash-and-burn farming) is practiced.

These are fields which are essentially permanent farmland, but which are left to re-wild for some years before being used again. Contrary to some beliefs about the method, the entirety of the jungle is not used for this type of farming. Instead, it is always the same fields that the communities cycle between. However from time to time the satellite photos may show it as what would look like regular jungle, in case the photos were taken while it is between uses.

Expansion of this tag to include jhum could enable greater tracking of such fields as part of ongoing scientific analyses of this methods of farming and their impact on the environment. Use of the farming_system tag does not affect rendering, or interfere with any other tags. As farming_system is already in wide use in Nepal but otherwise unused, it is the ideal option for tagging jhum land use.

Adapted from my diary here, and posted at the request of mcliquid:


There’s fallow=yes for farming lands that are left unworked for several years but kind of exclusively used in Italy as tag, still 2,700x used

Only using fallow=yes is problematic since it’s time-specific and not marking the landuse as something which is regularly used for shifting cultivation, even if at this very moment the field is fallow. I would see fallow=* used alongside my proposal, such that farming_system=jhum would mark an area of land as something which is used for jhum cultivation (and such fields have well regulated custodianship within communities that practice this method of farming, so it’s a set feature of the land area itself in this case), while fallow=yes would be it’s current state.

The idea behind the proposal is that land which is set aside for the purpose of shifting cultivation is unchanging in that designation.

The issue with the Nepal tags is that they are too specifc, as your own example shows, introducing another tag for something which is comparable. Cultivated land which needs a period of several years to return to an adequate level of productivity exists in many parts of the world (simple example from Europe are the areas described as pseudo-steppe in Western Spain).

I think it might be a good opportunity to try and identify farming systems which are more generic and work on a worldwide basis. The starting point for me would be the intensive vs extensive dichotomy, but to do this we need input from people round the world. However, I see no issue in using your suggested tag value in the interim.

Intensive farming practices have changed significantly in the past 50 years, seeing the effective demise of the mixed farm in Britain, and more widespread raising of beef & dairy cattle in feedlots. Areas in Western Europe and North America were extensive or low-intensity farming is still practised often have other features such as more attractive landscape character or greater biodiversity (e.g. Lower Engadin, CH). Changes are still happening quite rapidly in Ireland and places in Eastern Europe (removal of hedges, change from pasture to arable, reprofiling river banks (including removing riverside trees)…

Unfortunately, Wikipedia articles on these subjects are rudimentary (one would never realise that mixed farming was the predominant mode of farming in England in the 1960s).

The FAO have top-level descriptions of farming systems for various regions of the world. These may be too abstract, but do represent a standard codification. This is the page for South Asia.

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Cheers. SE Asia will be more appropriate this this case, but that’s here: Farming Systems and Poverty. Specifically Upland Intensive Mixed System.

This is a part of the world that the average person doesn’t agree on which region it belongs to since partly it’s within India. Zomia, while not a widely accepted concept these days, is probably the best notion to apply. I’m not saying any that as a correction to anything, only sharing it for others who may stumble across this discussion. Few people outside of the region give it any consideration, and the lack of applicability for what is normal for “mainland” India causes some issues in getting accurate descriptions out there.

I’ll give this some more consideration, and hopefully others can chime in. In the mean time I will continue to tag permanent shifting cultivation fields with farming_system=jhum in lieu of something else, since it will be easy to adjust those later to farming_system=(something else) or something else if it gains support.

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Thanks for the reply, and yes, arbitrary political boundaries often don’t coincide with cultural or geographical ones. I think one key feature which you have picked out is that this is a form of shifting cultivation, but with a cyclical return to former sites (presumably with a concept of ownership of sites currently fallow).

…a form of shifting cultivation, but with a cyclical return to former sites (presumably with a concept of ownership of sites currently fallow).

This is exactly it, yes. And the cyclical return with clear custodial systems in place is what drives the need for the tag, as I see it. Otherwise someone editing OSM looking only at satellite photos will see “oh this is a farm of some sort, oh this isn’t”, because the photos can only capture a, well, snapshot of the land use.

It’s also what I believe gives this tag scientific value, as it allows future researchers working on the topic of “traditional” shifting cultivation practices can use the OSM data if properly tagged to create a better record of potential changes in patterns of use according to political changes (e.g. recent laws in Manipur and Nagaland restricting farming practices, effects of climate change / war resulting in how people use land).