An e-publication by the World Agroforestry Centre



Chapter 6

The Taungya system in the tropics is, like shifting cultivation, a forerunner to agroforestry. The word is reported to have originated, as mentioned in Chapter 1, in Myanmar (Burma) and means hill (Taung) cultivation (ya) (Blanford, 1958). Originally it was the local term for shifting cultivation, and was subsequently used to describe the afforestation method. In 1856, when Dietrich Brandis was in Burma, then part of British India, shifting cultivation was widespread and there were several court cases against the villagers for encroaching on the forest reserves. Brandis realized the detrimental effect of shifting cultivation on the management of timber resources and encouraged the practice of "regeneration of teak (Tectona grandis) with the assistance of taungya," (Blanford, 1958) based on the well known German system of Waldfeldbau, which involved the cultivation of agricultural crops in forests. Two decades later the system proved so efficient that teak plantations were established at a very low cost. The villagers, who were given the right to cultivate food crops in the early stages of plantation establishment, no longer had to defend themselves in court cases on charges of forest destruction; they promoted afforestation on the cleared land by sowing teak seeds. The taungya system was soon introduced into other parts of British India, and later it spread throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Essentially, the taungya system consists of growing annual agricultural crops along with the forestry species during the early years of establishment of the forestry plantation. The land belongs to the forestry departments or their large-scale lessees, who allow the subsistence farmers to raise their crops. The farmers are required to tend the forestry seedlings and, in return, retain a part or all of the agricultural produce. This agreement would last for two or three years, during which time the forestry species would grow and expand its canopy. Usually during this period the soil fertility declines, some soil is lost to erosion, and weeds infest the area, thus making crop production nonremunerative, if not impossible. Figures 6.1 and 6.2 are photographs of a taungya plantation in two consecutive years in Thailand, and illustrate site-fertility decline.

Today the taungya system is known by different names, some of which are also used to denote shifting cultivation (as listed in Table 5.1): Tumpangsari in Indonesia; Kaingining in the Philippines; Ladang in Malaysia; Chena in Sri Lanka; Kumri, Jhooming, Ponam, Taila, and Tuckle in different parts of India; Shamba in East Africa; Parcelero in Puerto Rico; Consorciarcao in Brazil, etc. (for details see King, 1968). Most of the forest plantations that have been established in the tropical world, particularly in Asia and Africa, owe their origin to the taungya system (von Hesmer, 1966, 1970; King, 1979).




Table 6.1. Soil properties of teak and mahogany nurseries compared with those of freshly cleared and burnt sites at Sapoba, Nigeria.

1. Freshly cleared and burnt sites
2. Teak (Tectona grandis) nursery
3. Mahogany (Swietania macrophylla) nursery
Source: Nwoboshi (1970).

The taungya system can be considered as another step in the process of transformation from shifting cultivation to agroforestry. While shifting cultivation is a sequential system of growing woody species and agricultural crops, taungya consists of the simultaneous combination of the two components during the early stages of forest plantation establishment. Although wood production is the ultimate objective in the taungya system, the immediate motivation for practicing it, as in shifting cultivation, is food production. From the soil management perspective, both taungya and shifting cultivation systems are similar; agricultural crops are planted to make the best use of the improved soil fertility built up by the previous woody plant component (given that taungya plantations are established on cleared forest lands and not degraded agricultural lands). In shifting cultivation the length of the agricultural cycle can last only as long as the soil sustains reasonable crop yields. In taungya it is primarily dependent on the physical availability of space and light based on the planting arrangements of the trees.

In the classification of taungya, a distinction is sometimes made between "integral" and "partial" systems. Partial taungya refers to "predominantly the economic interests of its participants (as in some kinds of cash crops, resettlement, and squatter agriculture)," whereas integral systems "stem from a more traditional, year-round, community-wide, largely self-contained, and ritually sanctioned way of life" (Conklin, 1957). In other words, the concept of "integral taungya" is meant to invoke the idea of a land-use practice that offers a more complete and culturally sensitive approach to rural development. It is not merely the temporary use of a piece of land and a poverty level wage, but a chance to participate equitably in a diversified and sustainable agroforestry economy.