What Is The Slash And Burn Method? (Pros And Cons)

what is the slash and burn method
what is the slash and burn method

There are a variety of ways in which farming can be done. Usually, there are preferences for certain kinds depending on the needs and capabilities of the farmers and their fields. Slash and burn is one such method that has been used by farmers for a long time.

It is a process by which the same plot of land is prepared for the regrowth of crops and trees. This process has several advantages which include getting the most out of the nutrients from the soil.

It also ensures that the soil is ready for the next planting cycle. To understand this method holistically, it is important to look at it from all aspects.

What is the Slash and Burn Method?

The Process

The Process

This is a relatively simple process to understand, at least in theory. As the name suggests, you first cut the right trees on a plot of land and then burn off any excess vegetation such as bushes and grass.

After this, new seeds can be sowed. This is done in places where wild plants are grown naturally, and therefore is an effective way to create space in places like forests to allow the growth of crops that are important to people.


Burning Fertilizes the Land

Burning Fertilizes the Land

You will find several benefits of this method. For one, through the burning, a layer of ash is formed on top of the soil.

This layer, because it is the ash of vegetation, acts as a fertilizer for new plants and therefore, is great for their growth. The ash adds to the nutrient already present in the soil. Once it is given adequate water, it becomes the perfect compost for the field.

Effective for Larger Areas

Alongside the ash-cum-fertilizer, this method is also advantageous for another reason. Because fire is used, it does not require much manpower to clear out a large plot of land.

In fact, this method can do it both efficiently and effectively. After cutting out the bigger trees, you just need to just spread the fire through the wild bushes and the land will clear for you.

This, in turn, makes the land free for growing beneficial crops needed by humans for consumption and removing those that you may not need. So, if a farmer faces the issue of vast spaces of land covered in unnecessary wild bushes, the slash and burn method can greatly help.

Provide Economic Gain and Survival

Another great advantage of this method is that can help nearby people suffering without the proper income or food. It would allow them to repurpose forests or unused lands for growing crops that they actually need.

These in turn can provide income, jobs, and even food to help the community survive in the long run.


Fire is Unpredictable

However, there are certain problems with the slash and burn method. Firstly, you will be dealing with fire, which sometimes has the tendency to be unpredictable and can, therefore, unexpectedly spread.

You have to be extra careful that it is done in a controlled environment and you must take on several counter-measures to make sure everyone and everything is out of harm’s way.

Smoke Can Lead to Air Pollution

Smoke Can Lead to Air Pollution

Additionally, the process would also emit a lot of smoke which is very dangerous for living things and should, therefore, not be done in places with wildlife present. It should also not be used on farmland near your home as it can cause breathing problems for you as well

Land Usage Becomes Limited

Under this method, land can only be used for a couple of years before it is completely depleted of its nutrients. Farmers then need to abandon the land and move to a new plot of the forest.

This method also reduces the water table of the soil and eventually can lead to soil erosion which is dangerous for both the land and the people, as it can then lead to landslides.

Lead To Deforestation

Lead To Deforestation

With the continuous movement, this process can also lead to severe deforestation in certain areas. Additionally, it can also destroy the overall strength of the land if larger communities start to do it.

Loss of Habitat and Wildlife

Loss of Habitat and Wildlife

Trees that may appear useless to people may be homes to other living things. Removing them would, therefore, lead to a great loss of habitat and wildlife. In addition, there will also be a loss in a variety of species of both flora and fauna that are found in wild forests.


The biggest problem of this process is perhaps that it is highly unsustainable. It does not provide a long-term solution for farmers who intend to use the land, and it definitely does not work well for the wild habitat in which it is used. Eventually, it leads to unusable spaces that are devoid of vegetation.

Alternative and Sustainable Methods to Slash and Burn

While it has its advantages, slash and burning are not very sustainable, and therefore, we should also consider alternative forms of growing crops. One such way is to integrate tress within cultivated lands and this has proven to have great advantages for both ecology and the economy.

This method is known as agroforestry and it can help replenish the nutrients of the soil as well as retain its moisture. Additionally, it reduces erosion, increases yields for crops, and reduces the need for chemicals such as pesticides.

Other advantages include reducing the need for weeding and creating alternative habitats for the diverse species that can be found around the area, thereby, promoting biodiversity. Agroforestry can also become a source of fuelwood.

Unlike slash and burn, the land is not eternally damaged and so crops can be continuously grown year after year. When done correctly, farmers will see an increase in crop yields, no loss of soil, and an eventual increase in the fertility of the soil because of the falling leaves. Growing trees can also prevent crops from extreme temperatures, such as rail or high temperatures.

How Does Agroforestry Compare with Slash and Burn Method?

Both methods have proven to have their own advantages and disadvantages. With the slash and burn method, you are able to deal with a large plot of land quickly. So this would work great during times of emergency when a small community is suffering from a lack of food or income.

On the other hand, agroforestry will take a longer time to show its true advantages. However, when done correctly, it can provide an increased yield, which means a good amount of food and income for communities.

Another advantage of the slash and burn method is that the burning of the wild vegetation covers the emptied land with a layer of ash which makes it very fertile for crop production. Similarly, with agroforestry, the soil is kept high in nutrients with the leaf litter that occurs from the surrounding trees.

However, a problem that is quite evident with slash and burn is that it cannot be used on one plot of land for long. After a few years, the nutrients are completely depleted and the land becomes unusable which in turn, forces farmers to move on to new plots of land and start over.

With agroforestry, this is not a problem. Because of the surrounding trees, the soil is continually maintaining its health and fertility thereby, allowing farmers to continue their work for many years. The trees also provide ample shade to the crops in case of extreme temperatures.

However, it must be noted that a drawback of agroforestry is that it may not offer an ideal solution for those crops that need open and clear spaces to grow, which is what the slash and burn method can provide.

Another problem is that it would attract various bugs and pests which can be harmful to crop yield. Again, this is not a problem with slash and burn.


With the slash and burn method, you may find that there are a lot of different benefits and drawbacks that arise. It can be helpful in immediate situations but its lack of long-term sustainability is what makes it highly problematic.

It is a method that can be used only after thoughtful deliberation about when a crop needs to be grown, how much of it, and how urgent the situation is.

Leave a Comment