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What is Terrace Farming & How It Can Help Farmers?

Terrace farming refers to a type of farming method where a farmer creates steps along the slopes of a hill or mountain for crop cultivation. It is an extremely popular form of farming in the North Eastern states of Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Arunachal Pradesh.

Aarushi Chadha
Mountainsides are turned into flat arable land by removing the topsoil to form ridges.
Mountainsides are turned into flat arable land by removing the topsoil to form ridges.

Terrace farming is a type of farming that is mainly practiced in mountainous and hilly regions. In India, terrace farming is popularly practiced in the states of Assam, Himachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand, and Mizoram. The practice of creating steps on the slopes of a hill or mountain for cultivation purposes has existed for centuries.

For instance, the Incas at Machu Picchu in Peru practiced terrace farming and so did the Mesopotamian ziggurats. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were also created by using terrace farming. In Modern-Day, terrace farming is practiced around the world and is popularly used to cultivate tea, rice, potatoes, and maize in many Southeast and South Asian countries.

What is terrace farming?

Terrace farming or terracing is a type of farming where the slopes of a hill or mountain are turned into farmland by constructing ridged platforms or terraces. Mountainsides are turned into flat arable land by removing the topsoil to form ridges. These ridges allow the water to flow down to lower platforms rather than pool in just one area.

The purpose of terrace farming is to decrease the rapid flow of water and prevent soil erosion. Generally, when it rains, water removes the topsoil (which contains all of the nutrients) as it runs downs the mountain. This leads to land erosion and greater soil saturation at the base. However, terrace farming stops that from happening and even reduces the chances of mudslides.

Common Types of terrace farming

  • Benched terrace farming- Benched terrace farming is the most basic type of terrace farming in the mountains because it holds rainwater efficiently and has a high yield projection.

  • Grass back-slope terrace farming- In this type of farming, the back slop is covered in perennial grass and not used for cultivation, unlike the rest of the slopes.

How do farmers benefit from terrace farming?

Other than mountainous regions, terrace farming is also popular in areas that receive a lot of rain because it prevents plants from being carried away by a heavy flow of water. Terrace farming also prevents water from eroding the top layer of the soil and more or less distributes water evenly on all of the slopes.

Terrace farming is a great way of utilizing an idle mountainside for cultivation purposes. It improves land productivity, otherwise, the hillside would just be unusable farmland. Terrace farming increases the food and economic security of the farmers. It not only offers safer growing conditions to the farmer but also gives them more control of the land they till.

Although terrace farming turns unusable mountainsides into arable land, however, it also has several disadvantages.

Terrace farming is a laborious endeavor. It is not easy to construct slopes, especially without the proper equipment. Plus, the steep incline makes it very difficult to transport heavy machinery for an easy job. Constructing slopes that will allow water to distribute properly requires precision and the farmer’s patience and effort.

There is a lot that can go wrong while constructing the slopes as well. If the slope is extremely flat, then water can become stagnant and hold excess water which is disastrous for the crop. However, if the slope is not flat enough, the slopes may not retain water properly and the farmer will suffer water loss.

And like any other farmland, farmers need to ensure that the soil is healthy and fertile. Plus, they need to put adequate measures to prevent pest infestations and crop diseases. All of this requires a lot of manpower because sometimes the hill is too steep to carry heavy machinery.

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