Because the slash-and-burn system requires lengthy fallow periods, any society practicing it must have much more land at its disposal than it will have under actual cultivation at any given time (Sahlins, 1968). The Tsembaga Maring of New Guinea, for example, had only 42 acres of land under actual cultivation in 1962-1963, but about 864 acres of their territory had been gardened at one time or another (M. Harris, 1975). Such land use requirements put limits on population density, and tropical forest cultivators often maintain population densities of less than ten persons per square mile (Sahlins, 1968).
Cultivated plants constitute the bulk of the dietary intake among simple horticulturalists, but a number of simple horticultural societies also possess domesticated animals. Domesticated pigs, for instance, are found throughout Melanesia. But most simple horticulturalists lack domesticated animals, and such groups must rely upon hunting or fishing for their supply of animal protein.
Simple horticulturalists produce more food per unit of land than do hunter-gatherers, and some even produce small economic surpluses. Yet it cannot be concluded that they enjoy a superior standard of living. Indeed, as noted earlier, it has been suggested that their standard of living is inferior to that of hunter-gatherers (M. Cohen, 1977, 1989). They do not consume more calories, and their intake of protein appears to be lower. Furthermore, considerable evidence has accumulated in recent years to show that simple horticulturalists commonly work harder than hunters and gatherers (M. Cohen, 1977). It generally takes more time and energy to clear land and plant, tend, and harvest crops than to collect what nature automatically provides. Thus, simple horticulture is a more intensive system of technology than hunting and gathering, but it does not lead to greater material benefits.