Most people see shifting cultivation as outdated and destructive, but farmers in the eastern Himalayas still prefer to farm in this way. This study takes a fresh and unbiased look at the practice to find out why. It shows that indigenous farmers have much to teach the world about the efficient use of their landscape for combined agriculture and forestry. Shifting cultivators conserve more forests on their land than any other farmers while maintaining crop productivity, avoiding soil degradation, and conserving biodiversity. The findings contain important lessons for policy makers and others: farmers’ innovations can be used to improve shifting cultivation and adapt it to modern needs, rather than trying to replace it with alternatives.