Energy and economic analysis of cash crops (coffee, tea, ginger and pineapple mixed cropping system) are contrasted with shifting agriculture under a 10-yr cycle in north-eastern India. Though ginger gave maximum monetary return, followed by tea, the output/input ratio was higher for pineapple mixed cropping system. Coffee is not successful in this area of study. Some of the cash crop systems had high energy efficiencies though the shifting agriculture had high output/input ratio of 43·5. Nutrient losses through water was high under cash crops with maximal losses under ginger; compared to shifting agriculture the losses were substantial. It is suggested that plantation crops should be sustained in the region basing it, to the extent possible, on the concept of recycling of organic wastes.