Indigenous Soil Knowledge for Sustainable Agriculture

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Iin P. Handayani and Priyono Prawito

Abstract Indigenous soil knowledge, a foundation of traditional farming systems, plays an important role in developing agricultural and environmental sustainability, especially in developing countries where most farmers have limited access to soil analysis and extension services. Recently, indigenous soil knowledge has been recognized as a vital source for most scientists to be used to change and improve natural resource management without neglecting the social and cultural values of the local environment. However, the transfer of the knowledge from generation to generation, farmer to farmer, farmers to scientists, and scientists to farmers is critical for a better understanding of soil processes, which is a major part in developing sustainable agriculture. This chapter reviews indigenous soil knowledge and its application and how scientists respond to the value of indigenous soil knowledge and integrating it into agricultural activities. Case studies from various countries in Africa, America, Asia, and Europe revealed that there is a diversity of local or traditional knowledge and practices in soil management. These include plant species selection, landscape management, succession or fallow management, ways to observe soil degradation, and practices of responding to ecological problems in soils (i.e., fertility, acidity, erosion, biodiversity). Farmers' experiences illustrate the benefits of using indigenous soil knowledge and the incorporation of it into scientific soil knowledge to nurture and conserve natural resources. Combining both of the knowledge seems to be the best approach to support sustainable farming systems grounded in local environments and cultural values. For future, a more complete understanding of soil processes needs to be developed, not only based on local observations, but also in terms of philosophies and methodologies of transferring the knowledge. Farmers should be familiar with soil process concepts from

School of Agriculture, Murray State University, S 213 Oakley Applied Science Building,

Murray, KY, 42071, USA

e-mail: [email protected]

P. Prawito

College of Agriculture, University of Bengkulu, Jalan Raya Kandang Limun, Bengkulu, 38371, Sumatra, Indonesia

E. Lichtfouse (ed.), Sociology, Organic Farming, Climate Change and Soil Science, Sustainable Agriculture Reviews 3, DOI 10.1007/978-90-481-3333-8_11, © Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

both knowledge to achieve better and more sustainable relationship with their land, and to respond to the global opportunities and challenges.

Keywords Farming system • Indigenous soil knowledge • Scientific soil knowledge • Soil characteristics • Soil degradation • Soil restoration Sustainable agriculture • Traditional soil knowledge

11.1 Introduction

Indigenous or folk knowledge refers to local people's knowledge (Bellon and Taylor 1993). It is crucial for agricultural and environmental sustainability, especially in developing countries where most farmers have limited access to soil analysis and extension services (Smalling and Braun 1996; Handayani et al. 2006). Farmers usually derive their knowledge from their long interaction with local agroecosys-tems (Altieri 1990; Barrios et al. 1994). The transfer of indigenous knowledge from generation to generation becomes critical for a better understanding of soil processes, which is a major part in agriculture ecosystems.

Interest in indigenous knowledge has been growing in recent years due to greater recognition in biodiversity conservation (Gadgil et al. 1993), protection of watersheds (Johannes 1993), management of agroecosystems (Handayani et al. 2006), greenhouse gas mitigation (Winklerprins 1999), and improved resource use in a sustainable way (Schmink et al. 1992). Scientists, biologists, ecologists, ecological anthropologists, and sociologists all share an interest in indigenous knowledge for scientific, social, or economic reasons (Norton et al. 1998).

According to Warren and Rajasekaran (1993), indigenous knowledge is considered a valuable part of national resource management because (1) it provides concepts to facilitate communication among various people, such as researchers and extension workers, (2) it helps to assure that the users of specific agricultural development projects are involved in developing technology appropriate to their needs, (3) it can be used as the basis for decision making and provides the foundation for local innovations and experimentations, (4) it is relatively cost-effective, because it builds on local development efforts, thus enhancing sustainability and capacity building, and (5) it can facilitate a dialogue between rural populations and development workers.

Being the basis of agricultural development, soil knowledge plays an important role in managing crop yields. Indigenous soil knowledge has now been recognized and accepted as a vital source due to the growing awareness of locally generated information that can be used to change and improve agriculture and natural resource management (Chimaraoke et al. 2003; Handayani et al. 2006).

The study of indigenous soil knowledge began with soil observation and classification (ethnopedology), and proceeded to considerations of local communities' understanding of soil processes and their relationships with agriculture production and the environment (Talawar and Rhoades 1998). Most indigenous soil knowledge analyses have components of local observation toward natural resources and environmental phenomena, local knowledge and practice, and beliefs regarding how people fit into or relate to the ecosystem (Murage et al. 2000; Winklerprins 1999). Therefore, indigenous soil knowledge is a knowledge - practice - belief complex (Sandor and Furbee 1996; Steiner 1998).

Indigenous soil knowledge can be seen as adaptive and holistic in outlook. It is commonly gathered by observers through generations because their lives depended on this information (Ingram 2008; Handayani and Prawito 2008). It is often collected incrementally, examined by trial and error for many years, and passed on to future generations orally or during practical experiences (Ohmagari and Berkes

1997). Not all practices from it are considered to be ecologically wise because of the changing conditions (Dwyer 1994; Roberts et al. 1995). For example, farmers in Sumatra, Indonesia use Chromolaena odorata (Fig. 11.1) or Austroeupotarium spp. to improve soil fertility in cocoa and cinnamon agroforests and deforested areas (Burgers and Williams 2000; Handayani et al. 2006). In fact, some households spread more seeds to ensure thick growth (Burgers and William 2000). Ecologically, this practice is not wise because the species is considered an invasive plant. Farmers in Chiapas, Mexico, justify that earthworms have a positive impact on soil quality (Grossman 2003). Earthworms are beneficial to soil because they can produce casts (Fragoso et al. 1997), increase the number of macropores and improve water infiltration (Francis and Fraser 1998), and influence decomposition process (Subler et al.

1998). However, farmers in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea observed that earthworm population caused a decrease in sweet potato yield (Sillitoe 1995).

Despite some inherent contradictions, growing interest in indigenous soil knowledge for creating sustainable ecosystems indicates that we need to seek further insights into the ecologically wise practices generated from it, which is the objective of this chapter. We provide a diversity of indigenous soil knowledge systems and discuss the their usefulness as complements to scientific information.

Fig. 11.1 Chromolaena odorata has invaded Imperata cylindrica grassland in Sumatra, Indonesia

The synthesis is partly based on the findings from various studies exploring farmers' or local communities' knowledge linked to ecosystem management. With such knowledge it will be possible to predict whether a particular indigenous soil knowledge can be used to design agroecosystems that have the best chance to be sustainable.

In this chapter, we will focus on the role of indigenous soil knowledge as a foundation for sustainable agriculture. Indigenous soil knowledge from different regions is exemplified to illustrate how agricultural ecosystems and sustainable crop productions are maintained to secure a flow of natural resources and ecological services on which people depend.

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