Colonist farmers' perceptions of fertility and the frontier environment in eastern Amazonia

Abstract

Colonists, unlike indigenous peoples, are often assumed to have little knowledge of their environment. However, their perceptions of the environment and their knowledge of natural resource systems have a significant impact on their farming practices. Farmers in the frontier region of Marabá, Eastern Amazonia, understand nutrient cycling and the links between different components in farming systems. Diagrams drawn by farmers show very diversified systems, and farmers' knowledge of soil characteristics, including sub-surface features, and distribution in their localities is very detailed in comparison to pedological classifications. However, knowledge about nutrient cycling is very uneven, even between farmers from the same area.Generally, farmers were found to have very detailed knowledge of environmental resources, but very patchy knowledge of processes and functions underlying systems, and this conforms to evolutionary models of ecological knowledge. Perceptions of change in soil fertility are related to the length of settlement, and are closely linked to the presence of forest. Overall, the majority of farmers believe they will not be able to sustain cropping in the future, and as forest and fallow become scarce the most feasible option will be for them to move to other areas.Farmers are more optimistic about pasture, which is viewed as a more stable system, with the key to long-term sustainability being weed control. These findings imply that a high degree of information sharing between farmers and scientists is required to establish resource management strategies and social institutions to support sustainable development strategies at the frontier.

Citation

Muchagata, M.; Brown, K. Colonist farmers’ perceptions of fertility and the frontier environment in eastern Amazonia. Agriculture and Human Values (2000) 17 (4) 371-384.

Colonist farmers’ perceptions of fertility and the frontier environment in eastern Amazonia

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