To design more appropriate research and to facilitate communication with farmers, researchers need to understand farmers' knowledge, perceptions and assessments of soil fertility. To address this issue for the mid-hills of western Nepal, semi-structured interviews were conducted in 68 households to gain insight into soil fertility management practices, local methods used to assess the fertility status of a field, and perceived trends in soil fertility. Thirty-three farmers were then asked to identify fertile and infertile fields. Characteristics of these fields in terms of the indicators mentioned in the interviews were recorded, and soil samples were taken for chemical analysis in a laboratory. Data were stratified according to altitude and type of field, khet (irrigated) and bari (rainfed).
A total of 62 indicators was found to be used by farmers to evaluate and monitor soil fertility, which were classified into five categories: those relating to soil characteristics, crop performance, agricultural management, environmental factors, and biology. There was good agreement between farmers' assessment of the soil fertility status of a field and a number of these indicators, particularly soil colour and weed abundance, which were examined in more detail. The soil chemical analysis also corresponded well with farmers assessment of soil fertility.
Farmers' perceptions of soil fertility were found to be more 'holistic' than those of researchers, as they included factors they felt influenced the soils and crop growth in their fields. The term 'field fitness' is proposed as it conveys farmers' perceptions more accurately than 'soil fertility' alone.
Desbiez, A.; Matthews, R.; Tripathi, B.; Ellis-Jones, J. Perceptions and assessment of soil fertility by farmers in the mid hills of Nepal. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment (2004) 103 (1) 191-206.