2. Building on local knowledge - the challenge of agroforestry for pastoral areas.
Agroforestry Today, Oct.-Dec. 1991, pp. 4-7
For generations, the lives of pastoralists in dryland Africa were shaped by one thing: an unforgiving climate. With the threat of drought always as near as the next season, pastoral communities built up knowledge about the vegetation in their harsh environment and evolved complex strategies that gave them resilience to the consequences of unreliable rainfall.
An expanding population, penetration of the cash economy, loss of dry-season grazing land to cropping, and a national emphasis on crops and settlements have brought a different set of challenges. Despite the long-term sustainability of pastoral land-management systems, they are now in danger of breaking down.
Attempts to help pastoralists adapt to their new circumstances, through agriculture or agroforestry, were often unsuccessful. In many cases, this lack of success can be linked to the fact that scientists and planners failed to discuss problems and potential solutions with the recipients of research and development.
The pastoralists' knowledge of their environment was usually ignored or, at best, simply not understood.
A brief description of three pastoral communities: the Pokot and Turkana of Kenya and the Sukuma of Tanzania gives some answers on how they utilize plants and manage their land.
Concluding, the capacity of the people and the land to recover from drought is linked to a mobile population, availability of large and diverse grazing lands, access to dry-season fodder including trees, low to moderate stocking rates per unit of land, moderate to high stocking rates per person, use of wild fruits and other fonds from trees, and limited production of dryland crops such as sorghum.
A second lesson from these pastoral societies concerns the vital link between resilience and risk. For pastoralists, decreased resilience can dramatically reduce the chances of surviving a period of drought. In this context, changes in land use, such as the cultivation of areas traditionally used for dry-season grazing, may significantly reduce resilience and increase risk. By retaining trees in crop and grazing land, agroforestry could help to migitate this threat.
One other lesson is an appreciation of the importance of traditional knowledge coupled with a strong community structure. The knowledge provides a thorough understanding of the environment and the production system.
Concluding researchers and planners must first identify valuable aspects of the traditional natural-resource management system. They must then work with local people to help them adapt their practices to changing socio-economic and environmental conditions.
Research and develop priorities will naturally vary from region to region, but given the vastness of many dryland areas, it makes good sense to develop a system-wide framework that emphasizes conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources.
Within such a framework, specific strategies could incorporate:
- The conservation and management of existing trees, shrubs and grasses, including natural regeneration
Some recent approaches to research and development tend to be more enlightened than those of the past. There is now an extensive literature that strongly advocates the use of indigenous technical knowledge and that argues for participatory research as a basis for the development of appropriate interventions.
This movement towards participation in research and extension is part of a shift towards involving local people more actively in setting research priorities and planning their own development. These participatory programmes are yielding valuable information about existing systems, their potentials and constraints, problems and possible solutions.
By incorporating local people in the process of project planning and technology development, indigenous skills and knowledge can be expanded and preserved rather than lost through attrition.
People can maintain some degree of control over the changes that occur and they can gain a better understanding of alternative technologies and management practices.
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Traditional land-use systems
Europe, Portugal, Alentejo, field trials, land-use system, mechanization, history of development, soil productivity, traditional tillage, cropping system, cost reduction, cereals, fodder, sunflower, soil parameters
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