Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ethnopedology: the study of local soil knowledge

“There is a need to integrate science and local knowledge. Both are vital and can be brought together only by participation” emphasized Prof. Dr. Franz Heidhues in his concluding remarks during the International Scientific Conference on Sustainable Land Use and Rural Development in Mountain Areas held at the University of Hohenheim, Germany on 16-18 April 2012. As can be seen from the figure below, scientific knowledge becomes more relevant when it is combined with local knowledge (Barrios and Trejo, 2003).

Precision & relevance of scientific and local knowledge  
Ethnopedology is the study of the local knowledge on soil and land systems of rural populations, from the most traditional to the modern. Ethnopedological research covers a wide diversity of topics centered around four main issues: (1) the formalization of local soil and land knowledge into classification schemes; (2) the comparison of local and technical soil classifications; (3) the analysis of local land evaluation systems; and (4) the assessment of agro-ecological management practices (Barrera-Bassols and Zinck, 2003; Barrios and Trejo, 2003). It encompasses many aspects, including indigenous perceptions and explanations of soil properties and soil processes, soil classifications, soil management, and knowledge of soil–plant interrelationships (Talawar, 1996).

In a recent study conducted in Vietnam and Thailand and presented in the above-mentioned scientific conference in Hohenheim, Dr. Gerhard Clemens and co-workers found, among other things, that: 1) Farmers classify their soils first of all according to soil color; 2) Farmers are able to describe soil properties and features. They also know the local factors affecting their soil; 3) Local soil classification is not consistent but the predominant soils can be efficiently identified using local soil knowledge.

An old farmer sharing some traditional knowledge 
Our own research in the degraded lands of Parasanon, Pinabacdao, Samar showed that the sweetpotato farmers possess a local knowledge system with regards to the nature of the soil and that of their sweetpotato crop. The demographic traits of the farmers clearly differed but they adhered to the same knowledge system regarding the attributes of the soil in their locality and the growth condition of their sweetpotato plants. Using their native dialect, the farmers have a soil classification scheme based on textural characteristics; they have also certain indicators of soil fertility and plant health. Moreover, the farmers know of certain problems concerning their soil or crop but they are not detracted by these because of their experience in finding ways to circumvent the situation (Pardales et al., 2001).

There has been an increasing research interest in local soil knowledge in recent years. This is the result of a greater recognition that the knowledge of people who have been interacting with their soils for a long time can offer many insights about the sustainable management of tropical soils (Barrios and Trejo, 2003).


Barrios E and MT Trejo. 2003. Geoderma 111: 217-231
Barrera-Bassols N and JA Zinck 2003. Geoderma 111: 171-195
Clemens G, U Schuler, BL Vinh, H Hagel, and K Stahr. 2012. International Scientific Conference on Sustainable land use and Rural Development in Mountainous Areas, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, 16-18 April 2012
Heidhues F. 2012. Conclusions. International Scientific Conference on Sustainable land use and Rural Development in Mountainous Areas, University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, 16-18 April 2012.
Pardales JR, VB Asio, AB Tulin and DM Campilan. 2001. Project Report, UPWARD-CIP, Laguna.
Talawar, S., 1996. Research paper #2.Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia, Athens, USA.


Timeless said...

I've run through several of your posts archives and enjoyed many of them, though I don't comment on them so much as I can see you are not around so much, but wish you could post more. Anyway as always I enjoy your posts.

BTW, have you seen this from the News yesterday ?

Can Fungi Clean Up a Superfund Site?

Wondered if you have any further info or studies on this Fungo Claen up process. I know they have viewed similar activity of biological clean up on Chernobyl site with bacteria on Sunflowers and fungus on walls, but still a fascinating possibility. Of course the firest line of defense is getting mankind to stop the stupidity, but that's highly unlikely given the historical record.

Thaks again - Kevin


Victor B. Asio said...

Hi Kevin,
Thanks again for leaving a comment and for giving time to see some of my posts. I appreciate it.
I always try to update my blog more often but other works and frequent trips prevent me from doing it.
I have followed the link you kindly provided on the clean up of Superfund using fungi. I find it very interesting and relevant. Until now, I have not done any thing related to it. But I will try to encourage some young colleagues to work on the topic.

Timeless said...

Hi Victor

One quick question, I'm doing a rather lengthy post on Bio-Crusts and using the designs found out in Nature to re-establish vegetative conditions to areas of drastic desertification. Do you have anything in your own archives here on that very subject of soil crusts, bio crusts, cryptogamic crusts etc ?

Thanks - Kevin


Jess said...

Such a great blog post!! It is this type of information that we often forget to collect.

About the fungus (comments by timeliess), I have seen the same things too. Some of it is on my blog (soilduck.com). As for biocrusts, lots of work in Australian rangelands and mines in South Africa. I don't know how much of it is open access, but there is lots! there :)

Victor B. Asio said...

Thanks a lot Jess for sharing with us those important information on fungus and biocrusts.

To Kevin, no I have not yet written something on biocrusts.

Thanks again.


Timeless said...

Well, I just finished a Biological Soil Crust piece on my blog. It's on my Earth's Internet blog.

Thanks Jess I've checked your site and will follow it.

Vic, I also like your other article today, thanks for the further info.


Anonymous said...

My many years experience working with farmers taught me that there are many things that farmers know which science cannot explain well. In the same manner there are many things that rural people know or practice which have been proven "incorrect" by science. I agree that there should be a combination of science and local or traditional knowledge.

Timeless said...

I can agree with Anonymous on this point. I've been trying to find info on the phenomena of the effects of water signature from Thunderstorms where the electrical current restructures the water in some anomalous way that effects the explosive growth of plants compared to any other water quality. I believe it mostly has to do with the more loosely bonded water molecule clusters which are broken down into tinier clusters which allows the plant's to hydrate themselves more efficiently. It disolves minerials in the soil better making it much easier for bacteria and all other organisms to break down.

But one of the most intriguing things for me is the effect it has on mushroom or truffle growth of mycorrhizae. I've always gotten my most abundant truffle collections after a week or two of thunderstorm activity. Africans collect Kalahari White Truffles after thunderstorms. Tom Volk even acknowledges this on his site.

Of course the Greeks & Romans also had ledgends about this, but I cannot really find much out there on the study of this phenomena or if anyone is working on a process to invent a means of triggering this type of water restructuring for usage in Greenhouse farming or any other type of Agriculture.

Term papers said...

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Anonymous said...

I have also read about ethnoecology and ethnobotany. All these new fields of study (including ethnopedology) have one thing in common: local knowledge. To me this is a good sign that science now recognizes the important role of traditional knowledge which in many cases is more applicable, more correct, and suitable to local conditions than the scientific knowledge.Thanks for posting this nice article on ethnopedology.

Sebastian Wahlhütter said...

I just tried to find scientific journals dealing with the topic of ethnopedology and I ended up on your website. Nice work. I tried to follow the link "Soil science & related earth science journals" but unfortunately it seems to be not working. Do you have any recommendations for journals in this field. I'm working on an interdisciplinary project dealing with local soil knowledge among organic farmers in Austria. So far I've noticed that GEODERMA and CATENA are quite relevant but I'm sure that there are many more. Any suggestions? Of special interest to me would be journals in the field of cultural anthropology and social science however everything is welcome!

Regards Sebastian