Abstract. Scientific land and soil resource surveys have had only limited impacts locally on development and extension practice in the tropics. They are thought to have little relevance for subsistence farmers. Their failure to accommodate local social and cultural priorities is a factor. Soil scientists have, until recently, given little attention to others’ understanding of soil or ‘ethnopedology’. The incorporation of indigenous soil and land resource knowledge has recently been advocated to improve their relevance. But a common error is uncritically to impose a western scientific model, which may distort understanding. The ill‐informed, decontextualised knowledge that results may even promote negative interventions. This paper criticises the narrow idea of ‘indigenous technical knowledge’, citing evidence from Papua New Guinea, Bangladesh and Indonesia. While we find farmers consistently use some of the same information as scientists to assess soils, their definitions of soils and land types are often at odds. Scientists identify classes by a range of technically assessed properties, whereas farmers may not. Their more holistic approach also accounts in part for the disjunction, frequently incorporating exotic social and cultural aspects. The wider use of indigenous soil notions in agrotechnology transfer may be limited too by some of their intrinsic characteristics, inclined to be location specific, and culturally relative.
Soil Use and Management – Wiley
Published: Dec 1, 1998
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