| By Anthony Bebbington | Published in the Bulletin of Latin American Research, 9(2):203-228 |
Abstract: Many concerned in designing sustainable agricultural strategies for resource-poor farmers have identified a key role for indigenous agricultural knowledge (Altieri, 1987a,b; Browder, 1989; Hecht and Cockburn, 1989; Norgaard, 1984; Redclift, 1987). It is argued that farmers, as a result of their intimate engagement with the biophysical environment, are frequently able to exploit a wide range of niches, producing food in ways that reduce risks and maintain the local environment intact (Richards, 1985; Wilken, 1987). Whereas modern technology commonly works against the environment in order to control it, indigenous technologies tend to work with, and adapt to, environmental resources. For this reason the knowledge of peasant farmers must be a key component in the design of sustainable food production strategies (Redclift, 1987). Having said that, while peasant farmers frequently have in-depth knowledge of local ecological patterns and must accordingly be intimately involved in the process of technology generation and dissemination (Bebbington, 1989; Rhoades and Bebbington, 1990), we must also recall that famines are evidence of the adaptive limitations of farmer innovation (Turner, 1983; Newman, 1990). This paper aims to examine some of these issues in the context ofa detailed case study of peasant farming in the Oxapampa region on the eastern slopes of the Peruvian Andes, where farmers have created two distinct cropping systems in the space of
only three decades. More specificaUy, the article attempts to demonstrate: (1) there are social, economic and ecological relations that mediate and may undermine the sustainability of agricultural strategies based on farmer agro-ecological skills; (2) there are production contexts, where what farmers already know may not be sufficient to sustain a family farm strategy; and (3) farmer skills may not be equipped to sustain a farm when farmers’ production contexts change?particularly when they move between ecological zones, or when market-oriented production replaces production for consumption. I
suggest that these are important points to bear in mind for two main reasons,
the one conceptual, the other practical.