, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 371-384

Colonist farmers' perceptions of fertility and the frontier environment in eastern Amazonia

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Abstract

Colonists, unlike indigenous peoples, are often assumed tohave little knowledge of their environment. However, their perceptions of the environment and their knowledgeof natural resource systems have a significant impact on their farming practices. Farmers in the frontier regionof Marabá, Eastern Amazonia, understand nutrient cycling and the links between different components in farmingsystems. Diagrams drawn by farmers show very diversified systems, and farmers' knowledge of soilcharacteristics, including sub-surface features, and distribution in their localities is very detailed in comparison to pedologicalclassifications. However, knowledge about nutrient cycling is very uneven, even between farmers from the same area.Generally, farmers were found to have very detailed knowledge of environmental resources, but very patchyknowledge of processes and functions underlying systems, and this conforms to evolutionary models of ecologicalknowledge. Perceptions of change in soil fertility are related to the length of settlement, and are closelylinked to the presence of forest. Overall, the majority of farmers believe they will not be able to sustain cropping in thefuture, and as forest and fallow become scarce the most feasible option will be for them to move to other areas.Farmers are more optimistic about pasture, which is viewed as a more stable system, with the key to long-termsustainability being weed control. These findings imply that a high degree of information sharing between farmers andscientists is required to establish resource management strategies and social institutions to supportsustainable development strategies at the frontier.