Human Ecology

, Volume 39, Issue 6, pp 769–781 | Cite as

Traditional Ecological Knowledge of Swiss Alpine Farmers and their Resilience to Socioecological Change

Article

Abstract

The cultural landscape of the European Alps was formed over centuries through human agricultural activities. Smallholder family farms, made famous in the cultural ecological literature by Robert Netting (1993), are still the predominant socioeconomic unit of agriculture. This study assesses the resilience of farm households in relation to climate change in the village of Vals, Switzerland. Using ethnographic methods, farming households’ resilience to environmental change was investigated from two perspectives: 1) an assessment of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) in the household and its social networks; and 2) the assets of the various livelihood strategies of the farms. TEK was found to be of vital significance for management of the local environment, despite its reduced integrity due to contraction of farmland holdings, mechanization of certain tasks, and fragmentation of the agricultural ecosystem into different jurisdictions. Today the strongest and most critical areas of TEK are centered on production of agricultural goods and hazard management. Households’ TEK, in combination with their flexible structure, gives them a high degree of adaptive capacity that nevertheless must be viewed in the context of an environment including not only significant natural constraints and variability, but also local and non-local sociopolitical factors, including state subsidies, which constitute a significant share of farmers’ income, and political directives to maintain biodiversity. TEK must also be responsive to these constraints and the premises of biodiversity conservation and landscape and livelihood maintenance that underlie them.

Keywords

Traditional ecological knowledge Adaptive management Swiss alpine smallholder farms Political ecology Adaptive capacity Socioecological change 

References

  1. Agrawal, A. (1995). Dismantling the Divide between Indigenous and Western Knowledge. Development and Change 26(3): 413–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Backhaus, N. (2007). Alpenlandschaften – Von der Vorstellung zur Handlung; Thematische Sy these zum Forschungsschwerpunkt I des NFP 48. vdf Hochschulverlag, Zürich.Google Scholar
  3. Baleé, W. L., and Erickson, C. L. (2006). Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands. Columbia University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  4. Berkes, F. (2008). Sacred Ecology. Routledge, New York.Google Scholar
  5. Berkes, F. (2007). Community-Based Conservation in a Globalized World. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 104(39): 15188–15193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Berkes, F., Folke, C., and Colding, J. (1998). Linking Social and Ecological Systems: Management Practices and Social Mechanisms for Building Resilience. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  7. Bosshard, A., Schläpfer, F., and Jenny, M. (2010). Weissbuch Landwirtschaft Schweiz. Verlag Haupt, Bern.Google Scholar
  8. Crate, S. (2003). Viliui Sakha Adaptation: A Subarctic Test of Netting’s Smallholder Theory. Human Ecology 31(4): 499–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Davies, S. (2008). Are coping strategies a cop-out? In Schipper, E. L. F., and Burton, I. (eds.), Earthscan Reader on Adaptation to Climate Change. Earthscan, London, pp. 99–116 [Originally published in 1993.].Google Scholar
  10. Easterling, W., P. Aggarwal, P. Batima, K. Brander, L. Erda, M. Howden, A. Kirilenko, J. Morton, J.-F. Soussana, S. Schmidhuber and Tubiello, F. (2007). Food, fibre and forest products. In M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden, and C.E. Hanson (eds.) Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, pp. 273–313Google Scholar
  11. Folke, C., Carpenter, S. R., Walker, B., Scheffer, M., Chapin, T., and Rockström, J. (2010). Resilience thinking: integrating resilience, adaptability and transformability. Ecology and Society 15(4): 20. http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol15/iss4/art20/ Google Scholar
  12. Fuhrer, J. (2006). Climate Risks and their Impact on Agriculture and Forests in Switzerland. Climatic Change 79: 79–102.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gross, M. (2010). Ignorance and Surprise Science, Society, and Ecological Design. MIT Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
  14. Guillet, D., Godoy, R. A., Guksch, C. E., Kawakita, J., Love, T. F., Matter, M., and Orlove, B. S. (1983). Toward a Cultural Ecology of Mountains: The Central Andes and the Himalayas Compared [and Comments and Reply]. Current Anthropology 24: 561–574.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gunderson, L. H., and Holling, C. S. (2002). Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems. Island Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  16. Holling, C. S. (1973). Resilience and stability of ecological systems. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 4: 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Holling, C. S. (1978). Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management. Wiley, Chichester.Google Scholar
  18. Holling, C. S. (1986). The Resilience of Terrestrial Ecosystems: Local Surprise and Global Change. In Clark, W. C., and Munn, R. E. (eds.), Sustainable Development of the Biosphere. Cambridge University Press, NewYork, pp. 292–320.Google Scholar
  19. Holling, C. S., and Goldberg, M. A. (1981). Ecology and Planning. In Bates, D. G., and Lee, S. H. (eds.), Contemporary anthropology: an Anthology. Alfred Knopf, New York, pp. 78–93.Google Scholar
  20. Hviding, E. (1998). Western Movements in Non-Western Worlds: Towards an Anthropology of Uncertain Encounters. Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society 23(3): 30–51.Google Scholar
  21. Ingold, T. (2000). The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill. Routledge, London.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Johnson, L. M., and Hunn, E. S. (2010). Landscape Ethnoecology: Concepts of Biotic and Physical Space. Berghahn Books, Oxford.Google Scholar
  23. Kottack, C. P. (1999). The New Ecological Anthropology. American Anthropologist 101(1): 23–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Maffi, L. (2005). Linguistic, Cultural, and Biological Diversity. Annual Review of Anthropology 34: 599–617.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Mann, C. C. (2000). Earthmovers of the Amazon. Science 287(5454): 786–786.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Maurer, K. (2006). Old Cultural Traditions, in Addition to Land Use and Topography, are Shaping Plant Diversity of Grasslands in the Alps. Biological Conservation 130: 438–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. MeteoSchweiz (2009). Klimabericht Kanton Graubünden. MeteoSchweiz, Zürich.Google Scholar
  28. Netting, R. Mc (1981). Balancing on an Alp: Ecological Change and Continuity in a Swiss Mountain Community. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  29. Netting, R. Mc (1990). Links and Boundaries: Reconsidering the Alpine Village as Ecosystem. In Dove, M., and Carpenter, C. (eds.), (2008) Environmental anthropology: a historical reader. Blackwell, Malden.Google Scholar
  30. Netting, R. Mc (1993). Smallholders, Householders :Farm Families and the Ecology of Intensive, Sustainable Agriculture. Stanford University Press, Stanford.Google Scholar
  31. Niederer, A. (1996). Alpine Alltagskultur zwischen Beharrung und Wandel: ausgewählte Arbeiten aus den Jahren 1956 bis 1991. Verlag Haupt, Bern.Google Scholar
  32. OcCC (2008). Das Klima ändert – was nun? Der neue UN-Klimabericht (IPCC 2007) und die wichtigsten Ergebnisse aus Sicht der Schweiz. OcCC - Organe consultatif sur les changements climatiques, Bern.Google Scholar
  33. Rieder, P. (2009). Vals: enges Tal, weite Welt. Terra Grischuna, Chur.Google Scholar
  34. Robbins, P. (2004). Political Ecology: a Critical Introduction. Blackwell, Oxford.Google Scholar
  35. Scoones, I. (1999). New Ecology and the Social Sciences: What Prospects for a Fruitful Engagement? Annual Review of Anthropology 28: 479.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Steward, J. H. (1963). Theory of Culture Change: The Methodology of Multilinear Evolution. University of Illinois Press, Urbana.Google Scholar
  37. Stremlow, M. (1998). Die Alpen aus der Untersicht. Von der Verheissung der nahen Fremde zur Sportarena. Kontinuität und Wandel von Alpenbildern seit 1700. Verlag Haupt, Bern.Google Scholar
  38. Trifolium (2006). Vals – Regionales Vernetzungskonzept. Trifolium, Chur.Google Scholar
  39. Viazzo, P. (1989). Upland Communities: Environment, Population and Social Structure in the Alps since the Sixteenth Century. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environmental Change InstituteOxford UniversityZurichSwitzerland
  2. 2.Environmental Change InstituteOxford UniversityOxfordUK

Personalised recommendations