Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 371–384 | Cite as

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

  • Marcia Muchagata
  • Katrina Brown


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.

Amazonia Farming systems Local knowledge Nutrient cycles Soil fertility 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Agarwal, A. (1995). “Dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge.” Development and Change 26: 413–439.Google Scholar
  2. Amanor, K. S. (1994). The New Frontier. Farmers' Response to Land Degradation. A West African Study, 244 edition. London: UNRISD-Zed Books.Google Scholar
  3. Becker, B. (1995). “Undoing myths: The Amazon, an urbanised forest.” In I. Sachs and M. Clusener-Godot (eds.), Brazilian Perspectives on Sustainable Development of the Amazon Region (pp. 53–89). Paris: Unesco/Pathernon.Google Scholar
  4. Bell, S. and S. Morse (1999). Sustainability Indicators. Measuring the Immeasurable. London: Earthscan.Google Scholar
  5. Berkes, F. (1999). Sacred Ecology: Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Resource Management. Philadelphia: Taylor and Francis.Google Scholar
  6. Blaikie, P.,K. Brown, P. Dixon, P. Sillitoe, M. Stocking, and L. Tang (1997). “Knowledge in action: Local knowledge as a development resource and barriers to its incorporation in natural resource research and development.” Agricultural Systems 55(2): 217–237.Google Scholar
  7. Brokensha, D. W., D. W. Warren, and O. Werner (eds.) (1980). Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Development. Washington, DC: University Press of America.Google Scholar
  8. Brown, K. and M. Muchagata (1999). Modelling the Sustainability of Frontier Farming at the Forest Fringe. Final Technical Report to Department for International Development, Overseas Development Group, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK.Google Scholar
  9. Buschbacher, R., C. Uhl, and E. A. S. Serrão (1988). “Abandoned pastures in Eastern Amazonia. II Nutrients stocks in the soil and vegetation.” Journal of Ecology 76: 682–699.Google Scholar
  10. Correa, J. C. and K. Reichardt (1995). “Efeito do Tempo de Uso das Pastagens Sobre as Propriedades de um Latossolo Amarelo da Amazônia Central.” Pesquisa Agropecuária Brasileira 30: 107–114.Google Scholar
  11. Giddens, A. (1984). The Constitution of Society: Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  12. Gonçalves, M. R. and O. Topall (1991). “Agricultura Familiar da região de Marabá: trajetórias de acumulação.” Agriculture Paysannes et Developpement: Caraïbe-Amérique Tropicale: 311–330.Google Scholar
  13. Granchamp-Florentino, L. (1997). “Localidade fragmentada e novo vínculo social local. Uma análise a partir das relações campo-cidade na Transamazônica (região de Altamira, PA).” Agricultura Familiar 2: 19–36.Google Scholar
  14. Hecht, S. B. (1992). “Valuing land uses in Amazonia: Colonist agriculture, cattle, and petty extraction in comparative perspective.” In K. H. Redford and C. Padoch(eds.), Conservation of Neotropical Forests. Working from Traditional Resource Use (pp. 378–399). New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  15. Lewis, H. (1993). “Traditional ecological knowledge: Some definitions." In N. Williams and G. Baines (eds.), Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Wisdom for Sustainable Development (pp. 8–12). Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, Australian National University Canberra.Google Scholar
  16. Machado, R., M. G. Muchagata, and W. Rendeiro (1998). “Pecuária Leiteria na Região de Marabá: Perspectivas para o estabelecimento e um produção sustentável numa região de fronteira antiga.” Produção Leiteira na Amazônia Oriental: Situação atual e perspectivas. Belém PA, 1998.Google Scholar
  17. Menezes, M. N. A., V. de Reynal, and E. Wambergue (1989). “Recherche-Développement en Amazonie: formalisation du savoir des agriculteurs.” Caribbean Food Crops Society.Google Scholar
  18. Moraes, J. F. L. de, B. Volkfoff, C. C. Cerri, and M. Bernoux (1996). “Soil Properties under Amazon forest and changes due to pasture installation in Rondônia, Brazil.” Geoderma70: 63–81.Google Scholar
  19. Moran, E. F. (1981). Developing the Amazon. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Muchagata, M. G. (1997). Forests and People. The Role of Forest Production in Frontier Farming Systems in Eastern Amazonia. DEV Occasional Paper OP 36. Norwich: University of East Anglia.Google Scholar
  21. Muchagata, M. G. and V. de Reynal (1992). Formalizando o conhecimento dos agricultores: Conhecendo o meio físico da micro-região de Marabá. Marabá: LASAT.Google Scholar
  22. Nepstad, D. C., C. Uhl, and E. A. S. Serrão (1991). “Recuperation of a degraded Amazonia landscape: Forest recovery and agricultural restoration.” Ambio30: 248–255.Google Scholar
  23. Okali, C., J. Sumberg, and J. Farrington (1994). Farmer Participatory Research. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.Google Scholar
  24. Peet, R. and M. Watts (1996). “Liberation ecology. Development, sustainability, and environment in an age of market triumphalism.” In R. Peet and M. Watts (eds.), Liberation Ecologies. Environment, Development, Social Movements (pp. 1–45). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Reynal, V. de, M. G. Muchagata, O. Topall, and J. Hébette (1995). Agricultures familiales and dévelopment en front pionnier amazonien. Paris-Point a Pitre-Belém: GRET-UAG UFPa.Google Scholar
  26. Richards, M. (1997). Missing a Moving Target? Colonist Technology Development on the Amazon Frontier. London: ODI.Google Scholar
  27. Richards, P. (1985). Indigenous Agricultural Revolution: Ecology and Food Production in West Africa. London: Hutchinson.Google Scholar
  28. Schneider, R. R. (1995). Government and the Economy of Amazon Frontier. World Bank Environment Paper Number 11. Washington, DC: The World Bank.Google Scholar
  29. Scoones, I. and J. Thompson (eds.) (1994). Beyond Farmer First. Rural People's Knowledge, Agricultural Research and Extension Practice. London: IIED.Google Scholar
  30. Thompson, J. (1996). “Moving the indigenous knowledge debate forward.” Development Policy Review14: 105–112.Google Scholar
  31. Torres, H. G. (1991). “Migração e o Migrante de origem urbana na Amazônia,” in P. Léna and A. E. Oliveira (eds.), Amazônia. A fronteira Agrícola 20 anos depois (pp. 291–304). Belém: Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi.Google Scholar
  32. Uhl, C., R. Buschbacher, and E. A. S. Serrão (1989b). “Abandoned pastures in Eastern Amazonia. I Patterns of plant succesion.” Journal of Ecology 76: 663–681.Google Scholar
  33. Uhl, C., D. Nepstad, R. Buschbacher, K. Clark, B. Kauffman, and S. Subler (1989a). “Disturbance and regeneration in Amazonia: Lessons for sustainable land use.” The Ecologist 19: 235–240.Google Scholar
  34. Uhl, C., D. Nesptad, J. M. C. de Silva, and I. Vieira (1991). “Restauração da floresta em pastagens degradadas.” Ciência Hoje 13: 23–31.Google Scholar
  35. Vieira, I. C. G., R. d. P. Salamão, D. C. Nesptad, and J. C. Roma (1996). “O renascimento da floresta no rastro da agricultura.” Ciência Hoje 20: 38–44.Google Scholar
  36. Warren, D. M., L. J. Slikkerveer, and D. Brokensha (eds.) (1995). The Cultural Dimensions of Development: Indigenous Knowledge Systems. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcia Muchagata
    • 1
  • Katrina Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Development Studies and Overseas Development GroupUniversity of East AngliaNorwichUK

Personalised recommendations