Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Traditional forms of agriculture: unexpected degree of diversity, time-honoured principles

04.08.2008
The general public often regards traditional agriculture in the light of principles emphasizing self-sufficiency, or even sheer survival, as opposed to cash cropping, manual labour as opposed to an extreme level of mechanization, extensive practices as opposed to intensification.

A more caricatural image holds up mixed cropping, whether or not associated with livestock rearing, in a sharp contrast to one of vast prairies of cereal monoculture. However, this conventional, rather simplistic image touches only the tip of the iceberg of the enormous diversity of traditional agricultural systems that exist.

They may now make up only a tiny proportion of the farmed surface area of the world, but they are remarkable in their complexity and their ability for adaptation to restricted and harsh environments. Two IRD researchers, working jointly with scientists from both national and international organizations, made highly detailed surveys of these agricultural methods, some dating back several millennia. They have now published a book setting out the most extraordinary examples. This work, with its cultural and historical flavour, is more than just a straightforward selection of ancestral farming techniques. It also evokes how such forms of agricultural are embedded within each society that elaborated them.

The modern agriculture that is sometimes taken to be the “conventional” one is daily gaining ground over so-called traditional or extensive forms of farming practised for several thousand years by rural populations who in some cases live on the fringes of industrial society. These forms of agriculture are often highly idiosyncratic and take up only a tiny portion of the Earth’s total cultivated surface. Yet they stand out owing to their ability to adapt to a constantly changing natural environment and to the diversity of farming practices they adopt.

It is difficult to draw up an exhaustive list of what are often atypical methods. Nevertheless, a book co-written by IRD researchers and their partners presents no less than 65 examples scattered over all the continents. This work gives and idea of the sheer imagination, adaptability, endurance and skills of observation of human communities who, in the most unyielding environments or the harshest climates, have managed to find a solution for survival through a complete mastery of plant cultivation.

Today, some of these practices persist only in a particular area of the world. Others, like traditional agriculture practised in marshy areas, are found in similar form in the different continents. Thus, the hortillonage system in Europe and Asia shows many similarities with Mexican chinampas, the Andean camellones and the raised, drained taro fields of the western Pacific. These types of agriculture involve a network of canals and raised plots of land on which food cropping can be practised. But whereas such systems in Picardy (France) –the hortillonages—are steadily dying out, their counterparts are developing spectacularly on the coasts of countries open to international markets, like Indonesia or Thailand.

Particular climatic or population stresses often push farmers to use ingenious methods. In Tunisia, lagoonal bars, unsuitable for agriculture owing to salt content and sand devoid of the minerals essential for plants, are harnessed by local people to produce vegetables and cereals (potatoes, onions, peppers, squash and related produce, maize and so on). With no active irrigation, rainfall accumulates in the layer of sand men bring on their backs and mix with manure. That water is then taken down to plant root level by the beating of the tides. On the Canary island Lanzarote, which receives annually no more than 150 mm of rainwater, farming seems like an impossible challenge. Yet it is on this island that one of Spain’s most reputed wines is produced.

Remarkably, the vines do not desiccate in the sun, but this is because of the growers’ ingenuity. They plant the vines one by one in conical hollows they cover over with volcanic ash and lava stones. Scientific studies have shown that this protective layer is a means of holding eight times more water than bare soil and decreases evaporation by 92% when its thickness reaches 10 cm. Low walls protect the year’s foliage and the bunches of grapes from the trade winds. Contrary to a widespread idea, traditional agriculture is not synonymous with an archaic way of doing things. This is illustrated by the highly elaborate system of mulberry dykes still seen in southern China. This agricultural practice combines market gardening, aquaculture and cultivation of mulberry used as food for silk worms, and is probably one of the best examples of integrated agriculture where none of the constituent elements can be envisaged independently from the others.

One of the probable characteristic elements common to each of these singular forms of agriculture, whatever their degree of complexity, is the need for the collective work of the members of the community who practise it. Moreover, account must be taken of the effort, financial investment and multiple functions these types of agriculture represent for the people concerned. It remains, however, that the right level of adaptation achieved between the environment, humans and a particular type of agriculture does not always last. Indeed the environment never ceases to change under human activity in general and agriculture in particular.

Persistence of these techniques over time also comes up against population growth and structural changes in the societies that set them in place. It is therefore difficult to transpose the practices involved. They are based at any given moment entirely on a balance between a type of environment and a type of society. But in spite of their extraordinary nature and the fact that they constitute only a tiny proportion of all agricultural systems, they still stand as a source of inspiration and lessons for the development of agriculture.

Grégory Fléchet | alfa
Further information:
http://www.ird.fr
http://www.ird.fr/fr/actualites/fiches/2008/fas301.pdf

More articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science:

nachricht Plasma-zapping process could yield trans fat-free soybean oil product
02.12.2016 | Purdue University

nachricht New findings about the deformed wing virus, a major factor in honey bee colony mortality
11.11.2016 | Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

All articles from Agricultural and Forestry Science >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Significantly more productivity in USP lasers

In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.

Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...

Im Focus: Shape matters when light meets atom

Mapping the interaction of a single atom with a single photon may inform design of quantum devices

Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...

Im Focus: Novel silicon etching technique crafts 3-D gradient refractive index micro-optics

A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.

Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...

Im Focus: Quantum Particles Form Droplets

In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.

“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...

Im Focus: MADMAX: Max Planck Institute for Physics takes up axion research

The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.

The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ICTM Conference 2017: Production technology for turbomachine manufacturing of the future

16.11.2016 | Event News

Innovation Day Laser Technology – Laser Additive Manufacturing

01.11.2016 | Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

 
Latest News

NTU scientists build new ultrasound device using 3-D printing technology

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

The balancing act: An enzyme that links endocytosis to membrane recycling

07.12.2016 | Life Sciences

How to turn white fat brown

07.12.2016 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>