September 12, 2014

A Methodological Guide for Blending Local & Technical Knowledge on Soil Fertility Management

Edmundo Barrios, World Agroforestry Centre

Editor’s Note: Today is the United Nation’s Day for South-South Cooperation, which highlights the need for cooperation between developing countries to complement the international development efforts of industrialized nations. Edmundo Barrios of the World Agroforestry Center writes about a specific case of South-South cooperation between Latin America and Africa, in which a participatory methodological approach was used to integrate local and technical knowledge on soil fertility management.

Integrative approaches that combine formal and informal knowledge to address current sustainability problems have been increasingly highlighted as key to addressing agricultural development challenges and global change. The greater attention paid to local knowledge in recent years comes from the recognition that knowledge held by those who interact closely with the environment as part of their livelihood can contribute many insights about the sustainable management of natural resources.

Increased concern about soil fertility management as a key determinant of sustainability in agricultural landscapes has created great demand for early warning indicators to monitor changes in soil quality and their impact on the provision of ecosystem services, as affected by land use change and agricultural intensification. The InPaC-S participatory approach (Portuguese for Integração Participativa de Conhecimentos sobre Indicadores de Qualidade do Solo or Participatory Integration of Knowledge on Indicators of Soil Quality) and methodological guide are the result of more than 10 years of South-South collaboration and knowledge sharing between Latin America and Africa. Initial participatory knowledge integration efforts in Honduras, Nicaragua, Colombia and the Dominican Republic were followed by validation, capacity building and further methodological development in East Africa (Uganda and Tanzania) in 2000-2001. Next, three years were spent synthesizing and developing the integration efforts with representatives of farmer communities, governmental and non-governmental rural extension and advisory services, national and state research institutions and universities across five major biomes of Brazil—namely the Amazon, Pantanal, Cerrado, Caatinga and Atlantic Forest—with financial support from the Embrapa Fund to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Finally, the methodological guide was jointly published by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation (Embrapa) and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).


Photo by Claudio Capeche

The InPaC-S methodological guide was designed to facilitate bottom-up approaches that integrate local knowledge into soil management decision-making processes and strengthen the relevance, credibility and legitimacy required for the increased adoption of co-developed best management practices. This methodological guide describes how to apply participatory tools in identifying, classifying and prioritizing local indicators of soil health knowledge so that they can complement technical indicators. It also aims to build farmer community consensus about how to best address soil health constraints following agroecological management principles that are embraced by selected soil fertility management options. Participatory methodologies—used to develop a “hybrid” knowledge base that combines local and scientific knowledge—reflect an effort to understand the complexity of land management decision making. This is part of a continuing effort to develop land quality monitoring systems that strengthen local environmental/agricultural institutions and communities with tools that support local decision-making in natural resource management and promote sustainable land use in agricultural landscapes.

The Portuguese version of the InPaC-S methodological guide, published in 2011, was instrumental during a capacity building workshop designed for the Mozambique Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM) and their partners in extension, higher education, government and NGOs that was held in Nampula, Mozambique with financial support from the Africa-Brazil Agricultural Innovation Marketplace.

The English version of the guide was released in 2012. Several of the InPaC-S participatory tools have been adapted and used in 2013 and 2014 during Participatory Trials Design (ParTriDes) workshops in Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda. These workshops are aimed at identifying best-bet agroforestry technologies to be tested across typical context heterogeneity, and thus guide the selection of best-fit options with potential for upscaling efforts as part of the ACIAR-funded Trees for Food Security project furthering the South-South knowledge sharing process.

The InPaC-S methodological approach is systematic and flexible. Therefore, it can be adapted to be used in other sectors. It has been tested and validated in widely contrasting rural environmental and socio-economic contexts in Latin America and Africa. Furthermore, InPaC-S has recently been proposed as a useful methodological approach for climate smart agriculture efforts to minimize post-harvest losses in sub-Saharan Africa.

Edmundo Barrios is a Senior Scientist in Land and Soil Management at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) based in Nairobi, Kenya.
Read the Guide

(PDF In English): Barrios E, Coutinho HLC, Medeiros CAB. 2012. InPaC-S: Participatory Knowledge Integration on Indicators of Soil Quality – Methodological Guide.

(PDF In Portuguese): Barrios E, Coutinho HLC, Medeiros CAB. 2011. InPaC-S: Integração Participativa de Conhecimentos sobre Indicadores de Qualidade do Solo – Guia Metodológico.

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