Development and Local Knowledge: New Approaches to Issues in Natural Resources Management, Conservation, and Agriculture

By Alan Bicker; Paul Sillitoe et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 10

Sandy-clay or clayey-sand?

Mapping indigenous and scientific soil knowledge on the Bangladesh floodplains

Paul Sillitoe, Julian Barr and Mahbub Alam

Indigenous knowledge research aims to facilitate the targeting of development resources more effectively on the poor. The compatibility of local ideas with scientific ones is a central issue in this work. One objective is to facilitate communication between scientists and local people, on the assumption, fundamental to development interventions, that science may have something to offer them in tackling their problems. Furthermore, it is possible that if scientific and indigenous knowledge are comparable, and if scientists are able to access local knowledge, this might save on expensive scientific research - on the grounds that sharing what the local people already know may reduce the need to conduct research into some topics - and also facilitate empowerment of the poor - because if their knowledge features prominently in any development initiative this will give them a meaningful role in its planning and implementation.

This chapter’s aims are both intellectual and practical. It seeks to compare local Bengali farmers’ soil classification with that of soil scientists, to explore parallels and differences. It builds on research undertaken on the Bangladesh floodplain to explore methods for improving natural resources research by combining scientific study of natural resources with farmers’ and fishers’ local knowledge of resources (Alam 2001; Ghosh 2002; Sillitoe 2000). It takes as its premises that (i) farmers’ knowledge of the soils in their fields is the most locally relevant understanding of those soils, and (ii) there are potential efficiency gains over expensive land and soil surveys in collecting and using local soil knowledge. The chapter correlates the mapping of local soil names with a scientific soil survey. It seeks not only to evaluate understandings of soil distribution but also to assess the extent to which a local population’s knowledge of its soils might substitute for, or complement, an expensive scientific soil survey. This reverses the usual dialogue in development, by emphasizing local people informing scientists, assessing the extent to which they might communicate intelligence about their soils, so reducing the need to undertake costly pedological survey work; in addition to facilitating the communication of locally perceived problems.

The aims are utilitarian, to improve the relevance of, and reduce the costs of, scientific soil surveys. Scientific land resource and soil surveys are expensive. The

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