Indigenous Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Agriculture in Africa
Dennis Michael Warren
This chapter deals with the role of indigenous knowledge systems in maintaining sustainable approaches to agriculture in Africa. The focus is on the overwhelming majority of the population in Africa, who are small-scale subsistence farmers working on less than two hectares of land, as many as 60 percent of them being women. These farmers represent hundreds of ethnic groups living in dozens of ecological zones. Although relatively neglected by the administrations during both the colonial and the postcolonial eras, many African countries now are beginning to recognize the hundreds of thousands of small-scale farmers as national resources who can help achieve national food self- sufficiency during a period of rapid population increases and urban growth rates. African governments as well as international development agencies also are beginning to recognize the fact that African farming systems, sustainable for generations, are based on indigenous agricultural and natural resource knowledge that represents a national resource in its own right.
Although the specific features of the African farming systems differ in detail by ethnic group and ecological zone, there are several common characteristics that distinguish them from the high external input approach to large-scale farming enterprises that African governments and international donor agencies have used as a model for many of their agricultural projects ( Reijntjes, Haverkort, & Waters-Bayer 1992; Mazur & Titilola 1992). Most indigenous farming systems are based on a high degree of biodiversity, which is reflected in various patterns of intercropping. Except in areas where population pressure now precludes it, most farming systems maintain soil fertility by shifting cultivation, which allows the soil to remain fallow for several years. The systems are low energy in nature, based on human labor and,