Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-10272020-152334

Type of thesis
The Silent Revolution: effects of local ecological knowledge on the resilience of smallholder farmers in marginal agroecosystems.
Scientific disciplinary sector
Istituto di Economia - JOINT PHD IN ECONOMICS
  • agroecosystem resilience
  • interdisciplinary research
  • local ecological knowledge
  • smallholder farming systems
Exam session start date
Dynamics of unsustainable rural production are worrisome in Sub-Saharan marginal agroecosystems, where 95% of the farmland is employed in a rainfed, low-input, subsistence type of agriculture. Farmers&#39; local knowledge plays a key role in ensuring the sustainability of such marginal areas, but its tacit nature often prevents the inclusion in scientific debates. My dissertation adds to this research field by investigating how local ecological knowledge affects resilience of small scale farmers in marginal rural areas, deploying an interdisciplinary approach at the crossroads between socioeconomic and agronomic sciences. <br><br>The first study (chapter 3) explores whether the collective nature of local knowledge could be responsible for higher degree of soil fertility. The second study (chapter 4 of the thesis) encompasses a climate-oriented perspective, investigating whether community-centered local ecological knowledge explains higher levels of rainfall awareness among rainfed-dependent households. Both chapters are based on an extensive interdisciplinary field work performed in two highland regions of Ethiopia. In multiple site visits, agro-ecological and socioeconomic data were collected among 288 households in 24 villages. Results show the influence of local ecological knowledge on agroecological processes, claiming the role of knowledge to tackle issues of heterogeneity among farmers&#39; managerial choices and resilience.<br>Stemming from these conclusions, the third study of the dissertation (chapter 5) evaluates the outcomes of a randomized experiment where two different farmers-scientists participatory designs are compared in a policy perspective. Utilizing a dataset collected among 3,000 smallholders in a cross-boundary zone between Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador), the study finds a positive effect of state-of-the-art and innovative participatory approaches on indicators of households’ varietal diversification and food security. The effect is stronger for those participatory programs requiring a higher degree of interaction between the farmers and the scientists, confirming the mutual benefits derived by participatory process of knowledge elicitation.<br>Finally, a fourth, more theoretical, work concludes the thesis, in chapter 6: an agent-based model stylizing agricultural trade-off in a global economy subjected to environmental boundaries. The model, spatially explicit and endowed with mechanisms of peer-learning and imitation, aims at providing a computational benchmark in which alternative sustainable policies can be tested.<br><br>Altogether, this thesis aims at unlocking the potential of local knowledge for resilience: in the light of the current quest for a sustainable intensification of the rural production in marginal areas, the ethnopedological microcosm of households&#39; farming knowledge calls for a policy inclusion that should be designed in a bi-directional perspective. On one side, farmers should be empowered as agents of knowledge; on the other side, farmers should benefit from micro-based glocal trainings, which entail a global perspective and a local implementation.