3 & 9. Farmers’ perception and actual use of the fertility of Terra Preta

Countries: Brazil and Colombia


Transformation of inherently infertile oxisols into highly productive Terra Preta by pre-Columbian civilizations has been linked with technological innovations resulting from increasing population pressure but also with nomadic patterns. These innovations were escorted by complex management systems of soils and plant resources in such a way that soil fertility was increased. As a consequence such soils are used for various purposes; but they also constitute a major cultural heritage. While the Brazilian laws aims to protect Terra Preta soils from other uses, these soils are currently being used for different purposes. This project will study actual use of existing Terra Preta soils (current demand, purpose of use, and management), focussing on Terra Preta soils that are already under agriculture. Understanding farmers’ perceptions of soil fertility and their designs of cropping systems illustrates the importance of local construction of knowledge and practices, allows us to disentangle the impact of ‘good soils’ versus ‘good farmers’, which can be used for the design of future systems. More specifically the project aims at (1) analysing farmers’ knowledge soils and how this knowledge is turned into practices of soil and crop management; (2) assessing farmers’ livelihoods in relation to that knowledge, their actual cropping and weed management practices, and vicinity of markets; (3) exploring and developing potential future soil and crop management strategies as part of more encompassing livelihood strategies; (4) analysing the compatibility of these scenarios with both farmers’ livelihood strategies and national policies in order to determine the acceptability for various stakeholders. The information provided by this project will allow to define sustainable agricultural practices for Terra Preta soils that are already in cultivation. Such sustainable practices could also make a major contribution to Terra Preta Nova soils for agricultural purposes (project #4).
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