Friday, 14 July 2006

Farmers' Assessment of Soil Quality in Rice Production Systems in South of Brazil.

A.C. Rodrigues de Lima1, W.B. Hoogmoed1, and Lijbert Brussaard2. (1) Wageningen University, Farm Technology Group, P.O. Box 17, 6700 AA, Dept. of Soil Quality, P.O. Box 8005, 6700 EC, Wageningen, Netherlands, (2) Wageningen University and Research Centre, Dept. Soil Quality, P.O. Box 8005, 6700 EC, Wageningen, Netherlands

The success of maintaining or enhancing soil quality depends on our understanding of how the soil responds to agricultural use and practices over time. Concern for soil quality is not limited to agricultural scientists, natural resource managers, and policymakers, but farmers also have a vested interest in soil quality. The increased number of ethnopedological studies on local soil knowledge, over the last two decades, is based on the greater recognition that farmer's knowledge can offer many insights into soil quality. A worldwide consensus of standardized soil quality indicators is impossible to achieve because local knowledge is location-specific. With regard to the production of rice in the south of Brazil the importance of local soil knowledge is still unknown. Rice production is one of the most important regional activities, and, there is clear evidence that the threat to soil quality in terms of physical, chemical and biological degradation is high, mainly because the farmers are using intensive rice production which consequently cause lower yields year by year. Apart from an understanding of the local farmers' knowledge the potential use of this knowledge in the development of sustainable land management or maintenance of soil quality has to be assessed. The source of information of the study reported in this paper is the rice farmers community located in the Camaquć region of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The objective of this study is to find answers to questions with regard to the perception of rice farmers of soil quality. These questions are: (1) What soil quality perceptions do rice farmers have? (2) Which soil quality indicators are the most important for them? (3) Do rice farmers use their local knowledge about soil quality indicators as a tool for guiding soil management decisions? Is there any difference among the management systems they apply? A key premise of this study is that rice farmers have important knowledge about soil quality; nonetheless the impact of this knowledge on farmer's day-to-day decisions is unclear. Semi-structured Interviews alternated with Discussion Groups were used as research methods. The goal in combining these methods is to be able to accurately assess farmer's knowledge at individual and group level and, in the end, to ensure that differences across the three different management systems can be identified.This region was selected because there was possible to find the farmers who use the main rice management systems: semi-direct, pre-germinated and conventional; there are large numbers of farmers with different field sizes; it is one of the most important rice production area of the state which produces yearly around 300.000 tons of rice; and it is the region where the first Brazilian land reform was held in the sixties. Thirty-two farmers were chosen to be interviewed. Rice farmers from Camaquć region possess a detailed knowledge of the soil they are cultivating. They know that the quality of their soil is closely related to environmental and economic factors. In general, the rice farmers frequently addressed properties of the topsoil rather than subsoil features to validate or reject their assumptions that the soil is recovering under previous cropping. From the rice farmer's perspective, perceptions of a soil's quality can be seen in 11 soil quality indicators: Earthworm, Soil Colour, Yield, Spontaneous Vegetation, Soil Organic Matter, Root, Friability, Rice plant development, Rice plant colour, Rice tiller, Healthy and good looking cattle. Soil Colour, Spontaneous Vegetation, Soil Organic Matter and Friability were defined as the most important soil quality indicators according to general consensus. Three useful indicators were found out to be important to make decisions. It depends on the management systems and it plays an important role for buying and renting a land as well. Spontaneous vegetation for farmers who use semi-direct and conventional management systems. Rice plant development for farmers who use pre-germinated management systems. Soil colour and Spontaneous vegetation when farmers want to buy or rent a land. The period that they usually pay attention to this is in the winter time (Jun-Aug), and before the soil preparation. They use visual observations. The spontaneous vegetation has to have a dark green colour while the development of the plants and their height is also observed. From semi-structured individual interviews and group discussions, it proves that rice farmers of Camaquć region possess profound local soil knowledge and the importance of this knowledge to their daily decisions was revealed as well. During this study it was also showed that they are aware of soil degradation in the region. They realised that much of soil degradation in the region is human-induced and resulted from inappropriate soil management practices. Keywords: Soil quality indicators; Local soil knowledge; rice; farmers; Brazil.

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