Knowledge, learning and culture: Seeking agricultural sustainability among Indigenous farmers in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Abstract

Current practices of Western industrial agriculture are input intensive, reliant on fossil fuels and mechanisation, and are unsustainable. In fact, the heavy use of fossil fuels results in agriculture being responsible for almost one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. Although pests, soil fertility, and water availability have always challenged farmers, the standardisation of industrial agriculture magnifies these problems, and inputs such as fertilisers, herbicides, and pesticides, often lead to a treadmill of short term fixes. More needs to be done to identify alternative approaches of agricultural production which are less energy consumptive and more sustainable.
Despite literature recognising participatory agricultural extension as a solution for improved adoption of sustainable agricultural technology and practices, many developing countries continue to disseminate agricultural information through the transfer of technology method, an instructionist form of teaching which imposes Western science knowledge systems. Agricultural extension projects which incorporate transfer of technology fail to engage farmer prior knowledge, lack context, are top-down, and involve minimal farmer consultation, often resulting in continued unsustainable agricultural practices.
This study examines whether there may be significant potential to enhance sustainable agriculture among Indigenous smallholder farmers by the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge in agricultural extension. This thesis puts into practice an alternative agricultural extension model that attempts to enhance sustainable agricultural practices among Indigenous farmers by entwining Indigenous knowledge and culture with Western science. The extension model, which was developed for this thesis, was termed Extension for Sustainable Agricultural Development (ESAD).
This empirical study applies a mixed methods research approach, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods in order to triangulate research results. Semi-structured interviews, participant observations and surveys were the techniques used for data collection. Fieldwork for this research was conducted over a four-year period , commencing July 2013, and included 17 Indigenous villages in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. A total of 383 data sets were collected through purposive sampling.
Indigenous villages were selected for this study as Indigenous farmers have a vast knowledge of their ecosystems, land and culture, passed down to them by their ancestors through stories, dance, images, ceremonies and shared experiences. The value of Indigenous knowledge does not lay simply in the knowledge of local soils, flora and fauna, but offers an inherent value in climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Findings from this study demonstrate that, whilst there were some limitations (trust, time and language), the ESAD model enhanced sustainable agriculture among farmers in Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. Specifically, the ESAD model improved farmer uptake of mulching, composting, tree planting and natural pest management techniques. Future research into agricultural extension in developing countries should consider the challenges and successes identified within this study.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Sustainable Agriculture
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Parissi, Sid, Principal Supervisor
  • Anderson, Peter, Co-Supervisor
Award date10 May 2021
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publisher
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2021

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