Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 10

Peasant Agriculture and the Conservation of Crop and Wild Plant Resources

MIGUEL A. ALTIERI*
Division of Biological Control University of California Berkeley, CA 94720

LAURA C. MERRICK
Department of Vegetable Crops University of California Davis, CA 95616

M. KAT ANDERSON
Department of Forestry and Resource Management University of California Berkeley, CA 94720

Abstract: Peasant agroecosystems are seen as a continuum of integrated farming units and natural ecosystems where plant gathering and crop production are actively practiced Many of these traditional agroecosystems still found throughout developing countries constitute major in situ repositories of both crop and wild plant gemzplasm. These plant resources are directly dependent upon management by human groups; thus, they have evolved in part under the influence offarming practices shaped by particular cultures. Because genetic conservation programs are more effective when preserving the ecosystems in which the resources occur, maintenance of traditional farming systems and adjacent natural ecosystems is proposed as a sensible strategy for in situpreservation of crop and wild plant genetic resources. It is here argued that preservation efforts should be linked to rural development projects that take into account the ethnobotanical knowledge of rural people and that emphasize both food self-sufficiency as well as local resource conservation. Preservation of these traditional agroecosystemscannot be achieved when isolatedfrom maintenance of the culture of the local people. Therefore,projects should also emphasize maintenance of cultural diversity.

Resumen: Los agroecosistemas campesinos se consideran parte de una continua integracion de unidades de produccion y ecosistemas naturales, donde la produccion y recoleccion de las cosechas son actividades diarias. Muchos de estos agrosistemas tradicionales se encuentran en paises en desarrollo y constituyen un deposit0 importante in situ de gemzoplasma de plantas tanto cultivadas como silvestres. Estos recursos vegetales dependen directamente del manqo por grupos humanos; por ello ban evolucionado en parte bajo la influencia de practicas agricolas de culturas particulares. Dado que losprogramas de conservaciongenetica son m h efectivos cuando se protegen 10s ecosistemas donde se encuentran, el mantenimiento de sistemas tradicionales de agricultura con 10s ecosistemas adyacentes se propone como una estrategia razonable para lapreservacion in situ de 10s recursos geneticos agricolas y silvestres. Se argumenta aqui que 10s esfuerzos por preservar deben ser vinculados a 10s proyectos de desarrollo rural que consideran 10s conocimientos etnobotanicos de las poblaciones rurales y que enfatizan tanto la autosuficiencia domestica como la conservacion de 10s recursos a nivel local. La preservacion de estos agroecosistemas locales no puede subsistir aisladamente del mantenimiento de las culturas locales. Es por ello que 10s proyectos de desarrollo tambidn deben enfatizar el mantenimiento de la diversidad cultural.

Introduction
Traditional farming systems in the developing countries have emerged over centuries of cultural and biological
'Correspondence and requestsfor reprints should be mailed to this uuthot:

evolution and represent accumulated experiences of peasants interacting with the environment without access to external inputs, capital, or scientific knowledge (Chang 1977, Wilken 1977, Egger 1981). Using inventive self-reliance, experiential knowledge, and locally resources,peasants have Often farming systems with sustained yieids (Harwood 1979, Klee
49
Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

50

Peasant Agriculture & Conservation

Altim' et al

1980). These agroecosystems, based on the cultivation of a diversity of crops and varieties in time and space, have allowed traditional farmers to maximize harvest security under low levels of technology and with limited resources and space (Clawson 1985). So far, most of the research and development efforts to improve traditional agriculture have been focused on the productive units where crops are grown. This limited view of the peasant agroecosystem ignores the fact that many peasants utilize, maintain, and preserve within or adjacent to their properties, areas of natural ecosystems (forests, hillsides, lakes, grasslands, stream ways, swamps, etc.) that contribute valuable food supplements,construction materials, medicines, organic fertilizers,fuels, religious items, etc. (Toledo 1980). In fact, the crop-production units and adjacent ecosystems often are all integrated into a single agroecosystem (Fig. 1). Thus studies of subsistence patterns in peasant societies must also consider plant gathering, hunting, and fishing as productive activities, besides agriculture (Caballero and Mapes 1985). Although gatheringhas normally been associated with conditions of poverty (Wilken 1969), recent evidence suggests that this activity is closely associated with the persistence of a strong cultural tradition. In addition,vegetation gathering has an economic and ecological basis, as collected wild plants provide essential supplies of food, raw materials for cottage industries, and other resources, especially during times of low agricultural production owing to natural calamities or other circumstances. The wild plant ecosystems also provide ecological services to peasants such as habitats for wildlife and natural enemies of agricultural pests, watersheds, litter for fields, etc.

The peasant agricultural production activity commonly reflects a total multiple-usesystem of both natural and artiticial ecosystems. This more holistic view has important implications for the conservation of plant genetic resources in agriculture. By rejecting the concept that the source of potential crop germplasm only resides within the confines of traditional agroecosystems (that is, the productive units), it is likely that more attention will be paid to the importance of many wild plants that have desirable chemical constituents or genetic traits, and that are present in adjacent natural ecosystems (Thompson 1985). Furthermore, the important role of peasants in the management and maintenance of adjacent ecosystems where these plant resources are gathered is often overlooked, and the urgent need to place greater priority on recording ethnobotanical and agroecological information from local peasants cannot be overestimated. In this context, concern for the rapid loss of genetic resources in Third World agriculture must not only be addressed to the conversion from self-provisioningforms of farming to commercial agriculture. It must also focus on the preservation of natural ecosystems that provide ecological services to peasants. The latter are usually perceived as marginally productive and profitable by governments and industries, and as utilizing valuable space otherwise needed by more highly capitalized agriculture and industry. It is within this broader definition of an agricultural production system that we will discuss the various genetic, ecological, and socioeconomic issues that interplay when simultaneously considering crop and wild plant resource conservation and peasant agricultural development.

The Agricultural Production Units


Traditional Agroecosystem and Crop Germplasm Resources
A salient feature of traditional farming systems is their degree of plant diversity in the form of polycultures and/ or agroforestry patterns (Chang 1977, Clawson 1985). This peasant strategy of minimizing risk by planting several species and varieties of crops stabilizes yields over the long term, promotes diet diversity, and maximizes returns under low levels of technology and limited resources (Harwood 1979). Traditional multiple cropping systems provide as much as 15 percent to 2 0 percent of the world food supply (Francis 1985). Tropical agroecosystems composed of agricultural and fallow fields, complex home gardens, and agroforestry plots, commonly contain well over 100 plant species per field, which are used for construction materials, firewood,tools, medicines, livestock feed, and human food. Examples include multiple-use agroforestry systems managed by the Huastecs and Lacandones in Mexico, the Bora and Kayapo Indians in the Amazon basin and the Pekarangan

Figure 1. An integrated agroecosystem in Tlaxcala, Mexico, where the crop production units are closely linked to aajacent natural plant communities, through farmers who collect plant litter and gather other resources in such habitats (photo by M. A. Altierg.
Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

Altieri et al

Peasant Agriculture C Conservation

51

in West Java (Alcorn 1984, Denevan et al. 1984, Christanty et al. 1985). Many traditional agroecosystems are located in centers of crop diversity, thus containing populations of variable and adapted land races as well as wild and weedy relatives of crops (Harlan 1965). Clawson (1985) recently described several systems in which tropical farmers plant multiple varieties of each crop, providing both intraspecific and interspecific diversity, thus enhancing harvest security. For example, in the Andes farmers cultivate as many as 50 potato varieties in their fields (Brush, 1982). Similarly, in Thailand and Indonesia farmers maintain a diversity of rice varieties in their paddies adapted to a wide range of environmental conditions, and they regularly exchange seeds with neighbors (Grigg 1974). The resulting genetic diversity heightens resistance to diseases that attack particular strains of the crop, and enables farmers to exploit different microclimates and derive multiple nutritional and other uses from genetic variation within species. Many plants within or around traditional cropping systems are wild or weedy relatives of crop plants. The ecological amplitudes of wild relatives may exceed those of the crops derived from or otherwise related to them, a feature exploited by plant breeders to enhance the resistance or adaptive range of crops for specific purposes (Frankel and Bennett 1970,Harlan 1976,PrescottAllen and Prescott-Allen 1982). In these settings, land races and wild or weedy relatives have coexisted and coevolved over a long period of time with each other and with human cultures (Altieri and Merrick 1987). This long history results in a relatively stable equilibrium among crops, weeds, diseases, cultural practices, and human habits (Barlett 1980). In fact, the great variability of primitive crop cultivars correspond well with the heterogeneity of the social and ecological environment (Brush 1982). Cycles of natural hybridization and introgression have often occurred between crops and wild relatives, increasing the variability and the genetic diversity available to farmers (Harlan 1976). Through the practice of nonclean cultivation, whether unintentional or intentional,farmers may increase the gene flow between crops and their relatives. For example, in Mexico farmers allow teosinte to remain within or near corn fields, so that when the wind pollinates corn some natural crosses occur resulting in hybrid plants (Wilkes 1977). Encouragement of specific weeds by peasant farmers in their agroecosystems may represent progressive domestication, a process described by Davis and Bye ( 1982) forJaltomata, a herbaceous perennial used by the Tarahumara in Mexico. Despite the fact that weeds may reduce yields significantly, certain weeds are viewed by peasants as useful and are deliberately left in association with crops. In many areas of Mexico, for example, local farmers do not

completely clear all weeds from their cropping systems. This relaxedweeding is usually seen by agriculturalists as the consequence of a lack of labor and low return for the extra work; however, a closer look at farmer attitudes toward weeds reveals that certain weeds are managed and even encouraged if they serve a useful purpose. In the lowland tropics of Tabasco, Mexico, there is a unique classification of noncrop plants according to use potential on the one hand and effects on soil and crops on the other. According to this system, farmers recognized 2 1 plants in their cornfields as mal monte (bad weeds) and 20 as buen monte (good weeds) that serve as food, medicines, ceremonial items, teas, soil improvers, etc. (Chacon and Gliessman 1982). Similarly, the Tarahumara Indians in the Mexican Sierras depend on edible weed seedlings (Amaranthus, Chenopodiecm,Brassica) from April through July, a critical period before maize, bean, cucurbits, and chiles mature in the planted fields in August through October. Weeds also serve as alternative food supplies in seasons when the maize crops are destroyed by frequent hail storms. In a sense the Tarahumara practice a double crop system of maize and weeds that allows for two harvests: one of weed seedlings of quelites(greens) early in the growing season and another of the harvested maize late in the growing season (Bye 1981 ) (Fig. 2). Farmers de-

Figure 2. Tlmcalteca women carrying quelites (Amaranthus, Chenopodium and Portulaca) sponsored and harvested in truditional corn fields (photo by M. A Altim)

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

52

Peasant Agriculture & Conservation

Altim et al

rive other benefits from the presence of tolerable levels of weeds in their fields. Certain weeds are used directly for medicinal and culinary purposes (Datta and Banerjee 1978), while, in many cases,weed communitiesare managed within crop fields, resulting in increased biological insect pest control (Altieri et al. 1977) and enhanced organic matter accumulation and soil conservation (Chacon and Gliessman 1982). Similarly, farmers accrue general ecological services from natural vegetation growing near their properties. For example, in the Maheweli region of Sri Lanka, the indigenous flora of the higher forests not only provide valuable native plants for commercial and subsistence products, but also serve as natural barriers to the lowland agricultural crops against the spread of plant diseases and insect pests (Cramer 1977). Also, clearing comparatively small agricultural plots in a matrix of secondary forest vegetation permits easy emigration of natural enemies of insect pests from the surrounding jungle (Matteson et d. 1984). In western Guatemala, small farms depend on nearby forests to manage marginal unfertile soils. Leaf litter is carried from nearby forests and spread each year over intensively cropped vegetable plots to improve tilth and water retention. Litter is raked up, placed in bags or nets, and carried to fields by men or horses, or from more distant sources by trucks. After spreading, the leaf litter is worked into the soil with a broad hoe. In some cases litter is first placed beneath stabled animals and then, after a week or so, the rich mixture of pulverized leaves, manure, and urine is spread over the fields and turned under. Although quantities applied vary, farmers in Almolonga, Zunil, and Quezaltenango apply as much as 40 metric tons of litterha each year. Rough calculations made in mixed pine-oak stands indicate that a hectare of cropped land requires the litter production from 10 ha of regularly harvested forest, or less if harvesting is sporadic (Wilken 1977).

The Impacts of Agricultural Modernization A conversion from subsistence to cash agricultural s economy occurs, often variable, indigenous varieties are replaced by new, high-yieldingones (Harlan 1976). The new varieties are many times less dependable than traditional varieties when grown under traditional agricultural management (Barlett 1980). Moreover, the planting of vast monocultures with genetically uniform cultivars,a characteristic of modern agricultural systems, makes agricultural productivity extremely vulnerable to yield limiting factors (Adams et al. 1971, NAS 1972). This type of top-down agricultural development can transform the social relations of production in fundamental ways. It can also result in the loss by rural people of knowledge of the traditional cropping patterns and management practices and the ecological rationale be-

hind them (Chambers 1983). Large-scalepromotion of uniform crop varieties, technologies and farming systems has largely ignored the environmental,cultural, and socioeconomic heterogeneity typical of traditional agriculture (Altieri 1983), thus creating a mismatch of agricultural development and the needs and potentials of local people and localities (de Janvry 1981). In fact, research evidence shows that as peasants abandon subsistence crops to produce cash crops or are deprived of sufficient land and forced to work as wage laborers, the resulting economic, social, ecological, and dietary changes often lead to poorer health and nutrition (Dewey 1981, Eder 1978). The integration between plant gathering and crop production tends to disappear as peasant agroecosystems are modernized. Although the Green Revolution has been widely promoted in Third World countries, improved varieties have only hastened the disappearance of wild relatives and traditional varieties of crops in areas strongly linked to commercial agriculture and the national market (Brush 1980). However, as areas become more marginal in natural resources and in institutional support, the use of improved varieties declines; farmers abandon them because of their risk and expense and rely on their centurytested, regionally adapted stocks. Thus today the rural landscape consists of mosaics of modern and traditional varieties and technologies. tn Peru, for example, as altitude increases, the percentage of native potatoes in the field increases steadily (Brush 1980). In Thailand, rice farmers plant the modern semidwarf varieties on part of their land during the dry season and sow traditional varieties during the monsoon season. They have thus established a system that maximizes the productivity of irrigated modern varieties during dry months and the stability of the traditional varieties in the wet season when pest outbreaks are common (Grigg 1974). As the economic crisis deepens in most developing countries, with rural populations becoming increasingly impoverished, a sizable portion of the peasantry is renewing use of the traditional varieties and low-input management practices according to the demands of subsistence agriculture (Altieri and Anderson 1986). This new strategy gives peasants the extra margin of resistance to pests, diseases, and other environmental hazards, an important consideration when working under conditions of economic uncertainty. Unfortunately, in many areas the farming base of peasant communities has been so eroded that return to native cultivars is difficult because of inevitable genetic erosion. Several factors have contributed to this loss of crop genetic resources: decrease in the number of growers, decrease in crop population size per field, decrease in the planting frequency, loss of seed saving and collection skills, and changes in the crops vulnerability to pests and weeds, etc. (Nabhan 1985, 1986).

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

Altieri et al

Peasant Agriculture C Conservation

53

Adjacent Natural Ecosystems


The Ecology of Plant Gathering
In many parts of the world, the peasant sector still obtains a signrficantportion of its subsistence requirements from the ecosystems that embed and surround the agricultural plots (Fig. 3). The use of such ecosystems is not random; it is based on a deep understanding of the elements and interactions of the ecosystems, many times guided by complex taxonomic classification systems (Berlin et al. 1973). For example, the ethnobotanical knowledge of certain campesinos in Mexico is so elaborate that the Tzeltals, Purhepechas, and Mayans can recognize more than 1200, 900, and 500 plant species, respectively (Toledo et al. 1985). Similar folk soil classification systems have also proved to be scientifically valid (Williams and Ortiz-Solario 1981). Such nomenclature has allowed peasants to assign each landscape

,
r&
~

I
I
Shlftlng C u l t l v a t o r a Chlnampa Farmers

is I

m a

f N

*
0

II

:$:,
. . . . . .I I . .

M e x l c a n Chlnanteca and

.I:...:. ,..:.

1
z

Figure 3. A gradient of the interface of plant gathering and crop production in the face of agricultural modernization as exemplified by existing peasant agroecosystems in Mexico.

unit a given productive practice, thus obtaining a diversity of products through a strategy of multiple use. A number of researchers have provided valuable discussions of wild plant consumption in the agricultural communities that they have studied. For example, for the Purhepecha Indians who live in the region of Lake Patzcuaro in Michoacan, Mexico, in addition to agriculture, gathering is part of a complex subsistence pattern based on multiple uses of their natural resources (Caballero and Mapes 1985). These people use more than 224 species ofwild native and naturalized vascular plants for dietary, medicinal, household, and fuel needs. Similarly, the Jicaque Indians of central Honduras, who live on the Montana de la Flor reservation, use over 45 plant species from the pine-oak forest, riverine habitat, or dooryard as foods, medicines, fuel, etc. Like their mestizo neighbors, the Jicaque grow corn (Zea mays L.) using slash-and-burn techniques. The cultivated fields are widely spaced throughout the forest and in traveling from one field to the next, the Jicaque usually collect wild plant food along the way to be added to the cooking pots of the familys compound (Lentz 1986). The Pima and Papago Indians of the Sonora Desert base most of their subsistence needs on more than 15 species of wild and cultivated legumes (Nabhan et al. 1983). In humid tropical conditions the procurement of resources from the primary and secondary forests is even more impressive. For example, in the Uxpanapa region of Veracruz, Mexico, local peasants exploit about 435 wild plant and animal species, of which 229 are used as food (Toledo et al. 1985). In the Mexican Huasteca areas around villages and households commonly average 80 to 125 useful plant species, mostly native medicinal plants (Alcorn 1984). Agroforestry systems and adjacent forests of west Java contain about 100 plant species, of which 42 percent provide building materials and fuelwood, 32 percent provide fruits and vegetables, and the remainder are medicinals, ornamentals, spices, and cash crops (Christanty et al. 1985). In many agropastoral African societies collection of edible leaves, roots, tubers, berries, and fruits in the bushlands surrounding the villages provides a diversification of the food base. For example, in the eastern Kalahari Desert and semi-arid regions of Botswana and northern Cape Province, South Africa, Bantu-speaking Tswana women collect edible wild greens throughout the year. Bulbs, roots, and tubers are used primarily between October and January. In summer (December through February) attention turns to the berries, fruits, and a few succulent bulbs (Grivetti 1979). Although it is generally assumed that wild plant foods are an emergency or supplementary food in African agropastoral communities during droughts or other times of environmental stress, there have been few systematic studies of the extent to which such plants are actually consumed and of their nutritional importance. From her study of

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

54

Peasant Agriculture G Conservation

Altim et al

michicha(wild green leafy vegetables) in northeastern Tanzania,Fleuret ( 1979) concluded that wild plants provide significant mounts of carotene, calcium, iron, and protein to the peasant diet. These plants also have an economic importance. Apart from the fact that their use means that households are expending less cash on purchased foods and making available more crops for consumption and sale, the greens themselves are a source of cash as they are periodically sold in the local rural markets. Although wild green vegetables have been regarded as peripheral to the peasant household, gathering, as currently practiced in many peasant communities, affords a meaningful addition to the peasant subsistence economy. It provides not only dietary diversity,but also firewood, medicines, and other resources that support nonagricultural activities in the households by depending on plant resources present in adjacent ecosystems. For example, in Palawan, Philippines,indigenous people have adopted a mixed upland economy combining the shifting cultivation of rice and secondary crops with part-time exploitation of marine and forest resources. Rattan and copal are collected for sale to lowland merchants,providing a vital source of cash income for many families (Conelly 1985). As many as 450,000 subsistence-level households in Brazil rely on the sale of babassu kernels from stands of babassu palms for an important share of their cash incomes. In addition to cash income, the palm supplies these people with food, fuel, and shelter. The palms contribute important resources to their farming systems and provide organic matter, animal feed, and other services (May et al. 1985). Minor forest products such as perfumery oils, gums and exudates, dyes, and tannins are often significant in the economies of tropical lands (Robbins and Matthews 1974). In many cases, gathering is more closely associated with the persistence of a strong cultural tradition than to poverty (Caballero and Mapes 1985). In areas of Nagarhaveli and Daman, India, 52 plants are gathered by local people for medicinal and other purposes from the regional forests. Although the local ethnic communities use the government health facilities, they seem to have more faith in their own cures (Sabnis and Bedi 1983). Preference for traditional medicines, gathered and cultivated, persists throughout much of the developing world despite access to government-funded health centers (Browner 1985). The diversity and ready accessibility of the closely adjacent ecosystems also contribute to the persistence of gathering (Wilken 1970) and thus help maintain cultural ties to the land, as well as a diversity of approaches to the perception and use of natural resources. The most frequently ignored or overlooked aspect of conservation of natural resources and economic development is human cultural diversity.In Central America, no two Indian

cultures have identical ecologies. Each group has worked out its own unique ways of using the land and the local natural resources (Bennett 1975).

Policy Questions i the Conservation of Wild Plant Areas n Contrary to prevalent views, gathering is a widespread element in the subsistence economy of many peasant agricultural societies. The evidence suggests that nutritional success is linked with diversification of the food base both through agricultural production and plant collecting (Grivetti 1979). In many areas of semi-aridAfrica, peasant and tribal groups continue to be nutritionally successful even when drought strikes. Grivetti (1979) argues that drought need not produce famine as long as the tradition of recognizing, procuring, and using wild food resources is not disrupted. A major problem with the evaluation of the economic and environmental significance of the collection of plant products from natural ecosystems is that policymakers and developers consider the current peasant gathering techniques as primitive, poverty-related,and destructive. Such views often ignore the more serious environmental destruction caused by large-scalegrazing, flood-control,mining, and logging operations. Many natural ecosystems(i.e.,wetlands, mangroves,forests,grasslands, etc.) have been selectively harvested on a small scale for generations for such products as fuelwood, poles, charcoal, tannin and basketry materials, medicines, etc. Most species regenerate readily after being subjected to low-intensity management and harvesting (Richardson 1977). For example, in many African shifting cultivation systems, the soil fertility restoring power of the bush fallow is linked to the regrowth of spared deep rooted trees and shrubs that recycle plant nutrients and build up soil organic matter. Species such as Acioa barterii, Anthonata baterii, etc., are intentionally retained and the in situ tree stakes are used for staking yam, while the cut tree tops provide animal feed, tirewood, compost material and herbal medicine (Nye and Greenland 1965). Similar regeneration patterns can be observed in swidden fallows under low-intensity management by Bora Indians (Denevan et al. 1984). On the other hand, large intensive-scaleharvesting or modification of natural habitats through agriculture,logging, etc., may leave cleared areas well beyond the biological capacity of the species for natural regeneration (Richardson 1977). The more intense the alteration from human activity, the further the plant and animal communities diverge from their original state. Deforestation pressures and technological innovations for more intensive agriculture often conflict with the basic needs of peasants dependent on wild plant resources for their livelihood. Few studies assess the disruptive effects of these operations on the people whose lives may depend on these ecosystems. It is also imperative to develop policies that promote preservation of natural resources

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

Altim et ul.

Peasant Agriculture C Consmution

55

effectively but, at the same time, do not negatively affect the livelihood of the local peasants. In this regard, developers, ecologists, and nutritionists can learn much from the local ethnobotanical and agroecological lore to help farmers who have long depended on the forest and other ecosystems acquire alternative ways of sustenance. In fact, it may be advantageous to capitalize on existing social arrangementsfollowed by peasant groups that result in environmental protection. For example, in central Chile peasants retain bands of natural vegetation (Peumus boldus, Quillaja saponaria,Maytenus boaria, and Cryptocaria alba) along streams to conserve water resources and they elect a local villager to enforce regulations that protect these trees (Rodriguez et al. 1987).

In

Of

Resources

A major argument against ex situ crop germplasm conservation methods is that they remove crops from their original cultural-ecological context (Nabhan 1985), the human-modified systems by which they have evolved (Oldfield 1984). In contrast, in situ conservation allows for continued, dynamic adaptation of plants to the environment (Prescott-Allen and Prescott-Allen 198 1 ), which is an important phenomenon in traditional agricultural areas where crops are often enriched by gene exchange with wild or weedy relatives in fields or in adjacent natural ecosystems (de Wet and Harlan 1975, Harlan 1965). A number of scientists have emphasized the need for in situ conservation of crop genetic resources and the environments in which they occur (Wilkes and Wilkes 1972, Iltis 1974, Prescott-Allenand Prescott-Allen 1982, Nabhan 1985). However, most researchers believe in situ preservation of land races would require a return to or the preservation of microcosms of primitive agricultural systems, which many would consider an unacceptable, impracticable proposition (Frankel and Soule 1981, Ingram and Williams 1984). We contend, nevertheless, that maintenance of traditional agroecosystems and closely associated natural ecosystems is the only sensible strategy to preserve in situ repositories of crop germplasm (Altieri and Merrick 1987). Conservation of crop genetic resources can still be integrated with agricultural development, through rural development projects that preserve the vegetation diversity of traditional agroecosystems and that are anchored in the peasants rationale to use local resources and their intimate knowledge of the environment (Alcorn 1984, Nabhan 1985, Sarukhan 1985). Recommendations for in situ conservation of crop germplasm have emphasized the development of a wide system of village-level land race custodians (a farmer curator system), whose purpose would be to continue to grow a limited sample of endangered land races native to the region (Nabhan 1985). Carefully chosen strips ( 5

X 20 km) at as few as 100 sites around the world where native agriculture is still practiced, particularly areas where both indigenous crops and their close wild relatives may interbreed periodically, have been suggested to be set aside by governments to preserve crop-plant diversity (Wilkes 1983). Such areas must include retention o small blocks of forest and other adjacent natural f ecosystems to provide farmers with a constant future supply of fuelwood, medicines, and other wild plant products (Spears 1979). Such areas would allow preservation of all the constituent plant species rather than those that are judged to be of immediate economic value. Moreover, in these areas protection and propagation of wild plants with specific ecological requirements otherwise difficult to cultivate in fields, would be assured. Some of these areas could well prove to be samples of the ecosystems from which early humans selected the progenitors of modern crop plants (Melville 1970). The idea of setting aside parks for crop relatives and land races is obviously a luxury in countries where farm land is already at a premium; however, to some this may be less costly than allowing native crop varieties to disappear (Brush 1980, Wolf 1985). In many areas the urgent short-term issue is survival, and diverting the limited land available to peasants for conservation purposes, per se, so that this germplasm may be used by industrialized nations is totally inappropriate. A more realistic and desirable proposition should allow for subsistence agriculture and plant gathering within these reserve areas. Plant management would be integrated into the human uses of the local ecosystems, and perhaps some nonintrusive but ecologically based modifications of the traditional use patterns could result in greater yields of plant species most valued as food, fuel, medicine, etc. (Bennett 1975). Supporters of in situ strategies argue that farmers should be incorporated into conservation programs by creating biosphere reserves where peasants are subsidized to continue with their traditional agriculture (Wilkes 1983). Once identified, these areas would be designated as germplasm centers and would quallfy for special agricultural assistance aimed at promoting the cultivation of native varieties. Industrial countries using this germplasm would subsidize farmers cultivating native varieties and would help them in marketing the produce. Brush ( 1980) believes that, in addition, these support programs should include the machinery and financial aid to compensate farmers who maintain germplasm for monetary losses incurred by not substituting improved varieties. In other words, some means of computing the cost of maintaining these cultivars must be established. Although Nabhan (1985) agrees with the creation of centers of traditional agriculture, he believes that conservation measures will be most effective when native farmers are cognizant of, and involved in, their planning

Conservation Biology Volume 1. No. 1, May 1987

56

Peasant Agriculture 6 Conservation

Altieri et al.

and implementation. Such efforts are likely to succeed, he argues, as long as members of a culture identlfy their own reasons for maintaining their crop heritage and persevere in conducting the practices for nurturing these plants.

Linking Rural Development and Conservation


An obvious incentive for resource-poor peasants is to enhance harvest security and to become independent of the market for costly seeds and inputs. It is for this type of farmer that preservation efforts should be linked to the overall rural development agenda. Design of sustainable farming systems and appropriate technologies aimed at upgrading peasant food production for selfsufficiency should incorporate locally adapted native crops and wild/weedy relatives within and around agroecosystems to complement the various production processes (Altieri and Merrick 1987). At present there are many programs of assistance to peasants temporarily directed at meeting their subsistence needs (Altieri and Anderson 1986, Altieri and Merrick 1987). By incorporating indigenous crops and other native plant germplasm into the design of self-sustained agroecosystems, local genetic diversity available to farmers is maintained. Important economic as well as conservation goals can be achieved for a large area by using seeds of crops like beans, potatoes, soybeans, wheat, and maize that the farmer can select and save for the next season. Moreover, this agricultural strategy based on native crop diversity brings moderate to high levels of productivity through manipulation and exploitation of the resources internal to the farm and can be sustainable at a much lower cost and for a longer period of time (Altieri 1983, Altieri and Anderson 1986). Evaluation of current programs in the Third World is showing that functions of nutrient recycling, natural pest control, and soil conservation can be optimized through the design of crop associations and regionally adapted patterns (Gliessman et al. 1981, Altieri 1983). Very few rural development projects to date have emphasized preservation of natural vegetation associations near agricultural fields to foster the beneficial interactions that result from the exchange of materials, energy, and organisms at the interface of agroecosystems and adjacent woodlands. The creation of forest reserves to improve the quality of local agriculture should then be seriously considered by agricultural planners.

region, capitalist development through promotion of large-scale, commercial agriculture is bound to affect natural resource conservation more than some of the existing peasant systems do. Besides crop diversity, farmers in the Andean potato fields and in the rice paddies of southeast Asia use a set of practices that cause minimal land degradation. These include the use of terraces and hedgerows in sloping areas, minimal tillage, small field sizes, and long fallow cycles (Grigg 1974, Brush 1980). By concentrating on short rotations and fewer varieties, agricultural modernization in the same areas has caused environmental perturbation and eroded genetic diversity, making farmers increasingly dependent on seed companies for their seasonal seed supply (Mooney 1983). Peasants loss of control over agricultural production is by far the most crucial effect of development on their health, nutrition and economic survival (Dewey 1981 ). We do not intend to romanticize subsistence agriculture or consider development per se as detrimental. We want, however, to stress the value of traditional agriculture in the preservation of native crop diversity and the adjacent vegetation communities (Toledo 1980). Basing a rural development strategy on traditional farming and ethnobotanical knowledge not only assures continual use and maintenance of valuable genetic resources but also allows for the diversification of peasant subsistence strategies (Alcorn 1984, Caballero and Mapes 1985), a crucial issue in times of economic uncertainty. As Alcorn ( 1984) suggested, it is time to recognize peasants active role in genetic resource conservation. However, it behooves the industrial nations interested in this germplasm to subsidize peasants fairly for the ecological service of maintaining native cultivars and wild plants with new crop potential.

References and Notes


Adams, M.W.; Ellingbae, A.H; Rossineau, E.C. Biological uniformity and disease epidemics.Bidcience 2 1:1067- 1070;1971. Alcorn, J.B. Development policy, forests and peasant farms: reflections on Huastec-managedforests contributions to commercial production and resource conservation. Econ. Bot

38:389-406;1984.
Altieri, M.A. Agroecology: the scientific basis of alternative agriculture. Berkeley, CA: Div. Biol. Control, Univ. Calif.; 1983. Altieri, MA.; Anderson, M.K. An ecological basis for the development of alternative agricultural systems for small farmers in the Third World. American Journal of Alternative Agriculture 1:30-38;1986. Altieri, M.A.; Merrick, L.C. In situ conservation of crop genetic resources through maintenance of traditional farming systems. E C OB O 41:86-96;1987. ~ ~ Altieri, M.A.; van Schoonhoven, A.; Do& J.D. The ecological role of weeds in insect pest management systems: a review illustrated with bean (Pbaseolus vulgaris L.) cropping systems. PANS 2 3:195-205; 1977.

Conclusions
To some, a surprising conclusion that emerges from the relevant anthropological and ecological literature is that, when not disrupted by economic or political forces, the peasant mode of production generally preserves rather than destroys natural resources. In fact, in any particular

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

Altieri et al.
Barlett, P.F. Adaptation strategies in peasant agricultural production. Ann. Rev. Anthropol. 9:545-573;1980. Bennett, C.F. The advantages of cultural diversity. Unasylva

Peasant Agriculture E. Conservation

57

Bora Indian management of swidden fallows. Znterciencia

9346-357; 1984.
de Wet, J.M.J.; Harlan, J.R. Weeds and domesticates: evolution in the man-made habitat. Econ. Bot. 29:99-107;1975. Dewey, K.G. Nutritional consequences of the transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture in Tabasco, Mexico. Human Ecology 9:151-188;1981. Eder, J.F. The caloric returns to food collecting: disruption and change among the bat& of the Philippine tropical forest. Human Ecology 6:55-69;1978. Egger, K. Ecofarming in the tropics-characteristics tentialities. Pt. Res. Developm. l 3:96- 106;198l . and po-

27:11-15;1975.
Berlin, B.; Breedlove, D.E.; Raven, P.H. General principles of classification and nomenclature in folk biology. American Anthropologist 75:214-242;1973. Browner, C.H. Plants used for reproductive health in Oaxaca, Mexico. Econ. Bot. 39482-504;1985. Brush, S.B. The environment and native Andean agriculture. America Zndigena 40:161-172;1980. Brush, S.B. The natural and human environment of the central Andes. Mountain Research and Development 2:14-38;1982. Brush, S.B. Genetic diversity and conservation in traditional farming systems.J Ethnobiol. 6:151-167;1986. Bye, R.A. Quelities-ethnoecology of edible greens-past, present and future.J Ethnobiol. 1:109-123;1981. Caballero, J.N.; Mapes, C. Gathering and subsistence patterns among the Purhepecha Indians of Mexic0.J Ethnobiol. 5:3 1-

Ewell, P.T.; Poleman, T.T. Uxpanapa: resettlement and agricultural development in the Mexican tropics. Znt. Agric. Economics Study 82-87;1982. Cornell Univ., Ithaca, NY. Felger, R.S.; Moser, M.B. Seri Indian food plants: desert subsistence without agriculture. Ecology of Food and Nutrition

5:13-27;1976.
Fleuret, A. The role of wild foliage plants in the diet. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 8:87-93;1979. Francis, C.A. Variety development for multiple cropping systems. CRC Crit. Rev. Pl. Sci. 3133-168;1985. Frankel, O.H.; Bennett, E., editors. Genetic resources in plantstheir exploration and conservation. International Biological Programme Handbook # I I . Oxford: Blackwell Scientific Publications; 1970. Frankel, O.H.; Soule, M.E. Comervation and Evolution. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press; 1981. Gliessman, S.R.; Garcia, E.; Amador, A. The ecological basis for the application of traditional agricultural technology in the management of tropical ago-ecosystems. Agro-Ecosystems

47;1985.
Chacon, J.C.; Gliessman, S.R. Use of the non-weed concept in traditional tropical agroecosystems of south-eastern Mexico. Agro-Ecosystems 8:1- 1 1 ;1982. Chambers, R. Rural development: putting the last frrst. Essex, England: Longman Group Limited; 1983. Chang,J.H. Tropical agriculture: crop diversity and crop yields. Econ. Geogr. 53241-254;1977. Christanty, L.; Abdoellah, 0.;Iskander, J. Traditional agroforestry in West Java: the pekarangan (homegarden) and talunkebun (shifting cultivation) cropping systems. In: G. Marten, ed. The Human Ecology of Traditional Tropical Agriculture. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 1985. Clawson, D.L. Harvest security and intraspecific diversity in traditional tropical agriculture. Econ. Bot. 3956-67;1985. Conelly, W.T. Copal and rattan collecting in the Philippines. E C O Bot. 39:39-46;1985. ~ Cramer, L.H. The significance of the indigenous flora in the areas of the Mahaweli complex. The Sri Lanka Forester 8:9-

7:173- 185;1981.
Grigg, D.B. The Agricultural Systems of the World:An Evolutionay Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press;

1974.
Grivetti, LE. Kalahari agro-pastoral-hunter-gatherers: Tswana the example. Ecology of Food and Nutrition 7:235-256;1979. Grossman, L.S. Peasants, Subsistence Ecology and Development in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press; 1984. Harlan, J.R. The possible role of weed races in the evolution of cultivated plants. Euphytica 14:173-176;1965. Harlan, J.R. Genetic resources in wild relatives of crops. Crop Sci. 16:329-333;1976. Harwood, RR Small Farm Development-Understanding and Zmproving Farming Systems in the Humid Tropics. Boulder, CO: Westview Press; 1979. Iltis, H.H. Freezing the genetic landscape-the preservation of diversity in cultivated plants as an urgent social responsibility

18;1977.
Datta, S.C.; Banerjee, A.K. Useful weeds of West Bengal rice fields. Econ. Bot. 32:297-310;1978. Davis IV, T.; Bye Jr., R.A. Ethnobotany and progressive domestication of Jaltomata (solanaceae) in Mexico and Central America. Econ. Bol; 36:225-241;1982. de Janvry, A. The agrarian question and reformism in Latin America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press; 1981. Denevan, W.M.; Treace, J.M.; Alcorn, J.B.; Padoch, C.; Denslow, J.; Paitan, S.T. Indigenous agroforestry in the Peruvian Amazon:

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987

58

Peasant Agriculture C Conservation

Altim' et al

of the plant geneticist and plant taxonomist. Maize Genet. Coop. Newsletter 48:199-200;1974. Ingram, G.B.; WiIliams, J.T. i n situ conservation of wild relatives of crops. In: J.H.W. Holden, J.T. Williams, eds. Crop Genetic Resources: Conservation and Evaluation. London: Allen and Unwin; 1984:163-178. Johnston, A. Blackfoot Indian utilization of the flora of the northwestern Great Plains. Econ. Bot. 24301-324;1970. Klee, G.A. World Systems o Traditional Resource Managef ment New York: J. Wiley & Sons; 1980. Lentz, D.I. Ethnobotany of the Jicaque of Honduras. Econ. Bot.

Richardson, D. A Faustian dilemma. Unasylva 29:12-14;1977. Robbins, S.R.J.; Matthews, W.S.A. Minor forest products. Unasylva 26:7- 14;1974. Rodriguez, J.A.; Altieri, M.A.; Siques, S.S.;Barrera, C.A. Agroecological typification of traditional farming systems in central Chile. In: Proc. 6th IFOAM International Scientific Conference. Santa Cruz, CA:University of California (in press). Sabnis, S.D.; Bedi, S.J. Ethnobotanical studies in Dadra-Nagar Haveli and Daman. Indian Journal o Forestry 6:65-69;1983. f Sarukhan,J. Ecological and social overviews of ethnobotanical research. Econ. Bot. 39:431-435;1985. Spears, J.S. Can the wet tropical forest survive? Commonw. For. Rev. 58:165-180;1979. Thompson, A.E. New native crops for the arid southwest. Econ. BOt. 39:436-453;1985. Toledo, V.M. La ecologia del mod0 campesino de producion. Antropologia y Marxism0 3:3 5- 5 5;1980. Toledo, V.M.; Carabias, J.; Mapes, C.; Toledo, C. Ecologia y AutosuficienciaAlimentaria Mexico City: Siglo Veintiuno Editors; 1985. Wiersum, KF., editor. Viewpoints on Agroforestry. Wageningen, The Netherlands: Agricultural Univ.; 1981. Wilken, G.C. The ecology of gathering in a Mexican farming region. Econ. Bot. 24286-295;1969. Wilken, G.C. The ecology of gathering in a Mexican farming region. Econ Bot. 24206-245;1970. Wilken, G.C. Integrating forest and small-scale farm systems in middle America. Agro-Ecosystems3291-302;1977. Wilkes, H.G. Hybridization of maize and teosinte, in Mexico and Guatemala and the improvement of maize. Econ. Bot.

40:210-219;1986.
Matteson, P.C.; Altieri, M.A.; Gagne, W.C. Modification of small farmer practices for better pest management. Ann. Rev. Entomol. 24383-402;1984. May, P.H.; Anderson, A.B.; Balick, M.J.; Frazao,J.M.F. Subsistence benefits from the babassu palm (Orbignya martiana). Econ.
BOt. 39~113-129;1985.

Melville, R. Plant conservation and the red book. Biological Conservation 2:185- 188;1970. Mooney, P.R. The law of the seed. Developm Dialogue 1 : l -

172;1983.
Nabhan, G.P. Papago Indian Fields: arid lands ethnobotany and agricultural ecology. Unpubl. Ph.D. diss., Univ. Arizona, Tucson, AZ;1983. Nabhan, G.P. Native crop diversity in Aridoamerica: conservation of regional gene pools. Econ. Bot 39:387-399;1985. Nabhan, G.P. Native American crop diversity, genetic resource conservation and the policy of neglect. Agriculture and Human Values 2:14-17;1986. National Academy of Sciences. Genetic vulnerability of major crops. Washington, D.C.: National Academy of Sciences; 1972. Nye, P.H.; Greenland, DJ. The soil under shifting cultivation. Technical Communication 51. Harpenden, England: Commonwealth Bureau of Soils; 1965. Oldfteld, M.L. The value of conserving genetic resources. Washington, DC: Dept. Interior, US. Govt. Print. Office; 1984. Plucknett, D.L.; Smith, N.J.H.; Williams, J.T.; Anishetty, N.M. Crop germplasm conservation and developing countries. Science 220:163- 169;1983. Prescott-Allen, R.; Prescott-Allen, C. In situ conservation of crop genetic resources: a report to the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources. Rome: IBPGR;1981. Prescott-Allen, R.; Prescott-Allen, C. The case for in situ conservation of crop genetic resources. Nature and Resources
2 3 1 5-20;1982.

3 1:254-293;1977.
Wilkes, H.G. Current status of crop plant germplasm. CRC Critical Review of Plant Sciences 1:133-181;1983. Wilkes, H.G.; Wilkes, S.K. The green revolution. Environment

14:32-39;1972.
William, B.J.; Ortiz-Solario, C. Middle American folk soil taxonomy. Annals of the Association of American Geographers

71:335-358;1981.
Wolf, E.C. Conserving biological diversity. In: The State o the f World A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress Toward a Sustainable Society. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.;

1985:124- 126.

Conservation Biology Volume 1, No. 1, May 1987