Ethnopedology: a worldwide view on the soil knowledge of local people
Ethnopedology, a hybrid discipline nurtured by natural as well as social sciences, encompasses the soil and land knowledge systems of rural populations, from the most traditional to the modern. Using this statement as a starting point, the first part of the paper defines ethnopedology in terms of conceptual scope, methodological approaches and dominant research themes. Initially, classic ethnographic studies focused on the linguistic analysis of local soil and land classification systems, while the comparative approach aimed at establishing similarities and differences between local knowledge and scientific information. More recently, interest has shifted towards a more integrated approach, which recognizes the relevance of the cultural context in local sustainable land management. Ethnopedological research covers a wide diversity of topics centered around four main issues: (1) the formalization of local soil and land knowledge into classification schemes, (2) the comparison of local and technical soil classifications, (3) the analysis of local land evaluation systems, and (4) the assessment of agro-ecological management practices. In the second part of the paper, the current status of ethnopedology in a worldwide perspective is assessed from a compilation of 895 references, with respect to the abundance, distribution and diversity of ethnopedological studies (EPS). These EPS are distributed over 61 countries, mainly in Africa, America and Asia, and cover 217 ethnic groups. The geographical density of EPS is positively correlated with linguistic and biological diversities. Most EPS have been carried out in fragile agro-ecological zones, where communities living with limited resources have developed efficient land and water management systems to compensate for resource scarcity. Of the three main components of ethnopedology— i.e. Corpus, Praxis and Kosmos—more attention has so far been given to local cognitive systems (Corpus) and local management systems (Praxis) than local belief and symbol systems (Kosmos). Shifting the research emphasis to the cosmovision of local peoples would improve the contribution of EPS to the formulation and implementation of rural development programmes.