Livelihood Strategies, Knowledge Management, and Innovation in a Slash-and-burn Cultivation System in Madagascar

Kistler, Pierre; Messerli, Peter (2002). Livelihood Strategies, Knowledge Management, and Innovation in a Slash-and-burn Cultivation System in Madagascar. In: Flury, Manuel; Geiser, Urs (eds.) Local Environmental Management in a North-South Perspective. Issues of Participation and Knowledge Management (pp. 237-255). Zürich: Hochschulverlag der ETH Zürich

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Slash-and-burn cultivation of pluvial rice (tavy) is the main component of the agricultural system on the eastern escarpment in Madagascar. Changing socioeconomic, political, and demographic framework conditions have rendered this ancestral cultivation system unsustainable. Whereas conservationists see tavy, or shifting cultivation as highly destructive of the rainforest, farmers still consider it to be the best way to secure their livelihoods in the medium term. As a consequence, tavy cultivation has remained largely unchanged over generations, while innovations were adopted within other components of the farming system, such as cash cropping and agroforestry systems. Accordingly, two knowledge systems have developed that show only very limited interaction: traditional knowledge, which is constantly regenerated and transmitted from one generation to another, and what we call “potential knowledge,” which is the result of an innovation process nurtured by constant exchange with external actors and their knowledge. This knowledge is potential only, as it has virtually no positive impact on sustainable land management. The reasons we identify for the lack of interaction between the knowledge systems relate to the lack of feasible alternatives to secure livelihoods, to social and cultural obstacles, and to the reticence of the local population to work with external actors based on past experiences. We argue that the most promising pathways towards more sustainable land management depend on improving vertical as well as horizontal information flows: Vertically, improved coordination and consultation among stakeholders must be attained, because the visions of future development and innovation needs still diverge dramatically. Yet, the combination of internal as well as external knowledge is a necessary precondition to identifying feasible development options. Horizontally, the exchange among individuals, households, and communities must be facilitated to improve the diffusion of new knowledge.

Item Type:

Book Section (Book Chapter)


10 Strategic Research Centers > Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)

UniBE Contributor:

Messerli, Peter


Hochschulverlag der ETH Zürich




Stephan Schmidt

Date Deposited:

03 Aug 2016 13:43

Last Modified:

03 Aug 2016 13:43


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