Science News
from research organizations

Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West Africa

Date:
March 4, 2015
Source:
Lancaster University
Summary:
Sacred forests and traditional beliefs are shaping sustainable farming practices in communities in West Africa, according to new research. Scientists carried out a unique 18-month study in Liberia, examining the traditional agriculture of the Loma people where farmers do not use industrial farming practices or artificial fertilizers. They found sacred forests and ancestral lands were valued more than short-term economic gain through increasing food production.
Share:
FULL STORY

Sacred forests and traditional beliefs are shaping sustainable farming practices in communities in West Africa, according to new research.

Scientists from Lancaster Environment Centre carried out a unique 18-month study in Liberia, examining the traditional agriculture of the Loma people where farmers do not use industrial farming practices or artificial fertilisers. They found sacred forests and ancestral lands were valued more than short-term economic gain through increasing food production.

Lancaster researchers calculated that their food production method, which involves farmers planting crops in fertile human-made soil known as 'anthropogenic dark earth', has twice the energy efficiency of either 'slash and burn' rice production and hunting and gathering.

This human-made highly fertile soil, which is used for growing crops, forms in the same localised areas, building up over generations. The soil is created inevitably by everyday domestic life, from deposits of charred and fresh organic matter, including manure, bones, ash, charcoal and ceramics.

However, the expansion of the system is limited by 'sacred' forests, which form around current settlements and cover areas of fertile human-made soil which used to be towns in the past. Customary laws prohibit these forests being cleared for farming, as some trees are believed to have mystical 'medicinal' power, and also because of the presence of graves.

Dr James Fraser, who led the fieldwork, said: "From a modern Western perspective not expanding the coverage of this highly fertile soil appears to be sub-optimal, but communities manage the land in a way that is informed by their relationship to past generations, sustaining their institutions and way of life over many generations, which are more important to them than material gain."

The team used GPS mapping, conducted quantitative surveys, and recorded interviews and oral histories in order to examine the relationship between physical and social factors over a long period of time in traditional sustainable agriculture.

The research was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and is published in the journal Global Environmental Change.


Story Source:

Materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. James Angus Fraser, Victoria Frausin, Andrew Jarvis. An intergenerational transmission of sustainability? Ancestral habitus and food production in a traditional agro-ecosystem of the Upper Guinea Forest, West Africa. Global Environmental Change, 2015; 31: 226 DOI: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2015.01.013

Cite This Page:

Lancaster University. "Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West Africa." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 March 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150304110252.htm>.
Lancaster University. (2015, March 4). Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West Africa. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 24, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150304110252.htm
Lancaster University. "Traditional beliefs promote sustainability in West Africa." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/03/150304110252.htm (accessed May 24, 2017).

RELATED STORIES