Indigenous agricultural knowledge systems, human interests, and critical analysis: Reflections on farmer organization in Ecuador

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Indigenous agricultural knowledge (IAK) can be analyzed for its technical role in food production strategies, and for its role as cultural knowledge producing and reproducing mutual understanding and identity among the members of a farming group. IAK can also be approached from the perspective of critical theory, analyzing the relationship between knowledge and relations of power, with the goal of liberating indigenous farmers from forms of domination. The paper considers relationships between the different aspects of IAK, using examples of the influence of non-local technologies and ideas on indigenous agricultural practices in the Ecuadorian Andes. The examples elucidate how technical change is a signifier of the changing relationship between indigenous farmers and wider society. The political implications of these changes are ambiguous, however, because the change is not necessarily one of social and cultural assimilation. As indigenous peasant organizations in Ecuador now reflect on these changes, they are connecting the questions of IAK, indigenous cultural identity and political strategy. Some organizations speak of recovering and revalorizing indigenous technologies as a tool for, and symbol of, resistance to domination by wider society. Others see selective modernization of indigenous agriculture as a necessary strategy to sustain the social and cultural cohesion of the group, even if this implies social changes. The different perspectives reflect both different conditions facing the organizations, and their varying approaches. That peasant organizations have these discussions suggests that they should constitute an important meeting point for farmers and crop researchers to discuss technology development strategies as equal partners. The organizations can provide an institutional forum in which participants reflect critically on the agrarian knowledge that they have, why they have it, and what it can contribute to future strategies of agrarian and social change. © 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

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Agriculture and Human Values

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technical change, cultural knowledge, meeting point, wide society, political implication