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Knowledge, Institutions and Collective Action at the Frontier

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Type: Conference Paper
Author: Brown, Katrina Myrvang; Muchagata, Marcia
Conference: The Commons in an Age of Global Transition: Challenges, Risks and Opportunities, the Tenth Biennial Conference of the International Association for the Study of Common Property
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Conf. Date: August 9-13
Date: 2004
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/10535/1873
Sector: Agriculture
Information & Knowledge
Region: South America
Subject(s): IASC
traditional knowledge
collective action
rural affairs
resource management
Abstract: "Much has been written about the prospects for sustainable development and possible conservation strategies for Amazonia. Some suggestions have focused on so-called traditional resource management, yet most resource managers in Amazonia are fairly recent migrants to the region. Knowledge, institutions and collective action are thus highly dynamic. This paper examines the evolution and development of knowledge amongst colonist or migrant farmers in the frontier environment of eastern Amazonia. It focuses on the Marab'a area in Brazilian state of Para, where colonists from different regions of Brazil have migrated over the last 30 years. We adapt the Traditional Ecological Knowledge concept to analyse taxonomic knowledge, by examining soil types identified by smallholder farmers; systems knowledge, by examining nutrient flows on individual farms; and social institutionalisation of knowledge, by looking at different forms of collective action developing at the frontier. Even very recent migrant farmers rapidly develop taxonomic knowledge of their environment, for example they have detailed knowledge of soil types and of forest plant species. However, migrant farmers demonstrate much more diverse understandings of processes and ideas about how systems work and interact, such as nutrient flows and soil degradation. These perceptions and understandings are rather more divergent from conventional scientific conceptualisations than are taxonomic insights. New forms of collective action are developing at the frontier. The paper analyses three major rural organisations in Amazonia: the Rural Workers Union Movement, the Rubber- tappers National Council and the Landless Workers Movement. These collective action institutions reflect the diverse knowledge of different farmers and institutionalise knowledge within different production, exchange and management systems. The analysis highlights the dynamic and adaptive nature of knowledge at the frontier and links the evolution of knowledge explicitly to different forms of collective action. These in turn represent different resource management strategies and are likely to be key in determining the future sustainability of the frontier, in terms of both the environmental conservation and the well-being and welfare of its human population."

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