chapter  3
18 Pages

Microenvironments: Observing the Unobserved

Professionals underperceive the complexity and diversity of farming and livelihood systems for several interlocking reasons. These include the sites chosen for research and trials, the biases of field visits, short time-horizons, and sheer lack of observation. One consequence is that microenvironments like home gardens and silt trap gully fields are often unobserved and their significance not recognized. They are found in many forms and in almost all conditions. Their properties point to their importance: they are often specialized in their use, with concentrations of nutrients, protected, and diverse and complex in their content. They can provide reserves and fallbacks for bad times, and restrain migration. As sites for innovation and experiment, their complexity and diversity give farmers, with their flexibility, a comparative advantage over scientists. To further exploit the potential of microenvironments requires secure rights and tenure for farmers, and on the part of agricultural and social scientists more acute observation and awareness and a participatory farmer-first approach. Ability to observe and notice things, and then to retain visual images are skills neglected in many ‘developed’ societies.