by Jeffery W. Bentley
About the author
Dr. Bentley is a pioneer in the use of ethnoscience to understand how farmers see “their world of pests and diseases” which determines their decisions. The concepts and tools he introduced to rice scientists have been very useful and practical in helping communication of science to farmers. In this post, Dr. Bentley describes the use of ethnoscience in phytopathology published in a recent paper.
All peoples have names for, and knowledge of plants, animals and other things in the real world. A study in Bangladesh, Uganda and Bolivia revealed that smallholder farmers label plant health problems with meaningful names. First, most local words for plant health problems have literal meanings. These are often symptoms rather than causes. e.g. Bengali pata dag rog (leaf spot disease) or jhora rog (dropping disease), to describe mango anthracnose. The Luganda word kubabuka comes from the verb ‘to scorch’ and refers to the damage caused by two genera of fungi (Phytophthora and Alternaria) in tomatoes.
Second, a local term has a denotative meaning (what the word refers to in the real world), which must not be confused with the literal translation of the folk term. For example in the Quechua language of Bolivia, one name for late blight (Phytophthora infestans) is lluphi, which literally means scalded. Farmers know the leaves were not damaged by boiling water, but the wilt looks as though they had been. Similarly some farmers in Bangladesh call jackfruit borers birbira rog (literally ‘slow disease’), even though they know the problem is caused by an insect.
Like plant pathologists, farmers are an occupational group highly interested in plant health problems. When we asked smallholder farmers about plant health problems, they consistently responded thoughtfully, showing us diseased plants, explaining the names and discussing the symptoms. Sometimes they asked for advice on management, but they were always eager to discuss the topic. Learning their local meanings is a useful entry into dialog with the largest and most important occupation on Earth.
Bentley, J.W., E.R. Boa, P. Kelly, M. Harun-Ar-Rashid, A.K.M. Rahman, F. Kabeere and J. Herbas 2009 “Ethnopathology: Local Knowledge of Plant Health Problems in Bangladesh, Uganda and Bolivia”. Plant Pathology (in press).