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      Indigenous farmers’ perceptions of problems in the rice field agroecosystems in the upper Baram, Malaysia


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          Rice field agroecosystems produce food for more than half of the world’s population and deliver important services supporting farmers’ livelihoods. However, traditional rice field agroecosystems are facing a variety of problems, including pests or markets that are hard to access. This research explored indigenous farmers’ perceptions of the problems, their causes and consequences, and the solutions applied to address them in the rice field agroecosystem. Furthermore, the study investigated how indigenous farmers related these problems to the surrounding landscape elements and to microzones in the fields.


          Data were collected in two villages in the upper Baram, Sarawak using a qualitative approach that included sketch drawings and face-to-face interviews. Forty-three indigenous farmers of the Kenyah, Penan and Sa’ban ethnic groups were interviewed in their rice fields. The sketch drawings were used to identify the perceived landscape elements, while the oral interviews were employed to identify perceived microzones. Furthermore, the interviews elicited the perceived problems in the rice field agroecosystem and their relations to landscape elements and microzones.


          The findings identified a total of nine environmental problems, e.g. animal disturbance, six social problems, e.g. difficult to access farm inputs, and eight agricultural technology system problems, e.g. poor soil quality, with some found to be rooted in complex causes and affecting agricultural productivity. While some problems were perceived at field level, microzones were frequently used as sub-field indicators of the problems. The surrounding landscape elements were perceived as both a source of the problems and as a means of avoiding them. To solve the problems, farmers applied preventive and reactive strategies based on traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge, resulting in a hybridisation of knowledge systems.


          By including environmental, social, agricultural technology system problems and different spatial scales, this research contributes to addressing issues that can be overlooked when focusing on only one dimension of the problems. These results contribute to a better understanding of how indigenous farmers perceive, cope with and adapt to problems in rice field agroecosystems, which is important for landscape management.

          Supplementary Information

          The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s13002-022-00511-1.

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                Author and article information

                J Ethnobiol Ethnomed
                J Ethnobiol Ethnomed
                Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine
                BioMed Central (London )
                29 March 2022
                29 March 2022
                : 18
                : 26
                [1 ]GRID grid.5173.0, ISNI 0000 0001 2298 5320, University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna, Department of Sustainable Agricultural Systems, Division of Organic Farming, ; Gregor-Mendel-Strasse 33, 1180 Vienna, Austria
                [2 ]Agroecology.AT, Consultancy on Agroecology and Sustainability of Agricultural Systems, Hauptstrasse 22, 2120 Obersdorf, Austria
                [3 ]GRID grid.412253.3, ISNI 0000 0000 9534 9846, Institute of Borneo Studies, , Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS), ; 94300 Kota Samarahan, Sarawak Malaysia
                © The Author(s) 2022

                Open AccessThis article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons licence, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article's Creative Commons licence, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article's Creative Commons licence and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this licence, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated in a credit line to the data.

                : 23 November 2021
                : 18 February 2022
                Funded by: FundRef http://dx.doi.org/10.13039/501100006380, Universität für Bodenkultur Wien;
                Custom metadata
                © The Author(s) 2022

                Health & Social care
                indigenous and local knowledge,landscape ethnoecology,spatial perceptions,indigenous agroecology,rice field,landscape management,borneo


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