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Yam farming in Jamaica has been one of the few success stories in agriculture since Independence in 1962. Production is entirely dominated by small farmers who have intensified production systems. Over the last decade yam farmers experienced a ‘yam stick problem’ due to the scarcity, poor quality and high prices of yam sticks. This paper focuses on the content and contextualisation of indigenous technical knowledge among yam farmers. The intrinsic dynamic nature of indigenous technical knowledge is revealed by showing how farmers have adapted their cultivation methods and have themselves innovated new ways of staking yams in efforts to solve the yam stick problem. In effect they have had to rely on their own indigenous knowledge base as a source of new ideas. We discuss a series of alternatives to traditional yam staking methods with a large sample of farmers, including both real and hypothetical examples of externally-induced innovations. Farmers’ responses to these innovations are reported and analysed in the context of Briggs’ recent review of indigenous knowledge and development issues. Our research suggests that farmer innovation is a normal consequence of coping with farming problems. Further, farmers are not intrinsically unresponsive to externally-induced innovations, which supports the view that ‘Western science’ and indigenous knowledge are not necessarily bipolar and mutually exclusive knowledge systems. We conclude that indigenous technical knowledge can provide a nexus for research in fostering partnerships with farmers, NGOs and planners in their search for sustainable solutions to the yam stick problem and broader aspects of rural development and resource management.
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Keywords: Indigenous technical knowledge; Jamaica; participatory research; resource sustainability; yam farming

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Geography & Geology, University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, Kingston, Jamaica., Email: 2: Faculty of Education, University of Windsor, Canada., Email:

Publication date: 2006-12-01

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