Chapter 5. Conclusion
5.2 Dialogue with Theorists
The Shilei farm depicts how natural farming in the Atayal community may serve to connect both biodiversity and culture. Through the use of naturally based fertilizers, a plethora of species are now able to survive in and around the farm. Fertilizer materials come from multiple locations, strengthening networks, decreasing susceptibility to disease, while also increasing farm biodiversity. Furthermore, many of these fertilizer materials are derived from indigenous ecological knowledge, showing a blending of culture with new farming technology. However, by not using conventional pesticides and fertilizers, natural farming becomes less predictable than conventional agriculture.
Farmers are obligated to rely on the natural cycles of the land rather than attempt to control them. Therefore, a strong network of natural and organic farmers has been built in order to share ideas and communicate problems with each other. This idea of community networking is derived from indigenous knowledge and is in sharp contrast to the more individualistic system seen in conventional farming. Finally, spirituality may be seen as the glue that holds these other elements together. Land is no longer viewed as a separate entity that farmers are fighting against to maintain superiority, but as something the farmers work in harmony with to maintain a type of balance.
5.2 Dialogue with Theorists
This section on ‘Dialoguing with Theorists’ examines the possible real world relevance of theories laid out in the literature review through using the example of the Shilei natural farm. The section looks at similarities and differences between the theorist’s speculations and the practical application of those theories on the farm. The section begins by examining fundamental environmental philosophies, such as deep ecology, in the context of the Shilei natural farm. The section moves on to examine theories that look at connections between indigenous knowledge and biodiversity, including ones laid out by Berkes.
Many concepts found in the Shilei farmer’s Gaga resonate closely with the theory of deep ecology. A main tenet of deep ecology is the idea that every living being, whether they are human, animal, plant, or microorganism holds intrinsic value on the Earth. For
example, some environmental philosophers have illustrated that the idea of weeds and pests is a man-made construct used to denote species which humans have not found a use for. According to the Shilei farmer’s Gaga, every species has a purpose on the Earth.
Many plants, that may otherwise be considered weeds, are preserved and used to block pesticides from entering the farm, absorb toxins from the soil, and stabilize the land.
Insects are not haphazardly killed off either, but able to run their natural course of life.
Both environmental thinkers and Shilei farmers recognize how intricately connected the Earth’s life systems are and the importance of following the natural ebb and flow of the environment.
Despite the many similarities, there are differences between the theory of deep ecology and natural farming. Deep ecologists attribute most environmental problems to population growth and the market economy. While it cannot be denied that population growth is a major problem in many parts of the world, it is too simplistic to say that all environmental issues may be ascribed to population growth. Moreover, the topic of population growth as Naess describes it, tends to be somewhat irrelevant when looking at many East Asian countries, particularly Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, because these countries are experiencing a population decrease (Yu 2015 Political Development of Taiwan class lecture). It may further be argued that the concept that all environmental problems stem from increasing population is a harmful idea for many indigenous groups, as these groups tend to be marginalized by society and risk cultural erasure.
In terms of the market economy, deep ecologists depict that economic growth is incompatible with environmental sustainability, and even ‘sustainable’ economic growth is “only sustainable in relation to humans” (Naess and Sessions, 1995 53). Deep ecology is strongly anti-anthropocentric, and views the market economy as something, which only holds value for humans. This strong antagonism against the market economy construct is a major difference between deep ecologists and farmers in Shilei. For farmers in Shilei, even though their ancestors did not have a concept of the market economy, they have integrated this idea into their lives. However, they do not oppose the idea of the market economy, instead farmers attempt to find the balance between making some type of livelihood and sustainably coexisting with their land.
Deep ecology and many forms of indigenous knowledge formulate conceptions of spirituality into their ideas in order to encompass the “personal and spiritual element of ecology that has been missing in scientific ecology” (Berkes 2008, 2). According to Berkes, in many cases, indigenous knowledge includes factors that “do not make sense to [western] science” (Berkes 2008, 11). Western science is objective, so there is little room for subjective matters such as “religion or ethics,” however room should be made to consider and listen to these viewpoints when working with indigenous farmers. For many, spirituality is just as important a factor in the process of farming as more scientifically based ones. The value of spirituality is depicted on the Shilei farm where the farmers are guided by inspirations from God and devote hours to praying for good farming outcomes.
Berkes states how concepts of spirituality often play an important role for many indigenous people in resource management. When speaking about resource management, Berkes illustrates for levels of analysis: local knowledge of land, land resource
management, social institutions, and worldview. The levels of analysis model drawn up by Berkes (pp 10) depicts how the different layers of knowledge are not separate, but linked together.
When looking at the Shilei natural farm as a practical application of the Berkes model, it may be argued that the model is somewhat insufficient. The Berkes model presents a ‘closed system’ however, as seen in the example of the Shilei farm change to knowledge and viewpoints is constantly occurring. For example, the farmers use local knowledge to manage their farm and surrounding areas. Yet, while the farmers are using indigenous knowledge that has been passed down for many generations, they are
additionally experimenting and combining this indigenous knowledge with new techniques. The combination of using indigenous knowledge and new techniques
provides an opportunity for farmers to learn about the land through observation and hand on experience, while also maintaining and passing on knowledge from their elders.
Change at the larger levels of analysis, such as change in worldview, may further affect perceptions of the smaller levels of analysis. For example, when farmers converted to Christianity this did not only affect their outlook on spirituality, but the entire network.
Additionally it should be noted that change is not always as clear-cut as a conversion to
new religion. Small changes, such as adjustments to the social network or local knowledge are constantly present, and will affect knowledge at other levels.