Coupling technology with traditional knowledge and local institutions to deal with change in rural households: A focus on the semi-arid tropics

Victoria Reyes-García, Matthieu Salpeteur, Laura Calvet-Mir, Tarik Serrano-Tovar, Erik Gómez-Baggethun

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Contemporary industrial societies typically rely on engineering and technological means to control variability threatening food production or other aspects of survival. But before the advent of industrial mechanization and fuel-driven agriculture, societies had other types of adaptation strategies often oriented to spread risk across space (mobility), time (storage), asset classes (diversification), and households or communities (sharing and pooling). The storyline of this paper is that, for long stretches of history, and in many places still today, the effectiveness of the abovementioned risk-spreading strategies (and derived technologies) relied on coupling them with a) a deep knowledge of the local environment (traditional ecological knowledge); and b) a set of shared rules, norms and conventions on how to apply society's technology and knowledge (locally evolved institutions). Drawing in our own research among different contemporary small-scale societies, we present one example of each of those strategies highlighting the role of traditional ecological knowledge and local institutions in the application of risk-spreading strategies and related technologies. In the last section, we discuss the role of traditional ecological knowledge and local institutions in dealing with change in the semi-arid tropics. We propose that attempts to increase the adaptive capacity of such social-ecological systems to deal with disturbances should make an effort to couple technological innovations with local knowledge of the environment and locally evolved institutions.
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)340-349
JournalScience et Changements Planetaires - Secheresse
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Local institutions
  • Pastoralism
  • Resilience
  • Seed exchange networks
  • Traditional ecological knowledge
  • Water tanks

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