Articles > Tools and Methods for Data Collection in Ethnobotanical Studies of Homegardens

Tools and Methods for Data Collection in Ethnobotanical Studies of Homegardens

Tools and Methods for Data Collection in Ethnobotanical Studies of Homegardens



Institute for Organic Farming, University for Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences Vienna


University of Kent

Owners and managers of homegardens have extensive knowledge of plants, their uses, and ecosystemic processes. This knowledge might be highly valuable for many purposes. To enhance ethnobotanical research on homegardens and encourage a discussion of proper methodology, this article presents tools and methods used to collect data in the multidisciplinary study of homegardens in Chiapas,Mexico; Eastern Tyrol, Austria; and Kalimantan, Indonesia. The article defines homegardens and gardeners and explains both the sampling process used in these studies and how contact and rapport was established. Also discussed are possible research questions and hypotheses, equipment used in the field, interviewing strategies, vegetation surveys, and data management. Interviews typically elicit information on preferred garden plants, plant management, homegarden management, and the history of gardening in the study area. It is concluded that homegardens present an excellent opportunity to use and experiment with both informal and formal techniques to collect qualitative as well as quantitative data.

Keywords: ethnobotany; homegarden; local knowledge; methodology



Gardens are not only places for leisure and work but are becoming an important study area for ethnobotanists. The study of homegardens as distinct ecological and cultural entities in agriculture was initiated in the tropics of Southeast Asia and dates back about twenty-five years (see Soemarwoto 1975, 1987; Stoler 1975; Raintree 1978; Sommers 1978). Much ethnobotanical research on homegardens is still carried out among the indigenous peoples of the tropical developing world (see Millat-e-Mustafa 1996 for a review of homegarden research). This research has led to interesting results and new insights into the composition, management, and importance of these agroecosystems for subsistence and cash income, the application of traditional knowledge in community development, and the conservation of agrobiodiversity (Fernandes and Nair 1986; Padoch and De Jong 1991; Watson and Eyzaguirre 2002).

Less work has been conducted on homegardens in temperate climates. Given the obsession of many Europeans (especially the British) with gardening, the centuries-long history of many gardens in Europe, the current economic boom in the garden supply industry, and the extensive garden-related literature (on historical parks, botanical gardens, organic gardening, etc.), it is surprising that ethnobotanical research on homegardens is almost nonexistent in Europe and the United States (exceptions are Hauser 1976; Brun-Hool 1980; Lohmeyer 1983; Omohundro 1985; Poppendieck 1992; Inhetveen 1994; Agelet, Bonet, and Vallès 2000; Vogl-Lukasser and Vogl 2002; Wagner 2002).

We believe that this needs to change. Owners and managers of homegardens have extensive knowledge of plants, their uses, and ecosystemic processes. This knowledge is not only cultural heritage but might be highly valuable for many purposes, for instance, to secure the sustainability of gardening or to conserve endangered elements of agrobiodiversity in homegardens (Niñez 1987; Chambers, Pacey, and Thrupp 1989; Fujisaka and Wollenberg 1991; Vogl-Lukasser and Vogl 2002). Our arguments for more research on homegardens are also based on our experience; these are wonderful sites for field research, and it is inspiring to interview people who are eager to share their passion for working in homegardens. Finally, we recognize that documenting homegardens may be of potential interest to researchers from other disciplines—for example, studying alpine ecology, household economics, social networks, the spread of market economies, the effects of regional development policies on local communities, and even knowledge and its cultural transmission (see Martin 1995; Cotton 1996).

To enhance ethnobotanical research on homegardens and to encourage a discussion of scientific methodology, we present here the tools and methods we have used to collect data while studying homegardens of Ch’ol and Tzeltal migrants of Lowland Chiapas in Mexico (Vogl 1998; Vogl, Vogl- Lukasser, and Caballero 2002) and of Eastern Tyrolean farmers in Austria (Vogl-Lukasser and Vogl 2002; Vogl-Lukasser, Vogl, and Bolhar- Nordenkampf 2002; Vogl and Vogl-Lukasser 2004), and in Kalimantan, Indonesia (Puri 1997, 2001; Sheil et al. 2002).

We start by defining a homegarden and its gardener. Then we present some of the research questions and hypotheses on gardening that we use in our work. We discuss how we sample homegardens, how we initiate conversation with gardeners, and what equipment we take with us.Weset out which kind of questionnaires and questions we use and how we manage our data. The methodological protocol is a synthesis of methods we have developed and those used by other scientists around the world. The methodology is not yet fully developed, as it is still in process and under discussion. We want to make the process public and encourage discussion on ethnobotanical homegarden methodology. Data analysis for ethnobotanical studies in homegardens will follow in another publication.

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