Traditional Practices for Plant Disease Management in Traditional Farming Systems

H. David Thurston

Professor Emeritus - Department of Plant Pathology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY, 14850 ( 

Scarlet runner bean

This page is, at best, an introduction to the subject of traditional farming systems.

Crop production began perhaps 10,000 years ago. Some ancient farmers developed sustainable agriculture practices that allowed them to produce food and fiber and manage plant diseases for thousands of years with few outside inputs. Many of their successful practices have been forgotten or abandoned in developed countries, but some are still used by traditional farmers in a wide variety of environments in developing countries. The term traditional is usually associated with primitive agricultural systems or preindustrial peasant agriculture. Traditional farming usually is based on practices that have been passed down for many generations. The objective here is to give an overview of the range of methods used by traditional farmers over time to restrict plant diseases without reliance on external or synthetic inputs. Traditional systems of Latin America, Africa, and Asia are considered.

Most of the information on traditional agriculture pertinent to the management of plant diseases has never been recorded in a form easily accessible by today's farmers and scientists. With rare exceptions, those who have studied indigenous and traditional agriculture seldom consider or even mention plant diseases. Traditional agricultural practices should be understood and conserved before they are lost with the rapid advance of modern agriculture in developing countries. Plant pathologists and other agricultural scientists can learn much from traditional farmers to elucidate principles and methods useful in the future management of plant diseases. Traditional knowledge can be overvalued or romanticized, but that is better than despising or ignoring it. Combining the best of traditional agriculture methods with the best of modern agriculture should go a long way towards sustaining agriculture in the coming century.

Introduction to Traditional Agriculture -Some background information on traditional agriculture and its use of traditional cultivars and cultural practices for crop disease management

Further Resources on Traditional Agriculture  - Links to other related web sties of interest and a database with over 3,400 references on traditional agriculture and plant pathology

Related Cornell University Courses

List of Personal Publications

Image Archives - Smokin' Doc Thurston's Greatest Hits -Over 2,500 pictures on conventional plant pathology, tropical plant diseases and pests, agricultural development in the tropics, sustainable development, and traditional practices of farmers in developing countries.

Overview of Traditional Agricultural methods - These pages describe some traditional methods used in agriculture and are accompanied by photos. Since some of these images (averaging 250K to 400K each) may take a while to download, there are two options for viewing :

  Agricultural Methods (Text version)  - descriptions of methods and summary of photo captions (with links to photos)

  Agricultural Methods (With Graphics) - descriptions of methods illustrated with photos 

The layout of this webpage was designed by Karen Chan. We would also like to thank Lucy Fisher, Ken Sandlan and Christine Stockwell for their help and contribution.

Comments and suggestions welcomed ... Last Updated: March 2000