Changing times and changing ways
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Ethnopedology, the study of local knowledge of soils, is moving beyond descriptive soil typologies to include knowledge of ecological processes of soil management and land tenure customs, as well as historical and political factors that influence land management. The Marka and the Fulani ethnicities have both inhabited central Mali for centuries, but they have occupied distinct subsistence niches: the Marka as farmers and the Fulani as cattle herders. Despite living in the same region, Marka and Fulani maintain distinct cognitive models of the environment and their places in it. Although their soil nomenclatural systems both use consistency and color as primary and secondary markers respectively, their actual classifications vary. This variation is explained by their different historical subsistence strategies. In recent decades, the Marka and the Fulani subsistence strategies have begun to converge into agropastoralism. Although their economic behaviors have become more similar, their ideologies about land management and their perspectives on land-use conflicts continue to be at odds. This is attributed to the maintenance of ethnic identities that are closely linked to subsistence behaviors, especially for the Fulani. Ideologies linking specific subsistence strategies with ethnic identity can affect decision-making and political positioning even when actors do not have a direct material interest in that particular subsistence strategy. Consequently, exertions and counter-exertions of power between farmers and herders, at the individual, local and national levels, reflect competition over control of land resources by user-groups with ethnically linked land-use interests. This competition over land-use has been reflected in historical power relations thbetween user groups in the region, especially starting from the rise of the Dina in the 19 century. Both ethnicities perceive their environment from vantage points that are significantly shaped by their ethnic identities, which are in turn the result of the particular subsistence niches, political history and cultural values. These same factors influence their land management and political strategies in regards to rural development.