Promoting Cultural and Biological Diversity: An Educational Program for Rural Communities in Peru

Credit: Jorge Ishizawa

The “Andean Project for Peasant Technologies” (Proyecto Andino para las Tecnologías Campesinas, PRATEC) is a Peruvian NGO founded in 1988 and devoted to the recovery and valorisation of traditional agricultural practices and associated knowledge. PRATEC participates in the efforts of Andean Amazonian peasant communities to counter the socially and ecologically destructive effects of industrial agriculture and governmental agrarian policies. By using local knowledge and the practice of traditional “ritual agriculture” and through adopting a non-dualistic, eco-centric worldview, PRATEC supports the resurgence of local approaches to agriculture, which it sees as radically opposed to Western industrial agriculture. The Andean peasant practice of ritual agriculture embraces kinship-oriented visions of the land and encourages empathetic actions that illustrate respect for all living entities of the biosphere. Agricultural activities include ritual actions, utterances, and offerings that express both a deep respect for Pachamama (Mother Earth) and communitarian aspects that characterize the worldview of the Andean people. continue reading–>

Protecting Territories and Biodiversity: Indigenous Capacity Building in Ecuador

Joao de Queiroz

The project “Conservation in Managed Indigenous Areas”, or CAIMAN (Conservación en Áreas Indígenas Manejadas), was funded by USAID and implemented by Chemonics International Inc. in 2002-2007, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations (IPOs), primarily representatives of indigenous federations. The project focused mainly on supporting the Awa, Cofan and Huaorani indigenous groups and their respective federations, although it also provided some support to Chachi, Siona, Achuar, Kichua and Secoya populations. Work plans were developed through a combination of workshops with IPOs and consultations with organizations that have worked with these groups for many years. The project’s goals were to foster biodiversity conservation by helping secure indigenous legal rights on ancestral lands; strengthen cultural identity and key cultural elements such as language and traditional medicine; and promote income-generating activities that are compatible with the local indigenous communities’ socio-cultural and environmental setting and are both ecologically and economically sustainable (for example, eco-tourism—which is not feasible without a healthy ecosystem—and the production of handcrafts). As well, by ensuring that Indigenous Peoples were fully integrated into the development and implementation of work plans, the project enhanced capacity for biodiversity conservation within indigenous federations. continue reading–>

Tools for Biocultural Diversity Conservation: Community Mapping of Indigenous Peoples’ Traditional Lands in Venezuela

Credit: Stanford Zent

Project Contributor: Stanford Zent

Hotï people drying cane for blowguns Credit: Stanford Zent

In 1999, the national constitution of Venezuela gave explicit recognition to the land rights and cultural rights of the country’s indigenous peoples. Following passage of the new constitution and subsequent demarcation laws, several indigenous groups began taking the initiative to carry out the demarcation of their lands on their own rather than wait for the government to do it for them. The project “Ethnocartography and Self-Demarcation of Indigenous Peoples’ Lands in Venezuela as Tools for Biocultural Diversity Conservation”  is a collaboration between researchers at the Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC) and two indigenous communities in Venezuela – the Hotï of San José de Kayamá, Caño Iguana, and surrounding regions, and the Eñepa of San José de Kayamá. These two small-scale, culturally unique indigenous groups, whose lifestyles and resource use practices are compatible with environmental conservation, are currently faced with strong pressures for social, techno-economic, and ideological change.

The project is an active collaboration between local community members – who are the principal data collectors and processors – and scientists, who act as advisors and assist in data analysis and document preparation. The project supports the indigenous groups in efforts to secure legal ownership and title to the land they occupy in a tropical forest region rich in biodiversity. This goal contributes to conservation of both biological and cultural diversity, as well as the crucial relationships between them, by seeking to obtain exclusive rights to land occupation and use for the Hotï and Eñepa, and by attempting to achieve land and resource security for these two groups.  Community members are being trained in community-based mapping and documentation to produce the necessary cartographic, demographic, and cultural-historical documents to support their land claims.  Members of local Hotï and Eñepa communities are the principal data collectors and processors and work alongside scientists who serve as advisors, trainers and auditors of the data collection process and provide assistance in data analysis and document preparation. The documents being prepared include maps of current and ancestral territories, community censuses, residential histories, oral histories of human-ecosystem interactions, information about land use patterns and resource management practices, cultural norms and notions about territoriality, property, local and ethnic group membership, environmental ethics, and ecocosmovision and ethnogeographical concepts. The project has also led to greater conscious awareness of the value of traditional knowledge of the continue reading–>

Tejedores de Vida: Revitalizing Indigenous Identity and Nature-Based Knowledge in a Muisca community, Colombia

Project Contributors: Gabriel Nemogá with Carlos Mamanché

The Muisca people, living at altitudes between 1200 and 3200m above sea level in the valleys of the central region of the Andean mountains in the northeast part of South America (the savannah of Bogotá, Colombia) were so named by the Spanish conquerors. The Muisca people’s existence was disrupted by the arrival of the Spanish invaders, as their territories and resources were pillaged and exploited, their sacred sites looted for gold artwork, and traditional burial grounds desecrated in order to rob the personal gold and emerald possessions of the murdered chiefs. Indigenous Muisca territory was divided up in order to isolate the indigenous people into small land areas. The Spaniards imposed a territorial system of control that allowed them to appropriate large tracts of land called encomiendas. The colonizers and the church confiscated the most agriculturally productive lands and exploited indigenous people as cheap and expendable labour. Men were forced to pay tribute to the Spanish Crown and to provide free labour for the encomenderos, while women were subjected to domestic work in the encomiendas and often endured sexual violence. The indigenous population was devastated by the new diseases brought from Europe, genocidal policies, overexploitation, and the disruption of their social, political and economic organizations and networks. In the ancestral territory of Sesquilé (an indigenous town established by the Spaniards near the sacred lake of Guatavita), the Church confiscated the lands of indigenous peoples from the end of 18th until the mid 19th century. The Muisca people from Sesquilé were gradually pushed into higher elevations and the more marginal mountainous regions. As recently as the mid 1970s, the municipal authorities were appropriating indigenous territories by breaking up the resguardo (indigenous collective lands once recognized by the Spanish).

In 1991, a constitutional reform passed by the government of Colombia, with the direct participation of the indigenous delegates in the National Constituent Assembly and the support of other political parties and coalitions, acknowledged the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity and gave political and legal recognition to indigenous peoples, enshrining indigenous political and social autonomy and territorial rights. This reform notwithstanding, in practice local authorities continue to disregard indigenous rights—for example, by not including the Muisca community or consulting with them in relation to their 2007-2008 territorial planning. At the national level, the Colombian government has abstained on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of continue reading–>

Reviving Traditional Seed Exchange and Cultural Knowledge in Rural Costa Rica

Project Contributor: Felipe Montoya Greenheck

In Costa Rica, agrobiodiversity has been lost because of market pressures on agricultural production. The demand for high-volume, standardized production has been a disincentive for the continued cultivation of low-yield traditional seeds, even though the traditional varieties have for generations been selected for their higher nutritional value and their adaptations to local conditions. State policies promoting agricultural “development” have provided incentives in favour of monocropping. Findings show that after only one generation of farmers not planting their traditional seeds, many of these varieties have disappeared, along with the genetic material and the associated cultural knowledge.

More recently, a new sensitivity toward biodiversity and appreciation for diversity in itself, as well as the increased cost of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, have fostered an interest in organic farming and in recovering traditional seeds, exchanging them, and sharing the related knowledge. The recovery of native and local seeds is also an important link in the process of safeguarding the family farm as a way of life. The family farmer, or campesino, is one of the foundations of Costa Rican national identity and worldviews. The production of the family farm is the source of Costa Rican national, regional and local cuisines, along with the accompanying vocabularies.

However, the transition process from conventional to organic farming was hampered by the lack of local, traditional seeds. The umbrella organization COPROALDE, which brings together a number of Costa Rican NGOs dedicated to alternative development projects, especially involving organic farming, was not addressing this deficiency due to other priorities. That led the project contributor in the late 1990s to establish another organization, MILPA Inc., dedicated specifically to promoting the recovery of practices that would safeguard the presence of viable traditional local seeds.

The project “Participatory Genetic Improvement of Traditional Crops and Native Tree Species”, supported by MILPA Inc., helped revitalize the traditional practice of seed exchange and the associated traditional knowledge among Costa Rican small farmers. Although the project ended several years ago, and MILPA stopped being active as an organization, the network of seed exchangers that the project promoted continues to grow, and is helping build an organic farming movement based on diverse, locally adapted organic seeds. Valuing this local genetic diversity is helping rekindle appreciation for the local knowledge that had before been cast aside as worthless. Youth are also actively involved, and project information is included in studies at the continue reading–>