Filling the Gaps in Biocultural Diversity Conservation

What do we need to do to further promote biocultural diversity conservation?

Since the existence of an “inextricable link” between cultural and biological diversity was affirmed in the pioneering 1988 Declaration of Belém, the field of biocultural diversity (BCD) has grown organically out of a variety of sources in the natural, social, and behavioral sciences, humanities, applied sciences, policy, and human rights. It has developed as an integrative approach that sees biodiversity, cultural diversity, and linguistic diversity as three interrelated and interdependent aspects of the diversity of life. BCD research has also shown that there is a “converging extinction crisis” of BCD: BCD is in significant decline globally, under the cumulative and synergistic effect of environmental degradation and rapid socio-economic, cultural and political changes driven by economic globalization and cultural homogenization. These changes affect in particular Indigenous peoples and local communities, who represent most of the world’s cultural diversity and are the main stewards of BCD.

Efforts are underway all over the world—many of them spearheaded by Indigenous peoples and local communities themselves—to sustain and restore cultures and biodiversity, often against tremendous odds. Efforts are also underway to further advance knowledge and understanding of BCD and impart this approach in education, as well as to promote the adoption of bioculturally friendly policies at international and national levels. In short, BCD is becoming an increasingly accepted paradigm; yet, the overall prospects for sustaining the biocultural diversity of life remain precarious. The very fabric of life in nature and culture continues to unravel, leaving our biocultural world increasingly fragile and the outlook for humans and all other species increasingly uncertain. What more needs to be done to foster a global shift in values toward a new paradigm that celebrates, cherishes and protects the biocultural diversity of life, in order to ensure that sustaining and restoring BCD becomes a primary societal goal and a fundamental object of political, social, and economic action? What obstacles need to be overcome, what opportunities need to be seized?

In our book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook (Earthscan, 2010), Ellen Woodley and I identified a number of gaps and needs at various levels: in research and field work, in policy, in synergizing with other germane approaches and common interest communities, and in education. Some examples are:

In research and field work:

Identify causal links between effective conservation and the maintenance of traditional and local values, beliefs, continue reading–>

Conserving Biocultural Diversity: Approaches and Conditions

How do we conserve biocultural diversity? It may sound like stating the obvious, but it is worth reminding ourselves at the outset that the best way to “conserve” the diversity of life is to make sure that it does not get depleted in the first place—that is, that it continues to thrive when it is still vital and resilient! When local cultures are alive and well, and people and their local environment are not threatened, biocultural diversity can be sustained in an implicit and spontaneous way, through the continued unfolding of traditional values, beliefs, knowledge and practices, as well as through the sustained use of local languages. And, indeed, there still are areas in the world where local cultures have maintained their vitality without imminent threats, or where they show resilience to such threats.

But the threats to biodiversity and cultural diversity are pervasive and far-reaching worldwide, and as a consequence the vitality and resilience of many local cultures and environments is rapidly eroding. In such cases, support for biocultural diversity often takes the form of explicit and conscious efforts at “revival”: that is, attempts to sustain cultures, languages and the environments when damage is imminent or has begun, or to restore them after they have already been damaged. Revival approaches are prevalent in the case studies included in our book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook and presented in the project gallery on this portal. This underscores the urgency of the situation and the need to understand what conditions need to be in place in order to address the threats and restore vitality and resilience to bioculturally diverse people and places.

The projects we analyzed in the Sourcebook exemplify a great diversity of approaches to this challenge.  Each project addresses aspects of a whole constellation of issues that are critical for the achievement of biocultural diversity conservation and global sustainability. Looking at the projects as a kaleidoscope of human ingenuity put to the service of confronting some of the most pressing challenges of our times serves to highlight their very diversity as the key feature, instead of singling out individual projects as examples of “best practices”. It is the collective dimension of these projects as a whole, rather than the features of any one “model project”, that reveals the variety and richness of “good practices” that are and can be deployed according to need and circumstances. The diversity of continue reading–>

Walking our Talk: Creating a Community of Practice

Throughout the world, biocultural diversity continues to decline, despite the growing recognition of its vital importance for the future of humanity and of all life on earth. The many on-the-ground efforts that are taking place worldwide to support and restore biocultural diversity are forging a new, integrated path toward sustainability. However, by and large these efforts happen in isolation from one another and tend to “fall under the radar”: they often remain invisible, and the people involved in them cannot benefit from one another’s experiences and form a common front. There have been no established mechanisms for making the interconnections among these efforts. As a consequence, the lessons from all these activities remain dispersed in many different locales and cannot be learned easily. Their wide-ranging implications for policy and implementation—and indeed for an overall paradigm shift in how we think of human relationships with the environment—cannot be brought out as prominently as they deserve. Our current global predicament calls for giving much greater visibility to these efforts, so that we can share successes and solutions, and work together to better address the challenges ahead and promote a more favorable climate for biocultural diversity conservation. One of the key goals of the Terralingua project that led to our book Biocultural Diversity Conservation: A Global Sourcebook is to support the development of a network, or “community of practice”, in biocultural diversity conservation, so as to create the conditions for greater direct interactions among researchers and practitioners involved in biocultural diversity conservation activities. Within such a network, people are able to share information, experiences, and lessons learned among peers, discuss what works and what remains a challenge, and build on this knowledge sharing in order to strengthen methodologies, expand the scope of the approach, raise awareness, and identify needs and opportunities for advancing biocultural diversity research, policy, and action. This companion portal to our Sourcebook is our response to the need for such a community of practice. On the “Stories” page, portal users can read as well as post “real-life” stories of people who are working on the ground to conserve biocultural diversity.  On the “Projects” page, people can add to the gallery of biocultural diversity conservation projects, thus progressively expanding the network and its worldwide reach. The “Conservation in Conversation” discussion forum enables participants to post queries and comments and discuss relevant topics, ranging from the “nuts and bolts” of biocultural diversity continue reading–>