Traditional Ecological Knowledge and Global Environmental Change
Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Esteve Corbera, and Victoria Reyes-García (guest eds)
Ecology and Society special feature 18(4), 2013

This special feature of Ecology and Society addresses two main research themes. The first one concerns the resilience of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) and the conditions that might explain its loss or persistence in the face of global change. The second theme relates to new findings regarding the way in which TEK strengthens community resilience to respond to the multiple stressors of global environmental change. Those themes are analyzed using case studies from Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Theoretical insights and empirical findings from the studies suggest that despite the generalized worldwide trend of TEK erosion, substantial pockets of TEK persist in both developing and developed countries. A common trend on the studies presented is hybridization, where traditional knowledge, practices, and beliefs are merged with novel forms of knowledge and technologies to create new knowledge systems. The findings also reinforce previous hypotheses pointing at the importance of TEK systems as reservoirs of experiential knowledge that can provide important insights for the design of adaptation and mitigation strategies to cope with global environmental change. Based on the results from papers in this feature, the guest editorial also discusses policy directions that might help to promote maintenance and restoration of living TEK systems as sources of social-ecological resilience. Read the issue [open access] …

Sustaining and Enhancing Forests Through Traditional Resource Management (volume 2)
Gabriel Bachange Enchaw et al, Tebtebba Foundation, 2013 | ISBN: 978-197-0186-17-4

A follow-up to an earlier compilation of case studies published in 2010, this second volume of the book Indigenous Peoples, Forests and REDD Plus: Sustaining and Enhancing Forests Through Traditional Resource Management includes six case studies. These were written by the Center of Research and Development in Upland Areas (CERDA), Vietnam; Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN), Nepal; Center for Indigenous Peoples’ Cultures of Peru (Chirapaq), Peru; Asamblea Mixe para el Desarrollo Sostenible A.C. (ASAM-DES), Mexico; Lelewal Foundation, Cameroon; and in the Philippines, by the state-run University of the Philippines Baguio, in partnership with Tebtebba. These six case studies reveal the secrets of indigenous peoples in protecting, conserving and managing their forestlands. The findings, conclusions and recommendations of the case studies all point to one thing—policy makers and development planners need to rethink or reorient their mindsets and framework towards forest management. All the case studies share something in common. They highlight how indigenous peoples regard themselves as stewards and caretakers of their forests and lands. As such, they view the land as “Mother,” which cannot be sold or traded. As responsible stewards, indigenous peoples also regard their forests and lands as sacred. The various studies cite specially designated sacred sites, which must remain untouched. These sites include areas with pristine springs, important herbs, centuries-old mother trees, and important wildlife sanctuary. And as part of their responsibility and accountability, indigenous peoples always consider the needs and interests of future generations. Indigenous governance, traditional knowledge and management systems of forests and lands are thus based on this precept. All the case studies also highlight the vital role of women in forest management or in sustainable farming. Further information, including link to publication …

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Milkweed Editions, 2013 | ISBN: 978-1-57131-335-5

Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist and mother, Kimmerer shows how other living beings—asters and goldenrod, strawberries and squash, salamanders, algae, and sweetgrass—offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices. In a rich braid of reflections that range from the creation of Turtle Island to the forces that threaten its flourishing today, she circles toward a central argument: that the awakening of a wider ecological consciousness requires the acknowledgement and celebration of our reciprocal relationship with the rest of the living world. Further information …

Bioprospecting under the Nagoya Protocol: a conservation booster?
Claudio Chiarolla et al
IDDRI Policy Brief no 14/2013

Some proponents of access and benefit sharing (ABS) mechanisms believe that bioprospecting, if better regulated under ABS legislation and the Nagoya Protocol to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), will incentivize and fund biodiversity conservation. By combining economic and legal analysis, the authors of this brief challenge this view. First, the Nagoya Protocol was not primarily designed to conserve biodiversity. Second, the provisions that call upon the Parties to allocate the advantages arising from bioprospecting towards the conservation of biodiversity are hortative in nature. Nevertheless, beyond its relatively narrow focus on the utilization of genetic resources and associated tradition knowledge, the Nagoya Protocol can be helpful to empower stakeholders, whose rights, duties and responsibilities are crucial for the conservation of biodiversity. Read the brief …

World Heritage no. 69: Agricultural landscapes
UNESCO World Heritage Centre, October 2013

Agricultural landscapes are a testimony to humanity’s long interaction with the land, often unique examples of people and nature co-existing and influencing each other. They demonstrate a rich cultural and landscape diversity, sustainable land-use systems and in some cases people’s daily struggle for survival under extreme climatic and environmental conditions. The 19th-century coffee plantations in Cuba; Stari Grad Plain in Croatia, where grapes and olives have been harvested since ancient Greek times; Konso Cultural Landscape in Ethiopia, where fortified settlements embody a living cultural tradition stretching back twenty-one generations and adapted to a harsh environment; and the subak water management system in Bali (Indonesia), where the spiritual, human and natural worlds are brought together in a philosophy that has shaped the landscape while ensuring prolific rice production – all of these are exceptional examples of an enduring and harmonious interaction. The issue also presents the new World Heritage sites inscribed during the 37th session of the World Heritage Committee, Phnom Penh (Cambodia) in June 2013. Read the issue …

Indigenous peoples’ rights to lands, territories, and resources
Birgitte Feiring, International Land Coalition, 2013 | ISBN: 978-92-95093-90-4

Published as a contribution to the debate towards the 2014 World Conference on Indigenous Peoples, this study assesses the global and regional instruments, mechanisms and initiatives in regard to indigenous rights to lands, territories and resources. It contains a review of regional situations of indigenous people in Asia, Africa and Latin America, showing how the situation of indigenous peoples varies across regions and countries; and also offers an analysis on how indigenous peoples’ land rights are related to three key thematic areas: women’s rights and access to land and resources; community conserved areas; and climate change and REDD+.

The study concludes with a summary of key trends and challenges, including the non-recognition of tenure rights, and further identifies key opportunities, including strong or emerging indigenous peoples’ organizations, and progressive legislation and policy developments. The study confirms what was suspected: indigenous peoples entertain special relationships with their lands, territories and resources, as these are central to their world view, their cultures, livelihoods, spirituality, identity, and their continued existence as distinct peoples. Read the ILC press release … Download the study [pdf] …

Indigenous Burning as Conservation Practice: Neotropical Savanna Recovery amid Agribusiness Deforestation in Central Brazil
James R. Welch et al
PLoS One, December 2013, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0081226

This study, conducted by researchers from Indiana University in the US and Brazil’s Oswaldo Cruz Foundation, has found that indigenous use of fire for hunting is an unlikely contributor to long-term carbon emissions, but it is an effective environmental management and recovery tool against agribusiness-related deforestation.

International efforts to address climate change by reducing tropical deforestation increasingly rely on indigenous reserves as conservation units and indigenous peoples as strategic partners. Considered win-win situations where global conservation measures also contribute to cultural preservation, such alliances also frame indigenous peoples in diverse ecological settings with the responsibility to offset global carbon budgets through fire suppression based on the presumed positive value of non-alteration of tropical landscapes. Anthropogenic fire associated with indigenous ceremonial and collective hunting practices in the Neotropical savannas (cerrado) of Central Brazil is routinely represented in public and scientific conservation discourse as a cause of deforestation and increased CO2 emissions despite a lack of supporting evidence. In this study, researchers evaluated this claim for the Xavante people of Pimentel Barbosa Indigenous Reserve, Brazil, using multi-temporal spatial analyses to compare land cover change under indigenous and agribusiness management over the last four decades (1973–2010) and quantifying the contemporary Xavante burning regime contributing to observed patterns based on a four year sample at the end of this sequence (2007–2010). The overall proportion of deforested land remained stable inside the reserve (0.6%) but increased sharply outside (1.5% to 26.0%). Vegetation recovery occurred where reserve boundary adjustments transferred lands previously deforested by agribusiness to indigenous management. Periodic traditional burning by the Xavante had a large spatial distribution but repeated burning in consecutive years was restricted. The results suggest a need to reassess overreaching conservation narratives about the purported destructiveness of indigenous anthropogenic fire in the cerrado. The real challenge to conservation in the fire-adapted cerrado biome is the long-term sustainability of indigenous lands and other tropical conservation islands increasingly subsumed by agribusiness expansion rather than the localized subsistence practices of indigenous and other traditional peoples. Read the article …

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