Biocultural Heritage

Promoting resilient farming systems and local economies

IIED logo

Biocultural Heritage performs vital functions

Resilient farming, adaptation and food security

Mon, 17/03/2008 - 11:31 - Upland lake, Andean Potato Park, PeruPeru: Upland lake, Andean Potato Park
 Biocultural heritage is vital for resilient farming and adaptation to climate change. The rich genetic diversity in traditional crop and livestock varieties offers valuable traits like pest and drought resistance that help farming survive extreme weather and changing climates. Wild crop relatives provide the gene pools needed for improving varieties in response to change. The greater the local diversity, the more local communities can build their own resilience, instead of relying on outsiders.

Many indigenous farmers are already using their biocultural heritage to adapt to climate change. For example, by planting more varieties each season to cope with more variable weather, planting different varieties acquired through exchange with other communities, and modifying their farming practices, based on traditional knowledge.

The diversity of crops, varieties, agroecosystems, culture, knowledge and farming practices enhances resilience to change at global level too. The value of such diversity will increase as climate changes. Since modern farming and global food security relies on only a small number of crops, it is vital to conserve the diversity within these crops.

Conservation and poverty reduction

Indigenous customary laws have conservation values at their core. Many indigenous peoples still hold strong religious and spiritual beliefs, centred on the ecosystems they depend on. Seeds, forests, mountains, rivers, medicinal plants etc. often have associated gods and goddesses. Reverence for these gods, along with other customary laws, ensures natural resources are conserved.

Customary values and laws also promote poverty reduction. They emphasise sharing, open access to resources and solidarity. People in need are helped, wealth is distributed and resources are exchanged in equal measure (reciprocity).

Nutrition and healthcare

As well as agricultural resilience, crop diversity helps with nutrition. Knowing how to use wild foods often helps rural people add vitamins, minerals and protein to their main diets, and can be a safety net when crops fail.

And traditional medicinal plants are important for healthcare, particularly for the isolated rural poor. Eighty per cent of people in some Asian and African countries depend on traditional medicine for primary healthcare.

Landscapes sustain all the other functions

Without intact landscapes, these vital functions are lost. Landscapes sustain wild gene pools, wild foods and medicines, and essential ecosystem services (eg. water) that support people and agriculture. Ancestral landscapes and sacred sites (eg. forests, mountains) are closely tied to cultural identity and spiritual beliefs, which in turn promote traditional knowledge and conservation practices. Landscapes also provide the physical space for sharing and exchange of genetic resources and knowledge based on customary laws, which enhances diversity.

Read More
NEW Adapting agriculture with traditional knowledge, by Krystyna Swiderska, Yiching Song, Jingsong Li, Hannah Reid and Doris Mutta, IIED Briefing Paper, October 2011. This briefing is also available in Chinese.

The role of biodiversity, traditional knowledge and participatory plant breeding in climate change adaptation in Karst mountain areas in SW China