Biocultural Heritage

Promoting resilient farming systems and local economies

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An evolving concept

Biocultural heritage, as a concept, has evolved in response to traditional knowledge policies that have tended only to protect the intellectual component of knowledge systems, and not the equally crucial biological, cultural and landscape components. It reflects indigenous communities’ holistic worldview, where everything is inter-dependent and inter-connected.


In May 2005 a planning workshop for the ‘Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge’ project, held in Cusco, defined collective biocultural heritage as:

Knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities that are collectively held and are inextricably linked to: traditional resources and territories, local economies, the diversity of genes, species and ecosystems, cultural and spiritual values, and customary laws shaped within the socio-ecological context of communities.

Biocultural heritage recognises that the components of knowledge systems, and their ongoing interaction, are vital for sustaining traditional knowledge and innovations. It means adopting mechanisms that protect and strengthen traditional knowledge systems as a whole, including all elements involved in inter-generational transmission (eg. languages, customary norms and practices, traditional territories and resources). 

The definition above draws on the work of Asociacion ANDES and Andean Quechua communities in the Potato Park, Peru. It also draws on the concept of Traditional Resource Rights developed by the late Darrell Posey, which stresses the holistic nature of indigenous knowledge systems and the need to protect bundles of rights. Traditional resources include tangible and intangible assets and attributes of spiritual, aesthetic, cultural and economic value to indigenous and local communities (see Traditional Resource Rights, Posey 1996, IUCN).


For more information see:

Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge: Research planning workshop, Cusco, May 2005. Also in Spanish.