Biocultural Heritage

Promoting resilient farming systems and local economies

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Policy and practice

This section reviews policies and laws at international, regional, national and local levels. It identifies opportunities for protecting biocultural heritage, as well as threats to it, and emerging policy and legal frameworks for its protection. It also reviews how different actors are putting the concept of biocultural heritage into practice.

Communities need supportive policy and legal frameworks at all levels to effectively protect their biocultural heritage. These frameworks should protect not only traditional knowledge, but also the inter-linked bio-genetic resources, landscapes, cultural and spiritual values and customary laws that form part of biocultural systems.

A number of countries have introduced policies to protect traditional knowledge and regulate access and benefit-sharing. But these tend not to recognise community rights over bio-genetic resources, landscapes or cultural values associated with traditional knowledge. International policies relating to indigenous peoples’ rights protect a broader ‘bundle of rights’, but are either not widely ratified or are non-binding. Nevertheless, they provide important tools for protecting biocultural heritage.

At the same time, mainstream development policies (eg on economic growth, agriculture and intellectual property rights) are eroding biocultural heritage. Proliferating free trade agreements have led to upgrading for intellectual property rights in many developing countries, and these threaten farmer seed systems. A host of other policies (including on conservation, education and health) contribute to biocultural erosion.