Biocultural Heritage

Promoting resilient farming systems and local economies

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Putting the concept into practice

This section highlights key actors and initiatives that put the concept of biocultural heritage into practice—from indigenous organisations and NGOs, to universities, UN organisations and donors.

Indigenous organisations

Asociacion ANDES (Peru)

ANDES pioneered the concept of collective biocultural heritage, and its protection through indigenous biocultural areas or territories, biocultural protocols, biocultural registers and biocultural agreements. The concept emerged largely through the action-research with and by Quechua communities in the Andean Potato Park since the mid 1990s (see ‘About biocultural heritage’). ANDES works with indigenous organisations at the community level. Together, they develop models and tools to strengthen adaptive management of indigenous biocultural heritage. The approach affirms communities’ rights and responsibilities to that heritage, with a particular focus on in situ conservation of Andean crops.

See: Association ANDES: Conserving Indigenous Biocultural Heritage.

ANDES also organises South-South learning exchanges in the Potato Park for the design and implementation of indigenous biocultural territories as agrobiodiversity conservation areas.

The LIFE Network (Local Livestock For Empowerment of Rural People).

This is an international group of livestock keepers, pastoralist associations, NGOs and scientists who support community-based conservation of local breeds. They are advocates for livestock keepers’ rights, a concept developed during the “Interlaken process”, the run-up to the First International Technical Conference on Animal Genetic Resources, FAO, September 2007. The concept mirrors that of biocultural heritage, emphasising longstanding cultural associations with livestock, how breeds develop through interaction with a specific territory or landscape, and collective rights. The network also advocates using biocultural protocols to promote livestock keepers’ rights where there is no existing legal recognition.

Further reading:

League for pastoral peoples and endogenous livestock development

Declaration on Livestock Peoples’ Rights (2010)

Raika Biocultural Protocol (2009)

Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment

The overall aim of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative (IPCCA) is to empower indigenous peoples to assess the impacts of climate change on their communities and ecosystems, and develop adaptation strategies, using their own biocultural frameworks. The IPCCA has developed an indigenous biocultural approach for conducting assessments of climate change and its challenges for indigenous communities. This approach is based on an indigenous vision of an inter-connected world, in which the biophysical, socio-cultural and spiritual elements are all important in maintaining resilience. Nine local assessments of the impacts of climate change on biocultural systems are underway in Africa, the Americas, Asia and Europe.

See: Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment

The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty

The Christensen Fund is helping establish an Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, with the active collaboration of three indigenous organizations (Tebtebba Foundation, ANDES and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre), the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research, IIED and Slow Food International. The Indigenous Partnership is an effort to empower the stewards of biocultural diversity to revitalise local food systems and define their own food and agriculture practices to sustain agrobiodiversity. It aims to bring together independent initiatives into a much wider transformation movement that highlights local knowledge, challenges and policies to the international community. The Indigenous Partnership has a hosting arrangement with Biodiversity International. It is expected to generate a purposeful collaboration between indigenous communities, scientists and policy researchers to help design resilient food and agricultural systems.

See: Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty

Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs)

COMPAS Network for Endogenous Development

The COMPAS network promotes community well-being and biocultural diversity through ‘endogenous development’. That means revitalising ancestral and local knowledge and integrating external knowledge and resources that fit the local context. This sort of development can increase biocultural diversity, reduce environmental degradation and foster a self-sustaining local and regional exchange of goods and services. COMPAS supports the field programmes of Communiy Based Organisations and NGOs in Latin America, Africa and Asia. It synthesises their experiences and promotes inter-cultural dialogues.


Terralingua: Unity in Biocultural Diversity

Terralingua works to sustain the biocultural diversity of life—the world’s invaluable heritage of biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity—through research, education, policy development and on-the-ground action. It aims to deepen understanding of biocultural diversity’s vital importance for the survival of all life on earth. Its work includes mapping the overlaps between biological and cultural diversity distributions in order to identify core areas of biocultural diversity;. And it has developed global indices of biocultural diversity, linguistic diversity and the vitality of traditional ecological knowledge. These tools allow assessments of local biocultural diversity at different scales.


Natural Justice

Natural Justice is a group of environmental lawyers supporting communities’ efforts to develop biocultural protocols, based on their own cultural values, as a way to get more recognition for their resource rights. Natural Justice’s work has drawn on the concept of biocultural heritage, and helps communities to articulate their own priorities for its protection.


Universities / Academia

Biocultural Diversity Learning Network (BDLN)

This network was launched by the Global Diversity Trust at the World Conservation Congress held in Barcelona, Spain, October 2008, in collaboration with the Centre for Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) at the University of Kent UK, University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences (BOKU) in Vienna, Austria, the Institut de Ciència i Tecnología Ambientals (ICTA) at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain, and Uppsala University, Sweden. It provides an online learning guide and courses on biocultural diversity.


Globla Environments Summer Academy (GESA)

The Global Environments Summer Academy (GESA) takes place annually under the auspices of the Global Diversity Foundation (GDF) and the Centre for Development and Environment (CDE). The Academy is designed to broaden and deepen the knowledge, networking, and communication skills of postgraduate students, professionals and activists who are concerned about human dimensions of environmental challenges. It spans local to global scales, diverse ecosystems and all geographical regions, exploring the most critical contemporary environmental issues from multiple perspectives including biocultural diversity, environmental history, political ecology, sustainability studies and personal activism


International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE)

For two decades, the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) has actively promoted and supported the inextricable linkages between biological and cultural diversity and the vital role of indigenous and local peoples as stewards of biological and cultural heritage. This includes recognition of land and resource rights, as well as rights and responsibilities over tangible and intangible cultural and intellectual properties. The ISE is committed to understanding the complex relationships which exist between human societies and their environments. One of the society’s core values is recognising indigenous peoples as crucial to conserving biological, cultural and linguistic diversity. ISE’s vision is reflected in its Code of Ethics for research, which all its members must adhere to. The ISE organises international congresses on these issues every 2-3 years.


United Nations Organisations

UNESCO-CBD Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity
In July 2010 in Montreal, UNESCO co-organised an international conference on biological and cultural diversity that developed a proposal for a Joint UNESCO-CBD Programme on Biological and Cultural Diversity. This Programme was welcomed by the CBD COP 10 in Nagoya. It aims to strengthen the links between initiatives on biological and cultural diversity at international level, including conventions and programmes dealing with these issues. It will focus on building bridges between legal instruments, building the knowledge base (concepts, methods and research evidence on the links and threats), and raising awareness.


The Christensen Fund: “Backing the stewards of cultural and biological diversity”

The Christensen Fund is a grant making foundation based in the United States that focuses on the “rich but neglected adaptive interweave of people and place, culture and ecology,” ie biocultural diversity. It supports place-based work in five key regions that have exceptional cultural and biological diversity and that may offer resilience in the face of climatic change and other disturbances. These are the American Southwest, montane West and Central Asia, the Rift Valley of Ethiopia, Northern Australia and Melanesia. The Fund’s themes include indigenous systems for managing landscapes that sustain cultural and biological value and diversity; and maintaining diverse agricultural traditions, including traditional varieties of crops. The Fund’s Global Biocultural Initiative Program supports activities that build and share practical knowledge around biocultural diversity, resilience and adaptive change.