Introducing Biocultural Heritage Territories

Submitted by Julia Barrott | published 30th Dec 2015 | last updated 13th Jan 2020
Introducing Biocultural Heritage Territories in Peru, China and India

Photo-film profiling biocultural heritage territories

Biocultural heritage territories promote simultaneous goals of endogenous development and biodiversity conservation, based on indigenous and traditional land tenure, production systems and cultural identity. They form the backbone of local economies and are critical repositories of genetic resources for food and agriculture and climate adaptation. 

The film, produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), opens with the vision for biocultural heritage territories, which are born of indigenous peoples' memories and experiences, worldviews and spiritual values, rather than western conservation models. They enable the continuation of customary stewardship practices that are highly diverse, productive and resilient. They protect the inter-connectedness of culture and biodiversity with the territory, giving an economic value to these linkages and the landscapes themselves.

The film first presents the Andean Potato Park in Peru, an area of 9,000 hectares collectively managed by five Quechua communities. Through customary management practices, they conserve more than 1,400 native varieties of potato, a vital resource for food security and climate adaptation. The Potato Park model is now inspiring similar parks in China, India and Kenya.

The second territory featured in the photofilm is the Seed Park, in the Stone Village, Yunnan, Southwest China. This is the homeland of the ethnic minority Naxi people, rich in landrace diversity. 

Naxi community leaders are establishing a collective farmers' organisation to maintain and manage the Seed Park, and strengthening the customary laws that have guided their communities for generations. As part of the project they are adopting ecological farming practices, participatory plant breeding and the direct sale of organic food to urban consumers.

The photofilm also shows a biocultural heritage territory in a forest landscape in Northern India, on the borders of Sikkim and Bhutan. Here two Lepcha and Limbu communities are setting up a Bean Park that already sustains more than 60 food crops and 200 traditional crop varieties, including 20 varieties of bean. The film highlights the importance of spiritual values, traditional institutions and collective custodianship in preserving fragile ecosystems.

IIED is supporting the development of indigenous biocultural heritage territories as a strategy to enhance food security in the face of climate change.

Today's unprecedented erosion of genetic and cultural diversity is making it ever harder for communities across the world to cope with the impacts of climate change. Biocultural heritage territories sustain a diversity of resilient crops that are continuously adapting and that provide a vital safeguard against crop failure. Cultural and spiritual values not only enshrine conservation values, but ensure the continuity of traditional knowledge systems for biodiversity conservation and climate smart agriculture.

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