Safeguarding Lepcha and Limbu cultural values and worldviews for conservation and sustainable development in the Eastern Himalayas, India
Biocultural Heritage Territories (BCHTs) are mosaics of land uses, deeply linked to Indigenous knowledge systems embedded in cultural traditions, where Indigenous knowledge and practices effectively combine food production with sustainable development, biodiversity conservation and ecosystem protection.
Although Indigenous Peoples have been living sustainably for generations, few studies have explored the role of different elements of cultural heritage, and their links with biodiversity, in promoting sustainable development. This study was conducted as part of the project ‘Indigenous biocultural heritage for sustainable development’ (2018–21), funded by the Sustainable Development Programme of the British Academy. The project involved case studies in China, India, Peru and Kenya, and had two main objectives:
- Catalysing establishment of BCHTs for sustainable development, and
- Enhancing understanding of the role of biocultural heritage in addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.
This case study in India focused on the Lingsey and Lingseykha communities in Kalimpong District, northern West Bengal, to build on previous action research conducted through the Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project. It recommends ensuring local biodiversity management committees include Indigenous representatives to allow them to establish rules for collective resource management, building on their customary laws and values.
It also argues it is vital that biocultural concerns are integrated into the region’s Development Plan by working closely with the communities at village level, and a proposed BCHT as an FAO Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System should be recognised. Finally, to enhance conservation and livelihoods and to stem the loss of traditional ecological knowledge, restrictions on forest access should be removed. Traditional rules and customary rights and responsibilities of Lepcha, Limbu and other Indigenous communities should be recognised under the Forest Rights Act. A BCHT or GIAHS is unlikely to succeed and be sustained by communities unless Indigenous Peoples’ rights are fully recognised.