Indigenous knowledge, people and nature – all crucial to Kunming full transcript
Host [00:00:01]: You are listening to Make Change Happen, the podcast from the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED. In this episode, host Liz Carlile talks with colleagues and international partners about the concept of biocultural heritage, what it means and why it will be so important in the major 2021 negotiation conferences for both climate change and the Convention on Biological Diversity.
Liz Carlile [00:00:28]: Welcome to Make Change Happen. I’m Liz Carlile, I’m your podcast host. And I hope you had a chance to listen to our last podcast on loss and damage. It was a really interesting one and full of contentious issues. Similarly, in this episode today, we’re going to explore biocultural heritage.
This is an equally important and contentious issue, and one that will be critical to the success of the new Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. And this framework is going to be agreed at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in China in October. Welcome to our guests who are with us today. We have Joji Carino from the Philippines; Alejandro Argumedo from Peru; Pierre Du Plessis from Namibia, and my colleague, principal researcher here at IIED, Krystyna Swiderska. Before we start, I’d like to give a chance for my guests to introduce themselves. Joji?
Joji Carino [00:01:40]: I’m Joji Carino. I’m Ibaloi Igorot from the Cordillera Philippines. But you see this is my home town, and I’m speaking from here. I’m senior policy adviser with Forest People’s programme, and I’ve been following the CBD meetings over many years, working very closely with the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity, which brings all the Indigenous participants together.
Liz Carlile [00:02:08]: Alejandro, would you like to say a little bit about who you are and what you work on?
Alejandro Argumedo [00:02:10]: Good morning. I’m Alejandro Argumedo, a Quechua native from southern Peru. I am the international coordinator of the Mountain Indigenous People’s Network, it’s an international network that brings together communities living in mountains around the world and we’re a member of Asociación ANDES, a small NGO based in Cusco, Peru. And I also work closely with six communities in the sacred valley of Cusco in an area known as the Potato Park.
Liz Carlile [00:02:56]: Thank you. Pierre, would you introduce yourself to our listeners?
Pierre Du Plessis [00:03:01]: I’m Pierre Du Plessis. I used to work in Namibia with Indigenous people and local communities on sustainable harvesting of Indigenous plant products. And then because of that, I got involved in CBD negotiations. And my real focus is on how to make sure that people sustainably benefit from looking after biodiversity.
Liz Carlile [00:03:25]: And finally, Krystyna?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:03:27]: Yes, I’m Krystyna Swiderska. I’m a principal researcher at IIED, working on biocultural heritage.
Liz Carlile [00:03:38]: And so that’s a really nice place to start, Krystyna. Can you tell us what is biocultural heritage?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:03:47]: So biocultural heritage is the interlinked, biological and cultural heritage of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Indigenous Peoples and local communities have been conserving biodiversity for millennia and today they conserve most of the world’s remaining biodiversity on their lands and territories. And they do this based on their traditional knowledge and the cultural values that have been passed down through generations, not based on science. So Indigenous peoples have a holistic worldview, where biodiversity and culture are inextricably linked and cannot be separated. So biocultural heritage reflects this worldview.
Liz Carlile [00:04:59]: So who better to tell us more about this? I think, Alejandro, this is very much rooted from the work you’ve been doing and indeed is, is your kind of, is your concept – biocultural heritage. Please do add and amplify this story for us.
Alejandro Argumedo [00:05:18]: Yes. As Krystyna has mentioned, this concept of biocultural heritage comes from living, lived experience from Indigenous peoples. For Indigenous peoples, what we term as biocultural heritage is this link where every element of nature has a soul, a spirit and is sacred. And this intense relationship with the element, with these elements that we call biodiversity is what makes a significant difference in human-nature relations. In particular, because it nurtures this respect that Indigenous peoples have for other beings, and what, you know, what we call nature.
So, this quality have allowed indigenous peoples to craft long-term strategies for conservation, and which if you see those areas or those places where Indigenous peoples live, you’re going to see that those places are adapted to changes still hold a majority of the biodiversity of the world so are truly concerned with wanting to learn those lessons about stewardship and about how the values that associated to the concept that Krystyna had mentioned, can help the rest of the world to go back to nature.
Liz Carlile [00:07:10]: So, my impression is, from what you say, that this absolutely intricate link between people and nature is so critical. But for many of us, we forget that. We’re looking at biodiversity or conservation separately from people. We tend to put it in a box. Alejandro, Krystyna, is that, how has that been your experience in terms of trying to unwrap this issue, and to make it more understandable for people?
Alejandro Argumedo [00:07:43]: In my case, for a long time communities have used this approach, this way of organising to manage their communities have a ordinance which reflects this respect for nature, a true, bringing those values into the customary laws. So the way people govern their food, their natural resources, their relationship between communities, are based in that respect that we have for, for nature.
Liz Carlile [00:08:32]: Thank you. So I can see that this is a really critically important aspect of this new 10-year strategy. Krystyna, what are the issues that you’re particularly concerned about in 2021, in this kind of 'super year' of global policy processes?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:08:51]: Yes, well the issue at global level is that biodiversity and culture are still dealt with separately by separate conventions and separate policies and institutions. And that poses some challenges for Indigenous Peoples and local communities who are managing and stewarding biodiversity at local level. And in some cases, the approach is taken to conserve nature and biodiversity, exclude them from management and so it can have very strong impacts that are negative on their livelihoods and their territories and their cultures. And so there’s a real need to have a more integrated approach in terms of the policies and institutions that operate at global and national level.
So that this relationship, this very close relationship, between Indigenous Peoples and biodiversity can be properly supported, so that they can continue their stewardship role in conserving biodiversity. And this year we have a big opportunity around the biodiversity convention, because a new global diversity framework is being negotiated and governments will meet in Kunming in China in October to agree a new strategy and set of targets for biodiversity for the next decade. And it’s going to be really important that those targets are not just top down, you know, led by governments. But they actually recognise the leadership role of Indigenous Peoples and traditional knowledge. And take an holistic approach that recognises the need to protect biocultural heritage as a whole and not just biodiversity on its own.
Liz Carlile [00:10:51]: So, Joji, I know that much of your work focuses on the global biodiversity framework. And as a global strategy, I know you also feel that there are a number of difficult areas in it. So what do you see as the main challenges?
Joji Carino [00:11:07]: The Convention on Biological Diversity, in its 10-year strategies, have separated the conservation of genes, species and ecosystems – the so-called components of biological diversity – from the integrated and interrelated cultural systems of Indigenous Peoples and local communities, who have nurtured and managed most of the world’s biodiversity.
This underlying dualism between nature and culture reflected in the goals and targets of the post-2020 biodiversity strategy, currently under negotiation, is a major challenge. Indigenous Peoples manage our ancestral lands and waters holistically. But the underlying scientific and technical framework of the proposed strategy separating conservation from sustainable use and benefits, and separating it from traditional knowledge and Indigenous governance, really makes it challenging to influence the current negotiations.
For example, target one, which seeks to identify spaces and places for conservation, failed to mention that many key biodiversity areas overlap Idigenous territories. These are not wilderness or natural areas, but rather well-managed territories with good conservation outcomes. It is precisely that relationship and application of traditional knowledge that has biological diversity well preserved. Now target two, which seeks to expand the global area coverage of conserved areas to 30% of lands and waters must respect and ensure legal recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ lands and waters, as a distinct category of land use. Not to be subsumed under state-protected areas or other categories of conservation. These are great risks for our human rights if these are not incorporated into target two.
Krystyna Swiderska [00:13:28]: Yes, I, I fully agree with Joji. There’s a real lack of integration of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and traditional knowledge across the targets. It’s not just target one and target two, but in fact 18 out of the 20 targets don’t mention Indigenous Peoples and traditional knowledge. And we know that most of the world’s biodiversity is located on lands managed by Indigenous Oeoples and local communities.
So that really poses questions, raises questions, you know, how effective is this framework going to be if Indigenous Peoples aren’t recognised in the targets and in the implementation process? And we know from IPBES – the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services – that biodiversity is better conserved on Indigenous Peoples’ lands than on any other lands. So it’s really important that Indigenous Peoples are central to all of the targets.
Liz Carlile [00:14:31]: So, is there anything here that we’re doing right? I mean if 18 of these targets are not going in the right direction, this seems like an uphill struggle.
Joji Carino [00:14:42]: Well, under the previous 2011 to 2020 biodiversity strategy, only 10% of parties included Indigenous Peoples and local communities' international biodiversity strategies. And the target 18, which was focused on traditional knowledge and customary sustainable use, was not met. However today, I think there’s much greater awareness about the important contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities to all the objectives of the CBD. And this is reflected in targets 19, which recognises the role of traditional knowledge for public policy, research and education, and target 20, which recognises the rights of Indigenous Peoples over their resources, and the full and effective participation in decision making. I think this also reflects the overwhelming research now that shows the very central role that Indigenous Peoples and local communities have for biodiversity and nature. But exactly how targets 19 and 20 will inform and even transform the other targets is still unknown and still needs to be negotiated.
Liz Carlile [00:16:10]: So, talking to either of you, Krystyna or Joji, what do you think that our listeners should be looking out for in terms of how those things might be changing, how the influence of those two more positive targets are going to have? What should people be looking for over the next few months?
Joji Carino [00:16:28]: Well for example there are targets on sustainable use of wildlife. Target four states that by 2030, ensure that the harvest trade and use of wild species of flora and fauna is legal at sustainable levels and safe. Notice that in many countries where Indigenous Peoples’ rights are not fully recognised, customary hunting, for example, and use of forest recourses, are illegal.
In effect, community sustainable use practices are banned and not adequately safeguarded under these targets. They are seen as encroaching on state lands or protected areas. So this is another manifestation of how laws and policies are not yet informed and respectful of traditional knowledge and Indigenous Peoples’ biological and cultural heritage. So we should be aware of such targets, which, because they make Indigenous Peoples invisible, can actually be harmful.
Liz Carlile [00:17:40]: Krystyna, what do you think people should be looking for? Have you anything to add there?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:17:45]: I think there’s a lot to be done in terms of reforming existing laws, which do not allow customary sustainable use of biodiversity by Indigenous Peoples and local communities, whether it be forests or wildlife. I also would like to emphasise that integrating targets 19 and 20 into the rest of the targets will be absolutely crucial to the success of the global biodiversity targets in ensuring that they are properly implemented. Because governance is really at the heart of the success of the implementation of these targets. So I think going forward, that is really what we need to look at in the negotiations.
Liz Carlile [00:18:30]: Great, thank you. So Pierre, we’ve heard from Alejandro and Joji already about the importance of biocultural heritage. In your role as technical advisor to the African Group in the CBD negotiations, does what they’ve been saying ring a bell? You know, are the challenges familiar?
Pierre Du Plessis [00:18:52]: Yes, absolutely, they are familiar. And they are even more familiar when you look at the fact that this strategic plan, this framework, is actually only one step towards achieving the 2050 vision for biodiversity, which is to live in harmony with nature. And Indigenous Peoples and local communities have been living in harmony with nature for, for millennia. And are, you know, really the creators of much of the biodiversity that we now seek to protect. And also, I mean, from my work that I’ve done in African communities, I’ve seen first-hand how people create biodiversity, not only just conserve it, but through their cultural practices, actually increase the diversity of nature around them.
And so yes, I completely agree with them that recognising the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities and supporting them to continue their sustainable management practices and, and really lift their biocultural heritage, will be a key part to not only meeting the targets for 2030 but actually living in harmony with nature by 2050. I think one of the most important things we need to do is to recognise that our current strategy for conservation is not working, and that it won’t work until we really make sure that the benefits are shared with the people who manage the environment in a sustainable way. And build on that relationship between the people who still know that they are part of nature, will not get divorced from nature, and find ways of supporting those lifestyles that drive the diversity and conserve the diversity.
Liz Carlile [00:20:36]: So all this talk of targets, I mean, you know, targets are all very well but it sounds like these issues are much bigger than that.
Pierre Du Plessis [00:20:43]: Yes indeed, and that might be why we’ve failed to meet the last set of targets because there’s no strategy, it’s all just a shopping list of things we think should be done. We’ve no plan about how do you go about achieving that in the real world. And I think one of the things that is bedevilling our attempts to do that is the fact that we forget that the Convention on Biological Diversity was not primarily meant to be a nature conservation treaty, but was actually meant to be a sustainable development treaty.
And the logic of the CBD is that if you fairly and equitably share the benefits of the sustainable use of biodiversity, then you get good biodiversity outcomes. But that has not been implemented and from the way the current targets are formulated and the theory of change in the current draft of the framework, it seems to me unlikely that we will achieve that shopping list, that wishlist of targets.
Liz Carlile [00:21:46]: So is it a question of trying to sort of fit a square peg into a round hole? Or do you think that by raising what are these essential issues around biocultural heritage, the combination of bringing local knowledge, traditional knowledge and years and years of cultural experience with the science, do you think we can turn this around?
Pierre Du Plessis [00:22:09]: Well I think the COVID-19 pandemic has actually you know caused a big enough shock to the system that people are really seriously now re-evaluating the relationship between humans and nature. And, and my sincere hope is that we will learn from Indigenous Peoples and local communities that that separation between humans and nature is actually a very big part of the problem. And that we will return to our role as stewards of nature. Because it's... the very wonderful thing about biodiversity is that it’s fruitful and it multiplies, right? If you create habitat for it, if you create space for it, and if you create like cultural variety for it to interact with, then you do get not only the conservation of biological diversity, but you get that continued evolution of life and the interaction of humans with life that really drives towards sustainability.
Liz Carlile [00:23:10]: Do you have any good examples of how this can work?
Pierre Du Plessis [00:23:14]: Yes actually I do. In Namibia, after independence, there was a change in the law that gave Indigenous People and local community the right to own the wildlife in their areas. It recognised a stewardship and it gave them the right to benefit from the sustainable use of wildlife in their area. And that created a situation where the communities started looking after those resources as if, you know, as if they were their own. Whereas before they had belonged to the state and it wasn’t really, it wasn’t really a community effort. And so the outcome, the outcome of that was that within a very few years we saw an enormous increase in wildlife in Namibia and like a 400% [increase] for some species in some areas.
And poaching went right down because people were policing the area much more effectively than nature conservation could ever do it. And not only that, but they started, you know, also looking after the whole ecosystem in a much more integrated way because of the recognition that was afforded to their traditional laws and their traditional ways of, of managing their environment. So I believe that, you know, if you were to, if you were to take a rights-based approach and confirm the ownership and the rights and the stewardship of Indigenous people and local communities over their natural resources, would in fact be one of the very few ways that we have of realistically getting good biodiversity conservation outcomes.
Liz Carlile [00:24:50]: So there’s obviously a huge amount to do at the global level. Alejandro, can I come back to you? I think I’m right in saying that you maybe a little sceptical that we’ll see any changes to the post 2020 targets. But I know you feel strongly that biocultural heritage has a really central part to play in fundamental changes at the local level. Could you give us some examples of where you’ve seen this happen in your work? I think your work in the Potato Park for example can offer some really good insights.
Alejandro Argumedo [00:25:26]: The communities in the Potato Park have used their own vision of how to balance the needs of humans, the needs of the wild elements of how do we, we conceive with respect what’s called biodiversity and the needs of the sacred elements of nature in a way that the balance is negotiated so that when we live the good living, the holistic living can be the goal of this approach.
So, I think what I want to say is that there are certain ways that conceive what we call sustainability in the way that highlight the values of respect for nature. And those values are transformed into rules and those rules apply to the communities so that communities can continue to have a life of a deep relationship with what they consider is sacred, what they consider have rights. The mountains, participate in the management of the larger landscape. Because mountains in, in our belief, have, are more intelligent than humans. They have, they make decisions, they can pass on that old knowledge to humans and so that the communities can continue to have access to wild and medicinal plants, pasture and so on and so forth.
So, these types of cultures are still very vibrant, they have many community, Indigenous communities around the world. So that I think there is opportunity here that biodiversity convention can bring these experiences, and make it a policy and see what can be learned from them. I believe that there is a, you know, this divorce between the reality in the field and policy that’s developed at the global level, where... from the interests of northern and southern countries to the political conflicts that exist among the different sectors play out in detriment of what actually is happening at a local level.
And if we bring into it the current crisis of COVID and what we are facing with regards to climate change and economical hardships that people are going through, then you have a situation where these conventions are not responding in a realistic way. So I believe that while the aspirations of the post 2020 are commendable, the reality of people in, in the ground right now, that depends on biodiversity, it’s not being looked at in the way that it should be. I mean, to get out of this crisis, countries are pushing for the expansion of extractive industries from mining to big plantations, which of course it’s going to bring us deeper into this problem we are facing. I mean if we want to produce enough and healthy food, if we want to continue conserving biodiversity, maintain the integrity of the ecosystems because of water, because of only adaptation needs that we have in terms of climate change, you have to cap the nations while we try to find sustainability, we have to look more at what’s happening in the ground rather than the macro-economics and the big politics are worldwide. Rather than just have an approach that’s purely science based.
Liz Carlile [00:30:35]: That’s really interesting. Krystyna, have we got sort of similar parallels from any of your other work, say an African perspective of from Asia? Do you see that, this kind of same strength of integration happening elsewhere?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:30:53]: There is particularly striking integration with nature in, in the Andes, in terms of that philosophy being really strong and alive in everyday life. But it’s still evident as well in Indigenous peoples in Africa and Asia, this notion of balance with nature is one of the core indigenous values that you see in many different cultures across the world, many different Indigenous cultures. There’s balance with nature and reciprocity as well, so it’s a two-way thing. You know, if you take from nature there’s an obligation to give back.
So yes, these values are evident but not always as strong as they, as they still are in the Andes. But they’re still there, and unfortunately they are being undermined by mainstream economic development programmes, by education systems. Even by conservation systems. There’s a real need to look at those drivers of change and make sure that they don’t undermine these values that are conserving nature.
Liz Carlile [00:32: 80]: So thank you for that. I think we’ve had a couple of examples in this programme where we’ve got really good things to learn and good ways in which we can change our practices. So at the end of the podcast, this podcast is all about making change happen. So I like to ask our guests what is a change they would like to see. So Joji, I’m going to start with you.
Joji Carino [00:32:39]: Well I haven’t been together with many of my Indigenous colleagues for over a year. And when we are together we always gain strength. So I hope that the situation will improve a lot and we will be able to have these important CBD meetings together with colleagues from around the world.
Liz Carlile [00:33:00]: Pierre, in this, in this big year for the CBD, what would be the change that you would like to see happen?
Pierre Du Plessis [00:33:10]: Well, I would really, really like to see the world going back to Indigenous wisdom and understanding the unity of all of life and get around this division between people and nature and re-establish the reciprocal relationship that exists between people and nature. That relationship of stewardship, of gratitude not greed, of caring for the earth like it is a relative. Which I think is at the bottom of Indigenous ecological wisdom. If we could learn from that then we might well end up living in harmony with nature.
Liz Carlile [00:33:50]: Krystyna, what would be the change that you hope to see this year that can really drive forward what we all want to get to?
Krystyna Swiderska [00:33:59]: Yes, as Alejandro was saying, Indigenous Peoples have incredible wisdom which is really important for conserving nature and for sustainable development and for climate change adaptation and for integrating environment and development. And I think that the one change I would like to see is for Indigenous Peoples to be put at the centre of decision-making processes.
At the moment it’s very much governments that make those decisions and they generally represent scientific views and western worldviews. And Indigenous Peoples, who have this incredible wisdom for conserving nature, are not part of the decision-making processes that are developing the new biodiversity framework. They’re very much on the margins. And I think that really has to change in order to get traditional knowledge and science working hand in hand to address these big global challenges.
Liz Carlile [00:35:02]: Thank you. Alejandro, you’ve talked about a lot of change, changes that are really needed. And I can see that it’s going to be a long journey. But is there, if there is only thing you could change this year, what would that change be?
Alejandro Argumedo [00:35:20]: I have this strong feeling that because of this crisis we’re living in, and people having, you know, that need to connect with nature, there’s going to be more introspection and feelings of respect for nature. That’s my hope and a good thing that’s going to happen out of this. But in the long, in the long run, I would like to see that science and traditional knowledge work more closely than that evidence is created in a more participatory way that considers also that rich wisdom and science and knowledge that Indigenous Peoples are making. And that’s pretty much needed.
In the Andes we have this legend, it’s the legend of the condor and the eagle. About 500 years ago, the legend says, that the condor and the eagle used to fly together in the skies. With the arrival of the Europeans, there was a schism, and the eagle flew away and created its own society that was strongly focused on accumulation. And the condor just was left with his traditions of having a more spiritual way. And 500 years later, which are these days, we believe that the eagle has the logical mind, a more structural type of views, and the condor has the heart, a more spiritual life will come together and this new world of respect and diversity and a vision for the future together will come.
That means that the eagle will present science, in our view, and the condor represents traditional knowledge. And they need to come together and fly together again so that we can have solutions for this crisis that we are facing.
Liz Carlile [00:37:58]: Thank you, Alejandro. That provides a really good picture I think for our listeners, the condor and the eagle flying together. That’s what we’re aspiring to.
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