Monday, 27 September, 2021

Biodiversity Conservation , Indigenous Knowledge Is Key


Suman Prakash Pradhan

The recent flood devastation in Melamchi has been a tragic incident that has displaced over 100 families and left substantial economic damage. There are many factors leading up to this hazard but crucially it can be linked with the ignorance of indigenous knowledge. It has now been established that the flood occurred due to the massive landslide in the main catchment area, which is known as “Bhremathang” meaning “land with sand” in local language. The massive seepage of water in those sandy landscapes is one of the most probable reasons for this disaster. If people of those areas are aware about this ancient and indigenous language regarding land pattern, this extent of damage could be minimised.

Unpredictable Changes
The unpredictable change in the global environment, including its floral and faunal resources, is now surging immensely. Exceptional research into different levels of resource conservation is now at the centre of attraction in contemporary times. However, the loss of indigenous knowledge regarding conservation of principal source of particular resources triggered the holistic approach in natural resource conservation. Indigenous knowledge and biodiversity are complementary phenomena essential to human development. There is an uncertain status of indigenous knowledge worldwide and this knowledge is vanishing mainly due to lack of transformation from generation to generation and improper documentation.
Much of this knowledge is at greatest risk of being lost as is the case with biodiversity conservation. Moreover, although this knowledge represents an immensely valuable resource to human kind, very little of this knowledge has been recorded. The recent publication by Rodrigo Cámara-Leret and Jordi Bascompte in PNAS highlighted the loss of unique indigenous medicinal knowledge due to language extinction. With increasing concerns for an exacerbated environment, many concerned societies are now recognising indigenous knowledge as the foundation for participatory approaches to cost-effective and sustainable environmental management. Global, regional, and national indigenous knowledge resource centres are now documenting the historical and contemporary indigenous knowledge from numerous ethnic communities aiming for betterment in biodiversity conservation.
Traditional ecological knowledge is crucial in the sense that although indigenous lands account for less than 22 percent of the world’s land area, they are home to approximately 80 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Moreover, around 35 percent of protected areas across the world fall within indigenous territories which are most successful in conservation of natural resources. Considering this, it is imperative for indigenous knowledge to play a crucial role in protecting sacred global biomes. Recently, the United Nations released a report warning that global biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate which puts millions of species at risk of extinction. However, the report also noted a significantly lower rate of biodiversity decline on lands governed by indigenous peoples, demonstrating their success in the natural environment. Therefore, there is an utmost importance of global commitment towards the conservation of indigenous knowledge for biodiversity and resource management.

Current Status
Since the time of industrial revolution, escalating developmental activities has cost the integrity of global biodiversity in many ways. Climate change is already shifting to ecological conditions and a surging biodiversity crisis. Indigenous communities and their exceptional knowledge are also vulnerable to climate related shifts due to their close relationship with the surrounding ecosystem. With ever rising global warming and unpredictable change in global climate since the industrial revolution, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned of numerous negative impacts of climate change on the global environment.
In 2019, the United Nations reported and emphasised the importance of engaging indigenous groups in various management practises, noting that indigenous knowledge can help to overcome climate-induced change in global biodiversity. The concerned authorities are aware of the unprecedented loss of resources due to unsustainable development process and hence, carrying out different environmental examinations for the long term feasibility of particular development work by involving indigenous people and local communities (IPLCs). This has led to a growing appreciation for the value of traditional ecological knowledge in promoting sustainable development and in providing environmental data to support climate change adaptation strategies in a scientifically sound manner.
In Nepal, developmental agencies are beginning to review the role of indigenous knowledge in the development process at the policy level. The mandatory provision of detailed environmental impact assessments in every developmental work and ethnobiological study of biological resources in those assessments has reflected good conservation initiatives by including indigenous knowledge. Yet, to address the emerging biodiversity crisis, the development of effective strategies for managing and conserving natural ecosystems by prioritising the indigenous knowledge of various communities is important.

Conservation Practice In Nepal
In Nepal, sustainable use of resources with enhanced biodiversity conservation has been influenced by traditional knowledge. Many ethnic groups residing in Nepal have their own set of knowledge on particular resources. The ‘Choho’ culture of indigenous Tamang Community has instilled in them to care for forest and to conserve Red Panda’s habitat. Similarly, Chepang community has their own holy spirit in conserving plants, animals, and other resources. Likewise, Pungmo communities conserve animals for their livelihood and Tharu communities conserve their culture and indigenous knowledge on plants use. Moreover, Newa ethnic group has their own set of traditional practises in conserving their culture, water resources, and indigenous crops.
Indigenous communities have detected, coped, and responded to environmental changes a very long way. Integrated conservation and development by involving local communities and indigenous knowledge was practised from 1980s. The inclusion of indigenous people and their knowledge in environmental management presents an important opportunity to many generations for careful observation and also encouraging and enforcing the right of indigenous people to use, access, and conserve those resources. With the different paradigm shifts in conservation practises in Nepal, there is a recent realisation of the importance of indigenous knowledge and practice in protecting natural resources and biodiversity.
In various protected areas, indigenous people are entrusted with the management, conservation, and preservation of resources. Along with serving as a key component for biodiversity conservation, IPLCs have also gained significant economic and cultural benefits. These mutualisms in conservation and livelihood are now playing an important role in minimising the resources loss and eliminating the illegal activities in protected areas. From the zero poaching of the Greater One Horned Rhino to the significant increase in Bengal Tiger population and from conservation of forests through community forestry to the economic development of indigenous people through sustainable Yarshagumba collection, Nepal has now exemplified itself as a good conservation pioneer in the world.
Despite the importance of indigenous knowledge, the problem of social inclusion and failure in proper recognition of natural resources has created challenges to Nepal’s indigenous communities. Restrictions from protected areas in customary rights for proper utilisation of basic resources for local communities, both conflict and vulnerability are increasing. Moreover, the everlasting burden of poverty is now accelerating the outmigration of youth in search of economic opportunities, due to which the tremendous declination of indigenous knowledge on conservation of floral and faunal diversity is clearly visible in different belts of Nepal.
Although there is no realisation of the impacts of the indigenous knowledge crisis till date, the long term impacts of these losses might be expensive for the conservation of global biodiversity. As a signatory of the Convention on Biological Diversity, Nepal should also prioritise the conservation of indigenous knowledge for improved conservation of biological as well as cultural diversity around the nation.

(Pradhan is pursuing an MSc in Environmental Science at Kathmandu University)