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What is biocultural heritage and why is it essential to adopt this perspective?

Updated: Sep 15, 2022

A conceptual framework that bridges the gap between nature and culture


Since the 1980s, after scientists' alerts, the authorities realized the seriousness of the situation of biodiversity loss, i.e. the sixth mass extinction of species now induced by humans. The history of these international debates on biodiversity indicates that, at the beginning, they only addressed state ownership of biological resources, and then widened under the pressure of indigenous activists and scientists, to include indigenous knowledge of nature.


However, this biodiversity is thought of as a diversity of plant and animal species that have evolved on Earth, interconnected among themselves and with the ecosystems in which they live, without including human beings as part of this interconnected web. The conservation of nature is also thought from the possible utility that can benefit the capitalist and extractivist society.


In the 1990s, it is thanks to advances in the field of human rights of indigenous communities, such as land rights, traditional resource rights, property rights and cultural and linguistic rights, that ecological diversities and cultural diversities are progressively related.


Meanwhile, linguists and ethnologists draw attention to the rapid and dramatic extinction of languages in the world, since it is estimated that by the end of the 21st century, between 50 and 90% of the 6,900 languages currently spoken will have disappeared.


Indigenous territories become of interest to the critical scientific community, who observe a relationship between environmental conservation areas and indigenous territories. These investigations show the strong correlation between areas of preserved biodiversity concentration and the presence of indigenous groups and cultural and linguistic diversities. This furthermore highlights the disconnection of western societies with their environments. Biocultural heritage, as the inter-connected biological and cultural diversity of local communities and indigenous peoples, implies the notion of collective care. Collective care also brings together a set of local ecological knowledge, as well as values and belief systems.


The concept of Biocultural Heritage emerges in the academic field as a great synergy between two powerful contemporary global social movements: the vindication of original or indigenous peoples and critical environmentalism.



The concept of biocultural diversity promotes a field of research that, based on the social, linguistic, and natural sciences, tries to identify the correlations and possible causal connections between these diversities, examines the social, economic and ecological dynamics that threaten them and explores the implications of loss of biocultural diversity for sustainability.


Applications of the concept include the development of biocultural approaches to conservation, policy instruments to protect biocultural rights, and tools and initiatives on the ground to maintain and revitalize biocultural heritage.


In practice, the most important impetus for the protection and maintenance of biocultural diversity cannot come from the authorities through top-down efforts, but from the action of indigenous and other local communities around the world. whose languages, cultural identities and lands are threatened.


References and bibliographic resources:

A framework for exploring and managing biocultural heritage, Johan L


indholm, Anneli Ekblom

Linguistic, Cultural, and Bio


logical Diversity, Luisa Maffi Terralingua, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia V8K 2N6, Canada

Biocultural Diversity Toolkit, Luisa Maffi and Ortixia Dilts: https://terralingua.org/shop/biocultural-diversity-toolkit/


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