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Traditional Knowledge Systems for Biodiversity Conservation

Traditional Knowledge Systems for Biodiversity Conservation
by Deep Narayan Pandey1


Traditional knowledge is vital for sustainability of natural resources including forests, water, and agroecosystems across landscape continuum spanning from households through farms, village, commons and wilderness. Here, I examine the traditional knowledge on biodiversity, particularly in the light of contemporary research on traditional and formal knowledge systems and demonstrate the value of traditional knowledge for biodiversity conservation. I also revisit the efficacy of traditional knowledge systems for conservation. I identify recent developments in local knowledge research and interface this with the challenges that contemporary society faces in India and how local knowledge can be useful to address the biodiversity conservation.

Humanity faces exceptional challenge of eroding natural resources and declining ecosystems services due to a multitude of threats created by unprecedented growth and consumerism. Also imperilled is the biodiversity and sustainability of the essential ecological processes and life support systems (Chapin et al., 2000) in human dominated ecosystems across scales (Vitousek et al., 1997). Indeed, human-domination of earth is evident in global change (Ayensu et al., 1999; Lawton et al., 2001; Phillips et al., 1998; Schimel et al., 2001; Forest et al., 2002), biodiversity extinctions (Bawa and Dayanandan 1997; Sala et al., 2000; Singh, 2002) and disruption of ecosystem functions (Loreau et al., 2001). Ecological problems coupled with unequal access to resources results in human ill-being and threats to the livelihood security of the world’s poorest (Pandey, 1996; Balvanera et al., 2001).

Traditional Knowledge for Sustainability

To avert the threats, natural and social sciences have helped by acquiring and applying knowledge about ecosystem conservation and restoration and by strengthening the policy and practice of sustainable development. Scientific research on human-environmental interactions is now a budding sustainability science (Kates et al., 2001). The concept recognises that the well-being of human society is closely related to the well-being of natural ecosystems. The intellectual resources on which the sustainability science is building on need to take into account the knowledge of local people as well. We need, therefore, to foster a sustainability science that draws on the collective intellectual resources of both formal sciences, and local knowledge systems of knowledge (often referred as ethnoscience)2 (Pandey, 2001). Indeed, people have argued that we need to install a Nobel Prize for sustainability (Snoo and Bertels, 2001).

Driven by the situation scientific research on human-environmental interactions (Stern, 1993) has developed into the new branch of knowledge known as the Sustainability Science (Kates et al., 2001). The concept has developed on the basis of the recognition that the well-being of human society is closely related to the well-being of natural ecosystems. Sustainability science seeks to comprehend the fundamental character of interactions between nature and society, specifically the interaction of global processes with the ecological and social characteristics of particular places and sectors.

It will be useful to suggest that science is not a monolithic entity; rather, as Henry Bauer notes: it is “a mosaic of the beliefs of many little scientific groups” with a variety of perspectives that individual scientists themselves posses and the studied objects bestow on them (Pielke 2002). It has been stated that science is objective and value-free, and local knowledge is subjective and value-laden. Nothing could be farther from the truth, indeed. All science is not necessarily value free, and local knowledge is not always value-laden. In numerous instance science has just rediscovered what was already known in local knowledge systems. The only difference that may stand any ground is the way knowledge is created – and to some extent the way it is transmitted – in both ways of knowing. A detailed discussion on local and formal methods is beyond the scope of this paper3, nonetheless, suffice it to note here that once data and information are generated – and get converted into knowledge by innumerable combinations – the created knowledge remains knowledge regardless of methodology followed to create it. Thus, to posit local knowledge as a non-science is nonsense. But that does not guarantee an exclusive truth claim to either to local knowledge or to science. Any attempt to inhibit knowledge from re-examination and scrutiny, either by local people themselves or by a curious researchers attempting to learn a new way knowing is not to be understood as an attempt to discredit a particular system of knowledge.

A discussion on local knowledge is useful at this juncture for other reasons as well (see, for example, a detailed discussion on this issue, Pandey, 2002a). First, inadequacy of economic incentives to conserve biodiversity as demonstrated recently by Kleijn et al., (2001) compels rethinking classical utilitarian approach to resource management. Second, an emerging sustainability science (Kates et al., 2001) will need all stocks of knowledge and institutional innovations to navigate transition towards a sustainable planet. Third, rediscovery of traditional ecological knowledge as adaptive management (Berkes et al., 2000) and need to apply human ecological (Bews, 1935; East, 1936; Muller, 1974) and adaptive strategies for natural resource management (Bates, 2000) offers prospects for scientists to address the problems that beset conservation biologists and restoration ecologists. Fourth, there is an increasing realization that we need innovative ethics and policy to conserve biodiversity and maintain ecosystem functions (Tilman, 2000) and that such ethics need not come from the god; rather, society can cultivate them. Fifth, local knowledge systems are disappearing at a rate that may not allow us even to know what value, if any, such systems had (Cox, 2000; Brodt, 2001; Pandey, 2002a). Finally, in a thought provoking discussion, Cavalcanti (2002) notes that a limitation of economic development is that it is pursued without any considerations – in practice – as to its implications on ecosystems. The prevailing economic theories treat the economic process from a purely mechanistic standpoint. Different ways exist, however, to deal with the choices that humans have to make with respect to the allocation of resources, the distribution of its returns and the fulfilment of purposes of material progress. To understand how local people solve their economic problems in a sustainable fashion is a serious challenge in this context. A better grasp of this issue could possibly be accomplished with the use of ethnoeconomics or ethnoecological economics (Cavalcanti, 2002).

Management of natural resources cannot afford to be the subject of just any single body knowledge such as the Western science, but it has to take into consideration the plurality of knowledge systems. There is a more fundamental reason for the integration of knowledge systems. Application of scientific research and local knowledge contributes both to the equity, opportunity, security and empowerment of local communities, as well as to the sustainability of the natural resources. Local knowledge helps in scenario analysis, data collection, management planning, designing of the adaptive strategies to learn and get feedback, and institutional support to put policies in to practice (Getz et al., 1999). Science, on the other hand, provides new technologies, or helps in improvement to the existing ones. It also provides tools for networking, storing, visualizing, and analyzing information, as well as projecting long-term trends so that efficient solutions to complex problems can be obtained (Pandey, 2002a).

Local knowledge systems have been found to contribute to sustainability in diverse fields such as biodiversity conservation and maintenance of ecosystems services, tropical ecological and biocultural restoration, sustainable water management, genetic resource conservation and management of other natural resources. Local knowledge has also been found useful for ecosystem restoration and often has ingredients of adaptive management.

Traditional Knowledge on Biodiversity Conservation

In order to be effective, efforts on biodiversity conservation can learn from the context-specific local knowledge and institutional mechanisms such as cooperation and collective action; intergenerational transmission of knowledge, skills and strategies; concern for well-being of future generations; reliance on local resources; restraint in resource exploitation; an attitude of gratitude and respect for nature; management, conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity outside formal protected areas; and, transfer of useful species among the households, villages and larger landscape. These are some of the useful attribute of local knowledge systems (Pandey, 2002a). Traditional knowledge on biodiversity conservation in India is as diverse as 2753 communities (Joshi et al. 1993) and their geographical distribution, farming strategies, food habits, subsistence strategies, and cultural traditions.

Local Vegetation Management: Over thousands of years local people have developed a variety of vegetation management practices that continue to exist in tropical Asia (Pandey, 1998), South America (Atran et al., 1999; Gomez-Pompa and Kaus, 1999), Africa (Getz et al., 1999; Infield, 2001), and other parts of the world (Brosius, 1997; Berkes, 1999). People also follow ethics that often help them regulate interactions with their natural environment (Callicott, 2001). Such systems are often integrated with traditional rainwater harvesting that promotes landscape heterogeneity through augmented growth of trees and other vegetation, which in turn support a variety of fauna (Pandey, 2002a).

In India these systems can be classified in several ways:

  • Religious traditions: temple forests, monastery forests, sanctified and deified trees
  • Traditional tribal traditions: sacred forests, sacred groves and sacred trees
  • Royal traditions: royal hunting preserves, elephant forests, royal gardens etc.
  • Livelihood traditions: forests and groves serving as cultural and social space and source of livelihood products and services

The traditions are also reflected in a variety of practices regarding the use and management of trees, forests and water. These include:

  • Collection and management of wood and non-wood forest products
  • Traditional ethics, norms and practices for restraint use of forests, water and other natural resources
  • Traditional practices on protection, production and regeneration of forests.
  • Cultivation of useful trees in cultural landscapes and agroforestry systems
  • Creation and maintenance of traditional water harvesting systems such as tanks along with plantation of the tree groves in the proximity

These systems support biodiversity, which is although less than natural ecosystems but it helps reduce the harvest pressure. For instance, there are 15 types of resource management practices that result in biodiversity conservation and contribute to landscape heterogeneity in arid ecosystems of Rajasthan. Environmental ethics of Bisnoi community suggest compassion to wildlife, and forbid felling of Prosopis cineraria trees found in the region. Bisnoi teachings proclaim: “If one has to lose head (life) for saving a tree, know that the bargain is inexpensive” (Pandey, 2002a).

In India, local practices of vegetation management perhaps emanate from the basic ecological concepts of local communities reflected in “ecosystem-like concepts in traditional societies” (Berkes et al. 1998). Two key characteristics of these systems are that the unit of nature is often defined in terms of a geographical boundary; and abiotic components, plants, animals, and humans within this unit are considered to be interlinked. Many local knowledge systems are similar in temperament to the emerging scientific view of ecosystems as unpredictable and uncontrollable, and of ecosystem processes as nonlinear, multiequilibrium, and full of surprises (Berkes et al.1998).

Biodiversity in Sacred Cliffs: Cliffs are completely forgotten cultural landscape elements that support a variety of species of plants and animals in India. As humans have special fascinations to such areas often cliffs across the country are considered sacred. Cliffs elsewhere have been found to support undisturbed ancient woodland, dominated by tiny, slow-growing and widely spaced trees. Vertical cliffs often support populations of widely spaced trees that are exceptionally old, deformed and slow growing. Some of the most ancient and least-disturbed wooded habitats on Earth are found on cliffs, even if such sites are close to intensive agricultural and industrial development. The age of the trees on cliffs may indicate the age and growth rates of the entire plant communities on the cliffs. Cliffs across the world may support ancient, slow-growing, open woodland communities that have escaped major human disturbance, even when they are situated close to agricultural and industrial activity, which has destroyed or altered most other natural habitats (Larson et al., 1999, 2000a & b; Peterken, 1996). Examples of such habitat in India abound. Cliffs in Udaipur and Kota districts of Rajasthan were surveyed (7 cliff with ancient vegetation). Cliffs were found to have more than 25 species of trees, several species of shrubs and herbs. Areas close to Bhopal have more than 50 cliffs in central India in a radius of about 100 kms. All the 7 cliffs surveyed in Rajasthan are sacred. They are often part of the sacred corridors along the riverbank escarpment with several meters of precipitous fall. Attempts have been made to regenerate the Gaipernath Cliff with the traditional species occurring in the area (Lannea coromandelicaBoswellia serrataSterculia urens etc. about 25 species). The result was very poor initially. But local ethnoforestry techniques of tucking the branch cuttings of coppicing species in whatever little crevices area may have were successful. Also, depositing the seeds (same species that occur) in crevices with the ball of moist earth has been found promising.

Farm Biodiversity: Throughout the Indian farms and field one finds strips of vegetation containing several species of plants and small animals. These strips are beneficial in several ways. Such strips on tropical lands have been found to accelerate natural successional processes by attracting seed-dispersing animals and increasing the seed rain of forest plants. Effects of these strips resemble the windbreaks on seed deposition patterns (Harvey, 2000). Isolated trees provide seed in the area for natural regeneration. The strips enhance seed rain, and connectivity. Because such strips trap large number of seeds of several species they help in further tree growth. Compared to open fields, farm boundaries with vegetation receive seed in greater densities and species-richness than open farms and pastures. All forms of seed dispersal help in the process but animal-dispersed (birds, bats, mammals etc.) seeds often occur in greater densities and species numbers. Presence of isolated trees and shrubs or remnant trees helps. Farm boundaries maintained throughout the country are often self regenerating and require only management as these barriers considerably increase the deposition of tree and shrub seeds within the cultural landscape. Indeed considerable biodiversity is found within these strips. This is a practice that needs to be maintained as it has several socio-economic benefits as well.

Value of traditional agroecosystems in supporting the plant and animal diversity (see for example, Kunte et al. 1998) is immense. Tree diversity in farms and agroecosystems is often the product of interaction of local and formal knowledge. A recent study by Shastri et al. (2002) provides interesting insights on the tree-growing practices and associated biodiversity in Karnataka. Shastri et al. (2002) found trees belonging to 93 species in a sampled area of 1.7 ha of Sirsimakki agro-ecosystem. Additional 44 species were noted on non-agricultural lands in the village ecosystem, which included soppina betta, minor forest and reserve forest. The overall agroecosystem had 556 trees/ha, while the non-agroecosystem had only 354 trees/ha. The overall, tree density of 418.8 per ha was present in the village. There were 144 species in the village ecosystem with 2238 individuals in the sampled area of 5.34 ha. The total number of species in non-agro ecosystem was 104 with 1286 individuals. Home-gardens are notable with 93 tree species in just about 1.7 ha. The number of tree species varies between 20 and 40 in home-gardens, indicating that home-gardens in Karnataka villages are highly biodiverse in comparison to those in Mexico and Brazil (Shastri et al. 2002).

Farms themselves have domesticated biodiversity essential for survival and subsistence. One such example is by Kimata et al. (2000) form South India on the cultivation and process of domestication of Brachiaria ramosacultivated in pure stands. Its grains are used in nine traditional food preparations in South India. Another crop Setaria glauca is cultivated in mixed stands along with little millet (Panicum sumatrense). In Orissa state and in Southern India the grains are used to make at least six traditional supplementary foods. The weedy forms of these species were found by the researchers growing with upland rice and some millets in diverse agro-ecological niches. The domestication process is supposed to have gone through three phases: first growing in association with weed and with upland rice and other millets; a secondary crop mixed with kodo millet; and finally as an independent crop.

Cultivation of Medicinal plants: There are numerous examples of medicinal plant cultivation by local people in India. Socio-culturally valued species find place in home gardens and courtyards. For example, Around the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in the western Himalaya, the Bhotiya community, whose livelihood is depends on local natural resources, practices seasonal and altitudinal migration and stay inside the buffer zone for only 6 months (May-October). A survey in 5 villages in Pithoragarh District, found that Bhotiya people cultivate medicinal plants on their agriculture fields. Of a total of 71 families, 90% cultivated medicinal plants on 78% of the total reported cultivated area (15.29 ha). Around 12 species of medicinal plants were under cultivation. Survey also found that a family earned about Rs.2423 +/- 376.95 per season from the sale of medicinal plants in 1996 (Rs.38 = US$1 in 1996). Thus, supporting medicinal plant cultivation at high altitudes in the Himalayas may help to generate additional support to people as well as conserve the species in the wild (Silori and Badola, 2000, see also, Maikhuri et al.1998). Another study (Satyal et al. 2002) on traditional knowledge of Kumaun Higher Himalaya found that Bhotia tribes use 34 species of medicinal plants native to the region. Among these, Angelica glauca and Allium stracheyiare narrow range endemic and Allium stracheyiPicrorhiza kurrooa and Nardostachys grandiflora have been recorded in the Red Data Book of Indian Plants. Interestingly, the annual production of medicinal plants has been found to be comparable with the annual production of traditional crops. Thus, cultivation, and harvesting can help in livelihood security and in situ conservation of these species.

Similarly, juang and Munda tribes of the Keonjhar district of eastern India use 215 plants, belonging to 150 genera and 82 families (Mahapatra and Panda 2002). This suggests a wealth of traditional knowledge on biodiversity and herbal health care in tribes of eastern India. Tribes in the region are dependent on forests for other species as species of mushrooms, wild berries, tubers, and flowers that are included in their diet including cooking oil. Understanding of traditional knowledge on biodiversity of the region will be most helpful in planning for sustainable forest management.

Traditional Ethos: Similarly, in spite of the modernization, traditional ecological ethos continue to survive in many other local societies, although often in reduced forms. Investigations into the traditional resource use norms and associated cultural institutions prevailing in rural Bengal societies (Deb and Malhotra, 2001) demonstrate that a large number of elements of local biodiversity, regardless of their use value, are protected by the local cultural practices. Some of these may not have known conservation effect, yet may symbolically reflect, a collective appreciation of the intrinsic or existence value of life forms, and the love and respect for nature. Traditional conservation ethics are still capable of protecting much of the country’s decimating biodiversity, as long as the local communities have even a stake in the management of natural resources.

Traditional ethos is reflected in a variety of practices including sacred groves and sacred landscapes. They are fairly well described (see for example, Deb et al. 1997, Pandey 1996 & 1998).

One example from northeast India is particularly notable (see, Tiwari et al. 1998). The tribal communities of Meghalaya – Khasis, Garos, and Jaintias – have a tradition of environmental conservation based on various religious beliefs. As elsewhere in India, particular patches of forests are designated as sacred groves under customary law and are protected from any product extraction by the community. Such forests are very rich in biological diversity and harbor many endangered plant species including rare herbs and medicinal plants. Tiwari et al. (1998) identified 79 sacred groves and their floristic survey revealed that these sacred groves are home to at least 514 species representing 340 genera and 131 families. The status of sacred groves was ascertained through canopy cover estimate. About 1.3% of total sacred grove area was undisturbed, 42.1% had relatively dense forest, 26.3% had sparse canopy cover, and 30.3% had open forest. Notably, the species diversity indices were higher for the sacred grove than for the disturbed forest.

Another notable example is from peninsular India. Study (Ramanujam and Kadamban 2001) on two sacred groves, Oorani and Olagapuram, situated on the north-west of Pondicherry found a total of 169 angiosperms from both sites. The Oorani grove (3.2 ha) had 74 flowering plant species distributed in 71 genera and 41 families; 30 of them are woody species, 8 are lianas and 4 are parasites. The Olagapuram grove (2.8 ha) was more species-rich with 136 species in 121 genera of 58 families; woody species were fewer (21) while 9 lianas and 3 parasites occurred. Associated local knowledge, cultural and religious rituals of local people sustain such diversity.

Another tradition worth mention is use of plants in mural painting. Such paintings are found, for example, in the Ajantan mural art. The practice spanned a whole millennium from the second century B.C. to the eighth century A.D. The tradition continued up to the nineteenth century under the support of different dynasties in India, but declined by the end of that century. Nayar et al. (1999) note that the art is kept alive by a few artists in Kerala who practice even today the methods and techniques of mural paintings similar to those practiced by the Ajantan mural painters. Various plant species provided materials for mural painting. Such knowledge can be very helpful in providing livelihood security to practitioners.

Traditional water harvesting structures too are also habitat for a variety of species. Even if pond size is small, as is the case in about 60% (out of 1.5 million total tanks) in India (Pandey, 2001) it may still be useful habitat for many species in rural ecosystems. Indeed, the island biogeography theory – valid in numerous cases – suggesting that larger areas support more species did not stand in case of 80 ponds in Switzerland (Oertli et al., 2002).

Theoretical predictions and empirical support suggests that although intentional4 conservation may be rare among small-scale societies as Smith and Wishnie (2000) have pointed out, but practices that actually result in what we today call ‘sustainable use and management’ of resources and habitats by local people is widespread globally that contribute to in biodiversity conservation and enhancement through creation of habitat mosaics (Smith and Wishnie, 2000).

Formal conservation efforts in India have relied heavily on the recently declared official protected areas in various categories for biodiversity conservation. However, ancient and widespread human practice to set aside areas for the preservation of natural values in India can be seen in several examples of sacred groves, royal hunting forests, and sacred gardens (Gadgil 1982, Pandey, 1991; Gadgil et al., 1993; Kanowski et al., 1999; Chandrashekara and Sankar, 1998). Several of these areas became national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India and elsewhere (Pandey, 2001). It must be noted here that much of the India’s biodiversity lies outside the officially declared protected areas. Indeed, biodiversity occurs in landscape continuum (figure 1; table 1 & 2). Other areas protect ecosystem services such as the delivery of clean water or the supply of timber, or mitigate the expected adverse effects of over-clearing (Grove, 1992). Others protect recreational and scenic values and some have been planned to foster international cooperation (Hanks, 1997). Many of these areas meet the World Conservation Union’s definition of a strictly protected area (IUCN categories I-IV) (IUCN, 1994).

In view of accelerating biological and cultural landscape degradation, a better understanding of interactions between landscapes and the cultural forces driving them is essential for their sustainable management. We need environmental and cultural revolution, aiming at the reconciliation of human society with nature (Naveh, 1995).

Traditional Knowledge, Water, and Biodiversity

Simple local technology and an ethic that exhorts “capture rain where it rains” have given rise to 1.5 million traditional village tanks, ponds and earthen embankments that harvest substantial rainwater in 660,000 villages in India (Pandey, 2001a), and encourage growth of vegetation in commons and agroecosystems. If India were to simply build these tanks today it would take at least US $ 125 billion (Pandey, 2002a).

Humans have virtually appropriated fresh water. Humanity now uses 26 percent of total terrestrial evapotranspiration and 54 percent of runoff that is geographically and temporally accessible. New dam construction could increase accessible runoff by about 10 percent over the next 30 years, whereas population is projected to increase by more than 45 percent during that period (Postel et al., 1996).

Over thousands of years societies have developed a diversity of local water harvesting and management regimes that still continue to survive, for example, in South Asia, Africa, and other parts of the world (Agarwal and Narain, 1997). Such systems are often integrated with agroforestry (Wagachchi and Wiersum, 1997) and ethnoforestry practices (Pandey, 1998). Recently it has been suggested that market mechanisms for sustainable water management such as taxing users to pay commensurate costs of supply and distribution and of integrated watershed management and charging polluters for effluent treatment can solve the problem (Johnson et al., 2001). Such measures are essential although, but they are insufficient and would need to draw on the local knowledge on rainwater harvesting across different cultures (Pandey, 2001).

Rainwater harvesting in South Asia is different from other parts of the world in that it has a continued history of practice for at least over 5000 years. Similarly, Balinese water temple networks as complex adaptive systems are also very useful systems (Falvo 2000). Although hydraulic earthworks are known to have occurred in ancient landscapes in many regions, they are no longer an operational systems among the masses in the same proportion as in South Asia. For instance, remains of earthworks and water storage adaptations are found in Mayan lowlands in South America (Mann, 2000). Such systems had been used for prehistoric agriculture in Mayan lowlands (Turner, 1974; Coe, 1979), and for fish culture in Bolivian Amazon (Erickson, 2000).

Rainwater harvesting have been found to be scientific and useful for rainfed areas (Li et al., 2000). For instance, a validation comes from the Negev. Ancient stone mounds and water conduits are found on hillslopes over large areas of the Negev desert. Field and laboratory studies suggest that ancient farmers were very efficient in harvesting water. A comparison of the volume of stones in the mounds to the volume of surface stones from the surrounding areas indicates that the ancient farmers removed only stones that had rested on the soil surface and left the embedded stones untouched. According to results of simulated rainfall experiments, this selective removal increased the volume of runoff generated over one square meter by almost 250% for small rainfall events compared to natural untreated soil surfaces (Lavee et al., 1997).

One of the principle tree genus growing in association with tanks and ponds in India is Ficus which is culturally valued throughout the country. It is a keystone genus and supports a variety of other species. Records of frugivory from over 75 countries for 260 Ficus species (approximately 30% of described species) suggest that in addition to a small number of reptiles and fishes, 1274 bird and mammal species in 523 genera and 92 families are known to eat figs (Shanahan et al. 2001).

Conservation Principles in Ancient Texts

Natural Resource Management has been in the traditions of the Indian society, expressing itself variously in the management and utilization practices. This evolved through the continued historical interaction of communities and their environment, giving rise to practices and cultural landscapes such as sacred forests and groves, sacred corridors and a variety of ethnoforestry practices. This has also resulted in conservation practices that combined water, soil and trees. Nature-society interaction also brought about the socio-cultural beliefs as an institutional framework to manage the resultant practices arising out of application of traditional knowledge. The attitude of respect towards earth as mother is widespread among the Indian society.

Local knowledge has proved useful for forest restoration and protected area management in Rajasthan – one of the driest regions of India with scanty rainfall. Cultural landscapes in rural and urban areas and agroecosystems, created by the application of scientific and local knowledge, also support a variety trees, birds and other species, and provide opportunity of integration of nature and society (Taylor, 2002).

Ancient texts make explicit references as to how forests and other natural resources are to be treated. Sustainability in different forms has been an issue of development of thought since ancient times. For example, robust principles were designed in order to comprehend whether or not the intricate web of nature is sustaining itself. These principles roughly correspond with modern understanding of conservationutilization, and regeneration.

Conservation Principles: Atharva Veda (12.1.11) hymn, believed to have been composed sometime at around 800 BC, somewhere amidst deep forests reads: “O Earth! Pleasant be thy hills, snow-clad mountains and forests; O numerous coloured, firm and protected Earth! On this earth I stand, undefeated, unslain, unhurt.” Implicit here are the following principles:

  • It must be ensured that earth remains forested.
  • It must be understood that humans can sustain only if the earth is protected.
  • To ensure that humans remain ‘unslain’ and ‘unhurt’, the ecosystem integrity must be maintained.
  • Even if vaguely, it also makes reference to ecology, economy and society concurrently.

Utilization and Regeneration Principles: Another hymn from Atharva Veda (12.1.35) reads: “Whatever I dig out from you, O Earth! May that have quick regeneration again; may we not damage thy vital habitat and heart”. Implicit here are the following principles:

  • Human beings can use the resources from the earth for their sustenance,
  • Resource use pattern must also help in resource regeneration,
  • In the process of harvest no damage should be done to the earth,
  • Humans are forewarned not against the use of nature for survival, but against the overuse and abuse.

Although not in modern terminology, the three segment of sustainability – ecology, economy and society seem to get addressed simultaneously.

Similarly, water management and associated tree growing has been the subject of ancient text. Tanks have been the most important source of irrigation in India. Some tanks may date as far back as the Rig Vedic period, around 1500 BC. The Rig Veda refers to lotus ponds (5.78.7), ponds that give life to frogs (7.103.2) and ponds of varying depths for bathing (10.71.7). Reference to the tanks is also found in the Arthashastra of Kautilya5 written around 300 BC (Rangarajan 1987: 231-233). The Arthashastra refers to the ownership and management of the village tanks in the following verses:

Waterworks such as reservoirs, embankments and tanks can be privately owned and the owner shall be free to sell or mortgage them (3.9.33)6.

The ownership of the tanks shall lapse, if they had not been in use for a period of five years, excepting in case of distress (3.9.32).

Anyone leasing, hiring, sharing or accepting a waterworks as a pledge, with a right to use them, shall keep them in good condition (3.9.36).

Owners may give water to others in return for a share of the produce grown in the fields, parks or gardens (3.9.35).
In the absence of owners, either charitable individuals or the people in village acting together shall maintain waterworks (3.10.3).

No one will sell or mortgage, directly or indirectly, a bund or embankment built and long used as a charitable public undertaking except when it is in ruins or has been abandoned (3.10.1,2).

The earliest scholar to have commented on the relationship of tanks and trees is Varahamihira who described the detailed technical instructions for the tank constructions in his famous work Brahatsamhita (550 AD):

Without the shade of the trees on their sides, water reservoirs do not look charming; therefore, one ought to plant the gardens on the banks of the water (55.1)7

Commenting on the species to be planted on the embankments of the tank, after its construction, Varahamihira writes:

The shoreline (banks) of the tanks should be shaded (planted) with the mixed stands of Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), Vata (Ficus benghalensis), Aam (Mangifera indica), Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Nichul (Nauclea orientalis), Jambu (Syzygium cuminii), Vet (Calamus?), Neep (Mitragyna parvifolia), Kurvak (?), Tal (Borassus flabellifer), Ashok (Saraca asoka), Madhuk (Madhuca indica), and Bakul (Mimusops elengi) (54.119).

For example, there is a considerable overlap in the formal and scientific forestry policy and practice, which provides hope that traditional knowledge systems can contribute to the management of natural resources. It would be pertinent to quote Gadgil and Guha (1992: 51) in this context:

“Indeed one could argue that scientific prescriptions in industrial societies show little evidence of progress over the simple rule-of-thumb prescriptions for sustainable resource use and the conservation of diversity which characterized gatherer and peasant societies. Equally, the legal and codified procedures which are supposed to ensure the enforcement of scientific prescriptions work little better than earlier procedures based on religion or social convention”.

Integration of Traditional and Formal Science

Are there any possibilities of integration of science and ethnoscience? Empirical evidence suggests in affirmative. Traditional knowledge may indeed complement scientific knowledge by providing practical experience in living within ecosystems and responding to ecosystem change. But, as Berkes et al. (1998) note the “language” of traditional ecology is different from the scientific and generally includes “metaphorical imagery and spiritual expression, signifying differences in context, motive, and conceptual underpinnings”.

Indic traditions and local knowledge have often paved the way for many discoveries in science. For example, progress of science in India has built on the foundations of knowledge and wisdom that was created in ancient times on a variety of disciplines including metallurgy, mathematics, medicine, surgery and natural resource management (Rao, 1985; Gandhi, 1982; Tunon and Bruhn, 1994). Traditional skills, local techniques and rural craft provide a wide spectrum of knowledge in India, and since “knowledge cannot be fragmented” (Gandhi, 1982) we have to take the validated local knowledge into account together with science for evolving a robust sustainability science. Sharp boundaries between formal and local systems of knowledge, and natural sciences and social sciences may indeed be imaginary. Perceived confines may just be the unexplored domain that defies cognition for want of interdisciplinary explorations. This is however changing, as Wilson (1998) notes, disciplines are being rendered “consilient”. Scientific community is increasingly realizing that “there is a continuum between artificially dichotomized aspects of science: objective versus subjective, value free versus value laden, neutral versus advocacy” (Rykiel, 2001). This disciplinary mosaic will have profound impact on science and policy development.

Since local knowledge systems in India are still being practiced among the masses, they can contribute to address the challenges of forest management (Pandey, 1998), sustainable water management (Pandey, 2001), biodiversity conservation (Pandey, 2002a), and mitigation of global climate change (Pandey, 2002b&c, Magistro and Roncoli, 2001). Ecological consequences of climate change (McCarty, 2001; Pandey, 2002c; Walther et al., 2002) require that we access all stocks of knowledge for mitigation strategies.

Biodiversity Conservation

Strategies employed for conservation and management of natural resources prominently rely on nature reserves, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other such categories of protected areas (See for example, Inamdar et al., 1999; Sarkar, 1999; Myers et al., 2000; Pimm et al., 2001; Roberts et al., 2002; Sechrest et al.., 2002; Briers, 2002; Wilson, 2002). Protected-area-alone approach for nature conservation, however, has serious flaw (Pandey, 1993) as it has further exacerbated the problem of human-animal conflicts, and a majority of reserves have failed to achieve the conservation goals in marine (Tupper, 2002) as well as terrestrial (Rajpurohit, 1999, Vanclay, 2001; Rawal and Dhar, 2001; Madhusudan and Karanth, 2002) ecosystems. Such an approach has also “led to conflicts between the local communities and the management authorities” (Ashish Kothari, pers. comm.)

Further, application of island biogeography theory to conservation practice has been contended since long. As Simberloff and Abele (1976) note “theoretically and empirically, a major conclusion of such applications – that refuges should always consist of the largest possible single area – can be incorrect under a variety of biologically feasible conditions. The cost and irreversibility of large-scale conservation programs demand a prudent approach to the application of an insufficiently validated theory.” Protecting biodiversity in protected areas indeed has remained a challenge across nations.

On the other hand there are detailed accounts of a variety of mechanisms and contexts through which local people conserve and maintain biodiversity across landscape continuum (see for example, Arnold and Dewees, 1997; Kothari 1996, 2000; 2002; Kothari et al. 2001; Kothari and Anuradha 1999; Pandey, 1996, 1998; Berkes, 1999; Collins and Qualset, 1998; Ramakrishnan et al., 1998; Medin and Atran, 1999; Nazarea, 1999; Posey, 1999; Venkataraman, 2000; Hartley, 2002; Daniels and Vencatesan, 1995; see figure 1).

Practice to set aside areas for the preservation of natural values such has sacred groves of Asia and Africa and royal hunting forests in India are some historical examples (Kanowski et al., 1999; Chandrashekara and Sankar, 1998) of nature conservation. Several of these areas became national parks and wildlife sanctuaries in India and elsewhere.

Consensus that seems emerging is that we might need multiple conservation and sustainable management approaches (Dinerstein and Wikramanayake, 1993; Chandrashekara and Sankar, 1998; Schellnhuber and Wenzel, 1998; Margules and Pressey, 2000; NRC, 1999; Clark, 2001) Under these circumstances, instead of an exclusive approach, both protected areas and community areas seem complementary strategies.

As the human and livestock population grows and natural resources decline command-and-control management of natural resources tends to become the norm. Stricter enforcement of protected areas again is gaining currency as a management proposal due to perceived failure of people-oriented approaches to safeguard biodiversity. Unfortunately, such an approach usually results in adverse consequences for natural ecosystems and human welfare in the form of collapsing resources, social and economic conflict, and loss of biological diversity (Holling and Meffe 1996; Meffe et al. 1998). Additionally, this resurgent focus on authoritarian protection practices largely overlooks key aspects of social and political process including clarification of moral standpoint, legitimacy, governance, accountability, learning, and external forces (Brechin et al. 2002). A single stock of knowledge is inadequate to address the challenges that sustainability science faces today (Pandey, 2002a).

Water Harvesting and Biodiversity Conservation

Revival of local rainwater harvesting globally could provide substantial amounts of water for nature and society. For example, a hectare of land in Jaisalmer, one of India’s driest places with 100 millimeters of rainfall per year, could yield 1 million liters of water from harvesting rainwater. Even with the simple technology such as ponds and earthen embankments called tanks, at least half a million liters a year can be harvested from rain falling over one hectare of land, as is being done in the Thar desert, making it the most densely populated desert in the world. Indeed, there are 1.5 million village tanks in use and sustaining everyday life in the 660,000 villages in India (Pandey, 2001).

In the Negev Desert, decentralized harvesting through the collection of water in microcatchments from rain falling over a 1-hectare watershed yielded 95 cubic meters of water per hectare per year, whereas collection efforts from a single large unit-rather than small microcatchments – 345-hectare watershed yielded only 24 cubic meters per hectare per year (Evenari et al., 1982.). Thus, 75% of the collectible water was lost as a result of the longer distance of runoff in larger watershed. Indeed, this is consistent with local knowledge distilled in Indian proverbs: “capture rain where it rains” (Pandey, 2001). This is also inconsonance with Water and civilizations with a promise of using history to reframe water policy debates and to build a new ecological realism (Priscoli, 1998).

There is an urgent need to policy innovations on rainwater harvesting that has been found useful by many studies (Boers and Ben-Asher, 1982). In the cities, rainwater could be harvested from building rooftops for residential use, and any surplus could be channeled through bore wells to replenish the groundwater, avoiding loss to runoff. However, if rainwater harvesting is to be used to their full potential, policy innovations must include institutional changes so that such resources are effectively managed (Ostram et al., 1999; Pandey, 2000).

In Rajasthan, tanks and ponds have been a mainstay of rural communities for centuries. Strategies for tank rehabilitation (such as proposed for 1200 large tanks in Rajasthan) must not treat tanks only as flow irrigation systems; such an approach is very likely to result in a flawed strategy. A strategy that considers tanks as multiple-use socio-ecological entities, and which recognizes multiple stakeholder groups is more likely to enhance the social value of tanks (Shah and Raju, 2002).

In order to fully reward the context specific cultural resources, such as local knowledge, government subsidies need to be removed to allow market mechanisms to run their course and surplus revenue generated can be given to the communities who own the systems such as tanks.

Low intensity-agriculture

Since low-intensity agriculture promotes biodiverse farms across landscape, such systems need to be supported and promoted. Agricultural intensification has been found to impact biodiversity in farms badly (Donald et al. 2001). Crop-animal systems in Asia, where 95% of ruminants are found in the mixed farming systems is famous for diversity. Crop-animal systems are projected to see growth and remain the dominant system in Asia. Biodiversity in such mixed farming systems are vital for food production (Devendra, 2002). Crop-animal systems, in which livestock play a multi-purpose role, are the backbone of Asian agriculture. Increased productivity from livestock will be necessary in these systems to meet the increased demand for animal products, to alleviate poverty and to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers (Devendra and Thomas, 2002). In the face of land degradation native farm vegetation will play a major role in the sustainability of the farming systems.

Incorporating Traditional Knowledge in Practice

Any attempt, endeavouring to integrate traditional knowledge for biodiversity conservation and sustainability of natural resources should be based on the principle that traditional knowledge often cannot be dissociated from its cultural and institutional setting. Regarding the cultural and institutional the following suggestions may be useful:

  1. Each programme aiming at the promotion of traditional knowledge should be based on the recognition that natural resource rights and tenurial security of local communities forms the fundamental basis of respecting traditional knowledge.
  2. More attention is needed on protection of intellectual property rights of traditional people.
  3. Innovative projects may need to be developed that aim at the enhancement of the capacity of local communities to use, express and develop their traditional knowledge on the basis of their own cultural and institutional norms.

There is an urgent need for the integration of Traditional and formal sciences. Following considerations may be useful in this regard:

  1. Development of methods for mutual learning between local people and the formal scientists.
  2. State forest policies and sustainable forest management processes need to give full attention to ethforestry and local institutional arrangements to incorporate traditional knowledge in forest management and development projects.
  3. Traditional knowledge and traditions can contribute to the preparation of village microplans, which are prepared for eco-development, joint forest management and rural development. The plans should be based on both geographic and traditional community boundaries rather than only on administrative boundaries.
  4. Revival of the traditional water management systems that have served the society for hundreds of years but are currently threatened
  5. There is a clear need to integrate traditional and formal sciences for participatory monitoring, and taking feedback to achieve adaptive strategies for management of natural resources.

In spite of the value of traditional knowledge for biodiversity conservation and natural resource management there still is a need to further the cause. The following consideration may be useful in this respect:

  1. Encouraging the documentation of indigenous knowledge and its use in natural resource management. Such documentation should be carried out in participation with the communities that hold the knowledge. Due attention should be given to document the emic perspectives regarding IK rather than only the perspectives of professional outsiders. The documentation should not only consist of descriptions of knowledge systems and its use, but also information on the threats to its survival. People’s biodiversity registers are a case in point (Gadgil 1994 & 1996, Gadgil et al. 2000). The program of People’s Biodiversity Registers promotes folk ecological knowledge and wisdom by devising a formal means for their maintenance, and by creating new contexts for their continued practice. PBRs document traditional ecological knowledge and practices on use of natural resources, with the help of local educational institutions, teachers, students and NGOs working in collaboration with local, institutions. Such a process and the resulting documents, could serve a significant role in “promoting more sustainable, flexible, participatory systems of management and in ensuring a better flow of benefits from economic use of the living resources to the local communities” (Gadgil et al. 2000).
  2. Facilitating the translation of available and new documents describing Indic traditions such as ancient texts on medicinal plants, into local languages and dissemination of these documents amongst local people. Such a translation is indeed required because texts are often available in languages (e.g. Sanskrit) not understood by many in contemporary India. On the other hand, translation of local knowledge into formal scientific terminology will provide space to external researchers, policy makers, and practitioners to comprehend and support people’s knowledge systems and initiatives.
  3. Facilitating the exchange of information amongst practitioners of local knowledge.
  4. Developing clear and concise educational material on traditional knowledge systems to be used in communication programmes to impart information regarding the merits and threats to indigenous knowledge systems to both policy makers and the general public.

Scientific institutions have an important role to play in supporting the knowledge systems. As has been pointed out earlier, it is now recognised that a dichotomy between local and formal systems of knowledge is not real, and that any knowledge is based on a set of basic values and beliefs and paradigms. Therefore, there is a definite need to further develop systematic insight into the nature and scope of traditional knowledge. The following activities may be useful in this regard:

  1. Developing curricula and methods for providing formal training and education in traditional knowledge systems to agencies, researchers and practitioners who work in collaboration with communities. In this context, the Indian Himalayan Region, which represents a unique biogeographic entity, new initiatives by G.B. Pant Institute of Himalayan Environment and Development have yielded positive results (see Dhar et al. 2002).
  2. Developing research projects aimed at assessing the possibilities and constraints of using traditional knowledge under specific conditions. Such research projects should move beyond the first generation research projects, which aimed at demonstrating the value of local knowledge systems by focusing on successful cases of application. Second generation research projects shall focus on comparing application of knowledge systems across a range of circumstances and across disciplines to craft the traditional sustainability science.
  3. Developing new methods for incorporating local knowledge systems in natural resource management regimes through action research.


Along with science, local technologies (Gandhi, 1982) and people’s knowledge systems such as ethnoforestry have an important role to play for biodiversity conservation and sustainability. Tribal’s bag (Cox, 2000) and ancient texts (Tunon and Bruhn, 1994) may still be the best way to screen for new herbal medicines that may be useful in the treatment of diseases in the era of global climate change. Village communities and other small-scale societies residing continuously over a territory create, transmit and apply comprehensive knowledge about the resources contained in the territory. In villages where women take active part in natural resource management including agriculture and forestry they develop repositories of local knowledge that is continuously applied, tested and improved over time (Harding, 1998).

The 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity requires that every Contracting Party should respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of traditional and local communities and promote the wider application with the approval and involvement of the holder of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits. As nations implement the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) work programs, apply its guidelines, and execute national strategies, its influence on science is likely to grow. CBD-compliant national laws and policies already set priorities for research and affect the way in which scientists can access and use genetic resources (Kate, 2002).

By acknowledging and making use of peoples’ knowledge we shall also promote the principle of equity of knowledge (Pandey, 1998). Equity of knowledge between local and formal sciences results in empowerment, security and opportunity for local people. If the state and formal institutions incorporate people’s knowledge into the resource management decisions, it reduces the social barriers to participation and enhances the capacity of the local people to make choices to solve the problem. Traditional societies have accumulated a wealth of local knowledge, transmitted from generation to generation. Experience has taught them how the water, trees, and other natural resources should be used and managed to last a long time. Equity of knowledge can also enhance the security in its broadest sense. By capitalizing on the collective wisdom of formal and traditional sciences, we shall be able to help people address the problem of global warming as well as to manage the risks they face because of the destruction of the local resources. Collective wisdom can help in the planning and implementation of suitable programmes for managing the agroforests (Pandey, 2002b). This results in ecological, economic, and social security.

Equity of knowledge also provides opportunity for local people to participate in the management of local affairs with global implications. It also provides the opportunity for self-determination. The process of acquisition, transmission, integration, and field application of traditional knowledge on tree-growing with formal science promises to enhance the productivity and efficiency of managing the natural resource. Human ecological perspective is vital in crafting the sustainability science for natural resource management.

There has been a concern that care needs to be taken to distinguish valuable knowledge from myth (Nature 2000). This may be useful from a different perspective as well: that the useful knowledge is not lost. Identification of science behind traditions (Arunachalam 2001) is a more constructive endeavor than entering into the ‘indigenous vs. scientific’ or ‘traditional vs. western’ arguments (Agrawal 1997). Scientists need not encounter traditional knowledge systems uncritically, just as local people need not approach formal science uncritically. Politically strident advocates of local knowledge systems as well as formal science have done more harm than good by defending the exclusive truth claims on the part of their discipline. “Exclusive truth claims – assertion of epistemological privilege – are now not tenable either on the part of science or local knowledge systems” (Pandey 2002a).

Nonetheless, it needs to be reiterated that formally trained scientists as well as researchers on traditional knowledge systems have often misinterpreted the process of what is often referred as validation. The term ‘validation’ need not be understood from a narrow reductionist perspective of disciplinary confines. It can, and should, draw on complimentarity and the “consilience” across local and formal systems. Thus, both formal and local methods, as well as local people and formally trained scientists, shall contribute to comprehend the data, information and knowledge. In collaborative efforts of such kind perhaps everyone involved may stand to benefit. Both local people as well as external experts need access to the latest scientific developments and see if it can help improve existing conservation knowledge and practices. The policy makers need ready access to the science as well as understanding the difficulties of its application (Kohm et al. 2000).

Indeed, there are numerous examples where local knowledge derived from long-term nature-society interaction has been extremely useful in validating scientific hypotheses and suggesting new research directions (see for example a recent analysis by Kimmerer 2002, among others; see also Robertson and Hull 2001). Likewise, formal scientific methods have been extremely valuable in validating the traditional ethno-pharmacological knowledge by identifying the active ingredients (chemicals) in plants used in ethnomedicine. One such example of significant contribution that established the ancient-modern concordance came with the isolation of the hypertensive alkaloid from the sarpagandha plant (Rouwolfia serpentina), valued in Ayurveda for the treatment of hypertension, insomnia, and insanity. Several such isolations of active ingredients have been made since then (Dev 1999, Mishra et al.2001)9. Another example pertains to the conservation of ethnomedicinal species that are also globally traded, and, therefore, have become endangered in India. “A reasonable degree of scientific rigour” is required to assess the threat status of species to be banned in trade (Ved et al. 1998) as well as to monitor, learn and craft strategies for context specific adaptive management by using formal and local sciences. The important issue to be guarded here is that the benefits must go to the community.

Intellectual Property Rights are now being extended to beyond the conventional domain of mechanical and chemical innovations to include biological resources. National Biological Diversity Act of India in response to our commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity and intellectual property rights must, therefore, devise operational mechanisms to share benefits of commercial applications of traditional knowledge on biodiversity with local communities. Also useful shall be to ensure a harmonized basket of rules made under the Patent Act, Protected Plant Varieties Act, and the Biological Diversity Act (see, Utkarsh et al. 1999 for further discussion).

Ultimately, it does precious little to present models, concepts, and results of studies in academic discourses if those efforts are not tested under real conservation situations (Kohm et al. 2000). Conservation scientists must make a transition from “staid observer to participant at some level” (Meffe 1998). Gone are the times when scientists could afford to say that their work is to create knowledge, transmit it and leave application to policy makers and practitioners. Scientists shall have to collaborate with people to put forth new hypotheses that incorporate aspirations of formal and local systems of knowing and modify their methodologies accordingly.
I would, therefore, forewarn against the futile philosophical arguments that engage in the questions of supremacy of one faith over the other, or, a particular knowledge system over the other. Humanity needs to go beyond disciplinary divide and find a common ground across cultures, faiths and disciplines (Pandey, 2002a).

Collective wisdom of humanity for conservation of biodiversity, embodied both in formal science as well as local systems of knowledge, therefore, is the key to pursue our progress towards sustainability.


I am grateful to the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India for supporting this work in part under the National Biodiversity Action Programme Project. I would also like to thank Shri N. K. Joshi, Director, Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal and Additional Director General, Ministry of Environment and Forests, Government of India, Dr. Ram Prasad, PCCF, MP, Dr. Ashish Kothari, Coordinator, NBSAP, Kanchi Kohli, Seema Bhatt, Neema Pathak, Madhu Sarin, Darshan Shankar and P.V. Satheesh for suggestions on an earlier version of the paper. Support of the World Bank – WWF Global Alliance for Forest Conservation and Sustainable Use, the Ford Foundation and Wonrock International to programmes on traditional knowledge and sustainability at Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal is gratefully acknowledged.

Table 1: Human ecological and indigenous perspective for biodiversity management

No Key challenges Suggestions for policy and practice*
1. Biodiversity Conservation and maintenance of ecosystem functions









  • Application of the principles of sustainability science for forest management attempting to address the nature-society interaction will need an interdisciplinary approach as well as multiple stocks of knowledge and institutional innovations to navigate transition toward sustainable forest management (Pandey, 2002c).
  • Representation of all forest types in protected areas, both formal and ethnoforestry regimes, which are managed collaboratively (Reid, 2001) and link culture and conservation (Byers et al., 2001).
  • Protection of natural forests against wild-fires, grazing, and unmanaged removals with the help of local strategies of herders, and resident communities (Coppolillo, 2000). As local people often have awareness about the application of fire, the different fire use practices can be identified for grassland management. These practices reflect a well adapted production strategy. Policy decisions should as far as possible be flexible in the light of local understanding of fire use (Mbow et al., 2000) wherever possible.
  • Preventing fragmentation and providing connectivity to conserve biodiversity in landscape continuum. Improvement of existing shifting cultivation methods with integration of traditional knowledge and new practices can be helpful in addressing the problem (Gupta, 2000).
  • Maintenance of gene pool diversity in natural and cultural landscapes (Saleh, 2000). Elements to conserve can be identified with the help of the local ethnoecological perceptions (Johnson, 2000).
  • Restoration of degraded forests with multiple use trees, shrubs and herbs along with regeneration regimes that necessarily combine rainwater harvest, direct seeding, resprouting, and plantations if needed.
  • Maintenance of woody vegetation in ethnoforestry regimes in landscape continuum (households, cultural landscapes, agroecosystems, and wilderness).
  • Protection to a variety of woody vegetation management regimes in agroecosystems to maximize social and economic benefits to the people as well maintenance of ecosystems functions such as natural pest control, pollination, carbon storage, regulation of hydrological cycle etc.
  • Protection to large trees in natural, cultural and human modified landscapes as well as agroforestry systems (Castro, 1991; Chandler, 1994; Chepstow-Lusty and Jonsson, 2000) as they act as seed source, conserve carbon pool, and act as habitat for seed-dispersing birds, small mammals, and other faunal species.
  • Soil conservation, and enhancement of soil fertility through conservation/restoration of woody leguminous species across landscape continuum. Swidden farming that is often central to the cultural identity of many indigenous people, continues to be viable in several cases, despite increasing population density and the continuing depletion of mature forests. By integrating commercially valuable perennial leguminous trees with crops, soil fertility can be maintained along with improvement to socio-economic condition of the people (Iskandar and Ellen, 2000).
  • Community-based management regimes and common property management (Lu, 2001; Burke, 2001) built on the principle of equity of knowledge among stakeholders, and that rely capitalizing on natural recovery mechanisms will prevent further catastrophic shift and degradation and retain the multiple values of land. Community conservation initiatives seeking to make conservation worthwhile to local people have a strong economic dimension. But, the choices made by local landowners are not a simple function of the economic returns potentially accruing from a particular enterprise. They are as much or more influenced by who is able to control the different flows of returns from these different types of enterprise (Thompson and Homewood, 2002).
  • Secure land tenure for indigenous people, who otherwise perceive conservation as luxury (Marcus, 2001).
  • Maintaining the gender equity as a means to redistribute access to productive resources and household benefits (Ahmed and Laarman, 2000).
  • Institutional coordination of pastoral movements over formal tenure for pasturelands (Fernández-Giménez, 2002).
  • The adoption of agroforestry is determined by the farmers’ attitude to agroforestry, which in turn was shaped by information received through farmer-to-farmer and farmer-to-extension contact (Glendinning et al., 2001). A clear extension programme, therefore, shall always be helpful for designing the multifunctional agroforestry systems.
  • Adaptive strategies for resource management (Bates, 2000)
2. Providing goods and services to the society















3. Social well-being of the people



4. Economic well-being of people

*Column 3 provides consolidated suggestions because each one often addresses more than one key challenge.

For additional examples, see, Ashish Kothari and Priya Das. Local Community Knowledge and Practices: Implications for Biodiversity. 2nd Congress on Traditional Sciences and Technologies, Chennai. (Also in Darrel Posey (ed.), Cultural and Biological Diversity, UNEP.).

See also NBSAP thematic as well as regional reports for various regions that have specific examples pertaining to regions and ecosystems discussed.


1. Indian Forest Service, Associate Professor, Coordinator, IUFRO Research Group on Ethnoforestry (6.19.00); Indian Institute of Forest Management, Bhopal, India-462003, E-mail: dnpandey@ethnoforestry.org

2. A detailed discussion on the dichotomy of knowledge systems is beyond the scope of this paper; but see Agrawal (1995 a&b) and Agrawal (1997) among others.

3. It is pertinent to note the review comments by PV Satheesh and Madhu Sarin on local knowledge systems: “Within the cosmos of people’s knowledge systems there is an empirical assemblage of hypothesis, observation, experimentation and ultimate acceptance that cover periods of centuries. It has its own built in peer review system”.

4. Intended conservation is understood here as a practice that is designed basically for biodiversity conservation. Although the contrary may be argued on this issue (see, Smith and Wishnie, 2000) but this article assumes that notwithstanding the contending claims on whether the biodiversity conservation by local people is an intended or incidental conservation, examples of local resource management systems and biodiversity conservation are available extensively in Asia, Africa, Americas, Europe and Oceania. Thus, several indigenous practices on resource management do result into biodiversity conservation.

5. Kautilya was a political economist of ancient India who compiled the Arthashastra around 300 BC.

6. Numbers refer to the book number, chapter and verse number and translation referred here is by Rangarajan (1976).

7. Arrangements of the verses are based on the Bhat (1981); translation of the relevant Sanskrit text of the Brahatsamhita is by the author.

8. This article does not discuss IPRs in any detail as the focus is little different. Nonetheless, issue of IPR is very crucial. See, other thematic paper on the issue. See also Mashelkar, (2001), and Utkarsh et al. (1999) for multifaceted analysis.

9. For additional resources on Ayurveda, see, for example Dev (1997), Valecha et al. (2000), and Pal (2002). Because plants are useful and needed during urgency a system of protection that ensures their availability in neighbourhood promotes biodiversity conservation.

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Deep Narayan Pandey, IFS
Associate Professor
Coordinator, IUFRO Research Group-6.19.00 Ethnoforestry
Coordinator, International Network on Ethnoforestry
Indian Institute of Forest Management
Bhopal, India-462003

Phone: 91-755-763490; Fax: 91-755-772878
E-mail: dnpandey@ethnoforestry.org