Global analyses have established that areas of high biological diversity co-occur with areas of high cultural diversity. This association between cultural and biological diversity is encapsulated in the term “biocultural diversity”. The term denotes three key concepts: (1) the diversity of life includes human cultures and languages; (2) biological diversity and cultural diversity share common links; and (3) these links have developed over time through mutual adaptation and possibly co-evolution.


Ecological knowledge lost when languages become extinct

The vast amounts of ecological knowledge that indigenous peoples and local communities have accumulated in their long history of governing social-ecological systems, are embedded in their languages. When languages become extinct, associated knowledge is often lost, along with capacities to observe and nurture the landscape and biodiversity resources to which they are linked. One outcome is the loss of unique and legitimate worldviews.

As traditional cultures and languages decline and natural environments become degraded, our collective “survival kit” is becoming depleted. Indigenous and local knowledge gets increasingly lost due to several concurrent realities – as older generations pass away, livelihoods and lifestyles change; schools teach only mainstream languages and scientific knowledge; environments are transformed, and access to traditional territories and resources is barred.

The loss of biocultural diversity might be one of the most serious constraints to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services. Erosion of indigenous knowledge reduces opportunities to benefit from understandings rooted in long histories of interaction with the natural environment, and diminishes insights from building synergies with science.

Biocultural diversity provides innovative ways of coping with the impacts of global trends such as climate change, due to the experiences that are embedded in place-based knowledge systems, beliefs and practices. The intrinsic value of biocultural diversity and in situ conservation of different livestock breeds, and the social-ecological landscapes they are co-evolving with could become increasingly important for the resilience of cherished social-ecological systems. This is especially relevant as the world surpasses or reaches planetary boundaries.


Indigenous and local knowledge increasingly recognized

The discrimination against indigenous knowledge, belief systems and practices, is still prevalent, but luckily the potential of indigenous and local knowledge to contribute to knowledge generation, ecosystem assessments and governance also beyond the local scale is increasingly recognized within the international policy arena. Not least in the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, IPBES, where there is a strong commitment to develop procedures and approaches for synergies across indigenous, local and scientific knowledge systems in assessments, paying due recognition to and respect for the diversity of knowledge at hand.

Download the report from the International Workshop on diverse Knowledge Systems in IPBES from the link to the right. The workshop was held in Bonn 2015, with participation by SwedBio and partner organisations.


SwedBio contributes to methods connecting diverse knowledge systems

SwedBio has, over time, developed trust and dynamic collaborations with indigenous peoples and local community organisations and networks in Asia, Africa and Latin America, and globally. SwedBio’s partners have genuine experiences from the ground, with explicit relevance for catalysing impact at higher scales in line with SwedBio’s objectives. Partners engaged in the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) for example, articulate the need for global society to protect and promote their knowledge and traditional lifestyles, and with that the rich biological and cultural diversity they are nurturing. SwedBio partners developed the Community Based Monitoring and Information Systems (CBMIS), as a base for monitoring the Aichi targets. CBMIS  is one example of our partners’ contribution to the innovative work in the global biodiversity agenda.

Partners among indigenous peoples and local community organisations, together with SwedBio and SRC researchers, have also been collaborating on developing the Multiple Evidence Base (MEB) approach to connect diverse knowledge systems. The MEB proposes parallels where indigenous, local and scientific knowledge systems are viewed to generate equally valid, complementary and useful evidence for interpreting conditions and for identifying relevant changes to the sustainable governance of ecosystems and biodiversity.