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Biocultural Heritage associated with mechanisms of traditional knowledge transfer.

Updated: Aug 27, 2018


Biocultural Heritage associated with traditional knowledge transfer mechanisms in vulnerable indigenous communities. Case studies from Mexico and Colombia.


About the Program

The research project entitled: "Biocultural heritage associated with traditional knowledge transfer mechanisms in vulnerable communities. Case studies in Mexico and Colombia ", proposes the construction of a methodology to analyze the adaptive capacities of indigenous populations in socio-environmental transformation processes for urban and rural areas. The research hopes to make a scientific contribution to the transdisciplinary studies on sustainability, adaptation to climate change and reduction of vulnerability, as well as contributing to the information for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage Program.



In this current research, 5 indigenous communities will be studied, located in Mexico and Colombia, which are adapted to differentiated habitats and socioecological systems. The topics of analysis according to the context are: water, traditional knowledge (Ethnoecology, Ethnobiology and Ethnobotany) and biodiversity. The proposal stands out in its ethical and social responsibility character, as well as seeks to be a contribution for the communities in the strengthening of decision making and governance over their territories and natural resources. At the academic level, an attempt is made to contribute to a scenario of equitable global participation for the use and maintenance of traditional knowledge.

Action on adapting to climate change and reducing vulnerability requires dynamic and far-reaching contributions from the natural sciences, social and human sciences, in order to attenuate negative phenomena, adapt others and promote social resilience in the face of pressures derived from development. The new definition of sustainability must be based essentially on a reconstruction of values, beliefs and behaviors. Linking knowledge, be it traditional or scientific, together with research social action, is one of the major goals of this work.

The role of indigenous peoples in the global crisis and studies on biocultural regions entails the urgent need to design shared political agendas in regional habitat conservation programs. The information on land use and agrobiodiversity systems in the different human settlements globally, can mitigate the consequences of the crisis, generating environmental and cultural sustainability.


Theoretical discussion

"Anthropology tends to play a critical role not only in understanding the human impact on the physical and biotic environment but also in demonstrating how that environment is constructed, represented, reclaimed and contested" (Brosius, 1999).

This author suggests that anthropologists need to "problematize the vocabulary with which we form our commitment to environmentalism, particularly because our commitment extends beyond pure schooling to the promotion of projects. In this sense, "anthropology can make a different contribution to the study of these issues, extending and enriching such concerns with the particular type of understanding that an ethnographic approach can provide" (Ibid., 281).

Biodiversity can be seen as one more instance of the co-production of techno-science and society, which takes place through a vast network of negotiations, where all the aforementioned actors dispute and trade the meaning of nature, competing with social practice with base in their interpretive systems in the sense of cultural constructions different from "nature", "biodiversity", "resource utilization", "knowledge" etc, (Escobar, 1996).

The study of the Biocultural Heritage in different biodiversity scenarios will be of vital importance to collect and analyze the global information about the native peoples and the predominant trends in environmental matters in their territories. It is expected to achieve an integrality on the available traditional knowledge vs the changing status of biological resources and the ways of managing and sustaining socioecological systems that support social life on the planet.

The regions to be studied for the selected cases at Colombia and Mexico, occupy in the world privileged places on biodiversity of native species and ecosystems, but they also share high indices of vulnerability in their indigenous communities.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) defines vulnerability as the degree to which a system (geophysical, biological, or socio-economic) is susceptible and unable to cope with the negative impacts of climate change. Vulnerability is a function of the degree of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity of the system. Exposure is the degree to which the system is exposed to threats related to climate change (for example, increases in temperature and variations in precipitation); sensitivity is the degree to which elements of the system are negatively or positively affected by these threats; Exposure and sensitivity together define the potential impact. Finally, adaptive capacity is related to the elements or factors that reduce potential impacts.

The International Strategy for Disaster Reduction of the United Nations (ISDR) indicates that vulnerability is the "conditions determined by physical, social, economic and environmental factors or processes that increase the susceptibility of a community to the impact of threats" (Strategy International Disaster Reduction, ISDR, 2004: Para 76), The Regional Disaster Information Center (CRID) 1 presents the following description of the vulnerability:

Internal risk factor of an element or group of elements exposed to a threat. Corresponds to the predisposition or physical, economic, political or social susceptibility that a community has to be affected or to suffer adverse effects in the event that a dangerous phenomenon of natural, socio-natural or anthropic origin is manifested. It also represents the conditions that prevent or hinder subsequent autonomous recovery. The differences in vulnerability of the social and material context exposed to a dangerous phenomenon determine the selective nature of the severity of its effects. (Regional Information Center on Disasters (CRID, 2017).

1. The CRID is an initiative that has sought to collect and disseminate information on the subject of disasters in Latin America and the Caribbean. This initiative has the support of: Pan American Health Organization, Regional Office of the World Health Organization, PAHO / WHO, United Nations, secretariat of the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, UN / ISDR, National Commission for Prevention of Risks and Emergency Care of Costa Rica, CNE, International Federation of National Societies of the Red Cross and Red Crescent-IFRC, Coordination Center for the Prevention of Natural Disasters in Central America, Cepredenac.


General Objective

Develop a methodological tool to analyze the biocultural heritage and traditional knowledge transfer mechanisms used in indigenous communities affected by processes of adaptation to climate change in Mexico and Colombia.


Specific Objectives

  1. Confirm through case studies that traditional knowledge from orality is a device for transmitting technologies applied to biodiversity conservation processes.

  2. Develop an index of social vulnerability with the use of anthropological methodologies, for the quantification of adaptive capacities in the management of natural resources.

  3. Analyze through the study of intangible cultural heritage related to the use of plants, the instruments of culture that can be used in the reduction of vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.


Methodological Framework: Study Cases

The main characteristics of the 5 case studies that will be developed during the PhD work are described below (Table 1).

Based on the information obtained during the field work with the communities and applying participant-observation ethnographic methodologies, a modelling of qualitative data converted into indicators will be developed, which allows us to establish variables to contribute to the studies of climate change, sustainability , vulnerability and Biocultural Heritage.

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