Importance of Traditional Knowledge in Conserving Biodiversity
Such systems are often integrated with traditional rainwater harvesting that promotes landscape heterogeneity through augmented growth of trees and other vegetation .This in turn support a variety of fauna (Pandey, 2002a). In India, these systems can be classified as follows:
(i) Religious traditions:
Temple forests, monastery forests, sanctified and deified trees.
(ii) Traditional tribal traditions:
Sacred forests, sacred groves and sacred trees.
(iii) Royal traditions:
Royal hunting preserves, elephant forests and royal garden.
(iv) Livelihood traditions:
Forests and groves serving as cultural, social space and source of livelihood services.
Traditions in use and management of trees, forests and water:
(i) Collection and management of wood and non-wood forest products.
(ii) Traditional ethics, norms and practices for restraint use of natural resources.
(iii) Traditional practices for protection, production and regeneration of forests.
(iv) Useful tree cultivation in cultural landscapes and agro-forestry system.
(v) Creation and maintenance of traditional water harvesting systems. Fifteen types of resource management practices contribute in biodiversity conservation and maintaining landscape heterogeneity in arid ecosystems. Compassion to wildlife and forbid felling of Prosopis cineraria trees are found in Bisnoi community of Rajasthan.
Bisnoi teachings proclaim “if one has to lose I head (life) for saving a tree, know that bargin is inexpensive” (Pandey, 2002a). I Local vegetation management practices perhaps emanate from ecological concept of local communities.
Many local knowledge systems are similar in temperament to emerging scientific view of ecosystems as unpredictable and uncontrollable and of ecosystem processes as nonlinear multieqilibrium and full of surprises (Berkes et al., 1993).
Traditional Knowledge, water and Biodiversity:
Sample local technology and an ethic that exhausts “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 agro- ecosystems. 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 ecological niches. Domestication is supposed to have gone though growing in association with weeds and with upland rice and other millets, a secondary crop mixed with kodo millet and finally as an independent corp.
New dam construction could increase accessible runoff by about 10% over next 30 years, whereas population is projected to increase by more than 45% during this period. 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 world. 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.
Recorded 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 (Shananhan et al., 2001).
Biodiversity in Sacred Cliffs:
Cliffs are cultural landscape elements supporting a variety of plants and animals, often considered as sacred. Vertical cliffs often support exceptionally old, widely spaced deformed and slow growing trees. Most ancient and least disturbed wooded habitats are found on cliffs. Age of trees may indicate age and growth rates of entire plant communities on cliffs.
Seven cliffs with ancient vegetation in Udaipur and Kota districts of Rajasthan were found to harbour more than 25 trees species, several species of shrubs and herbs. Cliffs surveyed in Rajasthan are sacred and are often part of sacred corridors. Attempts were made to regenerate Gaipernath cliff with traditional species like Lannea coromndelica, Boswellta serrata and Stercilia urens.
Farm boundaries are self regenerating and require only management as these barriers considerably increase deposition of tree and shrub seeds within cultural landscape. Considerable biodiversity is found within these strips. This is a practice that needs to be maintained. Value of traditional agro-ecosystems in plant and animal diversity is immense.
Tree diversity in farms and agro ecosystems is often the product of interaction of local and formal knowledge. A recent study provides insights on tree-growing practices and associated biodiversity in Karnataka. A total of 93 trees species were found in a sample area of 1.7 ha of Sirsimakki agro-ecosystem.
Additional 44 species including Soppina betta, were noted on non-agricultural lands in village ecosystem, minor forests and reserve forests. Overall agro-ecosystem had 556 trees/ha, while non agro-ecosystem had only 354 trees/ha.
Overall tree density of 418.8 per ha was recorded in village. There were 144 species in village ecosystem with 2238 individuals in sampled area of 5.34 ha. Total number of species in non-agro ecosystem was 104 with 1286 individuals.
Home-gardens are notable with 93 trees species in just about 1.7 ha. Number of tree species varies between 20 and 40 in home gardens indicating that the 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. Cultivation and process of domestication of Brachiaria ramoso, cultivated in pure stands is another example from south India. 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 and in southern India, grains are used to make at least six traditional supplementary foods. Weedy forms of these species were found to grow with upland rice and some millet in diverse agro-ecological niches.
Domestication is supposed to have gone through growing in association with weeds and with upland rice and other millets, a secondary crop mixed with kodo millet, and finally as an independent crop. Associated local knowledge, cultural and religious as rituals of local people sustain such diversity (Ramanujam and Kadamban, 2001).
Another tradition is use of plants in mural painting which 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 at the end of that century.
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 cultural forces driving them is essential for their sustainable management. Environmental and Cultural Revolution aim at the reconciliation of human society with nature (Naveh, 1995) is our requirement.
Cultivation of Medicinal Plants:
Around Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve in Western Himalaya, livelihood of Bhotiya community depends on local natural resources. They practice seasonal and altitudinal migration and stay inside buffer zone for only 6 months (May- October).
Surveys in 5 villages in Pithoragarh District show that Bhotiya people cultivate medicinal plants on their agriculture fields. Of a total of 71 families, 90% cultivated medicinal plant on 78% of total cultivated area (15.29 ha). Around 12 medicinal plant species were under cultivation and a family earned about Rs. 2423 + 376.95 per seasons from sale of medicinal plants in 1996.
Thus, supporting medicinal plant cultivation in high altitudes of Himalayas may help generate additional support to people as well as conserve the species in wild (Maikhuri et al., 1998). Another study (Stayal et al., 2002) at Kumaun Higher Himalaya found that Bhotia tribes use 34 medicinal native plant species.
Among these, Angelica glauca and Allium stracheyi are narrow range endemic and Allium stracheyi, Picrorhiza kurrooa and Naradostachys gradniflora have been recorded in the Red Data Book of Indian Plants.
Similarly, Juang and Munda tribes of 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 are dependent on species as mushrooms, wild berries, tubers and flowers.
Elements of local biodiversity regardless of their use value are protected through local cultural practices in rural Bengal (Deb and Malhotra, 2001). Some ethos symbolically reflects a collective appreciation of intrinsic or existence value of life forms, love and respect for nature. Ethics are important for protecting biodiversity as long as local communities have even a stake in management of natural resources.
Tribal communities of Meghalaya, Khasis viz., Garos and Jaintias have a tradition of environmental conservation based on various religious beliefs. 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 biodiversity and harbour many endangered plant species including rare herbs and medicinal plants. Tiwari et al., (1998) identified 79 sacred groves along with at least 514 species representing 340 genera and 131 families. Status of sacred groves is ascertained through canopy cover estimate.
About 1.3% of total sacred groves area was undisturbed, 42.1% had relatively dense forests, 26.3% had sparse canopy cover and 30.3% had open forests. Species diversity indices were higher in sacred groves than for disturbed forests.
Oorani and Olagapuram are situated on North West of Pondicherry. A total of 169 angiosperms are recorded from both sites. 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.
Olagapuram grove 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 (Ramanujam and Kadamban, 2001).
Island biogeography their valid in numerous cases suggesting that larger areas support more species did not stand in case of 80 pounds in Switzerland (Overtly et al., 2002). Theoretical prediction and empirical support suggests that intentional conservation may be rare among small scale societies.
Such conservation practice actually result in sustainable use and management of resource and habitat by local people is widespread globally, contribute in biodiversity conservation and enhancement through creation of habitat mosaics (Smith and Wishnie, 2000).
Much of India’s biodiversity lies outside officially declared protected areas. Indeed, biodiversity occurs in landscape continuum.
Other areas protect ecosystem services such as delivery of clean water or supply of timber or mitigate expected adverse effects of over clearing (Grove, 1992). Other protects recreational and scenic values. Some have been planned to foster international cooperation (Hanks, 1997).
Integration of Traditional and Formal Knowledge:
Traditional knowledge may complement scientific knowledge by providing practical experience in living within ecosystems and responding to ecosystem change. Berkes et al., (1998) note the “Language” of traditional ecology is different from scientific and generally includes “Metaphorical imagery and spiritual expression, signifying differences in context motive and conceptual underpinnings”.
Indian traditions and local knowledge have often paved the way for many discoveries in science. Progress of science in India has built on foundation of knowledge and wisdom that was created in ancient times on a variety of disciplines including metallurgy, mathematics, medicine, surgery and natural resource management (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), 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 science and social science may indeed to be imaginary.