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BIOCULTURAL HERITAGE: The relationship between nature and culture runs deep in what researchers call biocultural landscapes. Everyday practices and rituals have coevolved with the environment over millennia in these places, often located in the world’s poorest regions.
Development interventions with too narrow a focus, whether on poverty alleviation or on conservation, risk missing the mark and having a negative effect on both social and ecological processes.
A paper published in Agriculture and Human values looks at the social and ecological implications of an introduced wheat seed in the Pamir Mountains.
Centre researchers Jamila Haider, Wijnand Boonstra, and Maja Schlüter, together with Anzurat Akobirshoeva of the Pamir Biological Institution, examine contrasting responses to the intervention in two communities, through the lens of the rituals around Nawruz and Baht-ayom. The rituals celebrate the beginning of the Persian new year.
Central to the celebration is the making of Baht – a festive porridge traditionally made with Rashtak, a hardy red wheat variety with a rich flavor, suitable for cultivation in the harsh mountain climate.
The Pamirs is the poorest region of Central Asia, but rich in biocultural diversity. This diversity plays a crucial role in local resilience to social and ecological change, and is of global significance as a repository of agricultural biodiversity and social and ecological memory.
The development goals in the Pamir region today aim to conserve biocultural heritage while improving human well-being.
Jamila Haider, lead author
High-input improved seed varieties of wheat were introduced in the region in the mid-1990’s by development agencies. They were meant to address a hunger crisis that was a result of the civil war.
For the first few of seasons the introduced wheat varieties grew well, but after a couple of years the yields dwindled to nothing.
One community maintained their traditional wheat variety, Rashtak, and the rituals around it, fostering biocultural diversity. The other did not, resulting in ecological, social and cultural changes.
Today, wheat is no longer cultivated. In the former community migration of youth is low, in the latter circular migration to Russia is the main livelihood strategy.
Jamila Haider concludes: “The development goals in the Pamir region today aim to conserve biocultural heritage while improving human well-being. The insights from this paper suggest that deeper understanding of social-ecological relationships and focusing on daily practices and ritual as an entry point to research and development processes can make a valuable contribution towards more holistic and locally adapted development pathways.”
The study was part of a longer-term research engagement and commitment to the Pamir region. The case was selected based on interviews with the main NGO in the Pamirs. The two villages were selected based on the impact of improved seeds on these villages.
Data was primarily collected through participatory observation. This method was chosen since meaning and tacit knowledge are difficult to articulate, and thus can be better observed than heard. The authors participated in the preparation of food using Rashtak wheat in both communities.
The authors also conducted semi-structured interviews with informants in both communities and with the main local NGO. Through the longer period of fieldwork, 53 interviews were conducted, 17 of these were analyzed for this study.
The analysis of the data was guided by a coevolutionary framework, which allowed the authors to code for relationships of events rather than characteristics of individual ‘entities’. The authors used an abductive coding approach to uncover motivations, effects and responses, working in iterative cycles of inductive and deductive coding.
Haider, L.J., Boonstra, W.J., Akobirshoeva, A., Schlüter, M. 2019. Effects of development interventions on biocultural diversity: a case study from the Pamir Mountains. Agric Hum Values (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10460-019-10005-8
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