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  FORESTRY SYMPOSIUM 1996

CULTURAL AND SOCIO - ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS IN THE CONSERVATION OF BIODIVERSITY

Anoja Wickramasinghe
University of Peradeniya

Many countries have ratified the UN Convention on Biological Diversity and considerable efforts, at least in policy reforms, have been made in favour of conservation of biological diversity. The question raised in this paper is whether such ratification has been made to satisfy the international community or to demonstrate a national commitment by the State to facilitate the process of conservation of biodiversity. Many practical examples drawn from across the world point to the fact that in reality conservation has been an integral part of resource use and survival systems of indigenous communities. In Sri lanka, the differentiation depicted in the forest resource use patterns in time and space has on the one hand emerged in relation to the local people’s links with the available biological resources; while on the other it has been the result of cultural and socio- economic context of local resource use decisions. The survival strategies of indigenous forest fringe communities are related to local plant life of natural forests and those accommodated in non-forest production systems. Spiritual rituals, food habits and medicinal practices with regard to both species and ecosystems have been in favour of conservation of biodiversity. The indigenouos ethics are strong in a range of aspects.

The arguments of this paper show that conservation is an integral part of local resource management and traditional lifestyles including food babits, medicinal practises and belief systems. The conservation of diversity is seen in their respect for nature and gifted opportunities. The local knowledge on biological resources- their uses, seasonalities, phenological cycles of species, and regeneration patterns- has been inherited from their ancestors. Field studies conducted in Ritigala Strict Natural Reserve through a participatory process suggest that local knowledge on the diversity of the ecosystem is very profound and provides the basis for formulating future strategies. This paper argues that unless indigenous cultures, knowledge and livelihood systems are respected and recognized, the practical link between survival and conservation will be lost along with the wealth of knowledge of local communities who are practical conservationists. The exclusion of well established cultural and socio-economic dimensions relating to biodiversity conservation has resulted in a deliberate compartmentalization of the interventional efforts. The same impedes opportunities for local communities to continue with the traditional conservation practices.


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