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Communities, Knowledge and Biodiversity: Theoretical Orientation of Ethnoforestry
by Deep N. Panday

Making the concept of sustainable forest management and biodiversity conservation operational requires removal of the community ill-being, effective management of ecosystems as well as achievement of societal, economic and ecological well-being. Forestry, with a vast potential for poverty reduction, and being a complex issue, has gained considerable public attention among planners, academicians, researchers and civil society. Changing role of forests and forestry is also due to the disillusionment of authoritative policies pursued for a long time.  In India, as in many developing countries, attempt to keep people away from the forests, national parks and sanctuaries was not only unsuccessful, but did not lead to the cherished goals of environmental security, productivity and sustainability.

Failure of the authoritarian policies and practices of the state coupled with continuous degradation led to search for alternative paradigms for management of natural resources. This provided space to local communities to apply their assertions of development. This paradigm shift in forestry has resulted in a belief among planners, policy makers, researchers and practitioners that multiple stocks of knowledge can help address the problem and enhance the prospects of sustainability.

Having accepted the role of communities in sustainable forest management, it is logical to argue that community based resource management should not only be based on providing biomass entitlements to local communities, but also acknowledge the equity of knowledge between the communities and formal establishments.

The dominant shift in forest and protected area management, from state driven management to participatory decision-making has evolved through several phases and several approaches in India such as social forestry, eco-development, joint forest management and watershed management (Pandey, 1991a,b&c; Saxena, 1995, Poffenberger and McGean, 1996).

From the resultant learning coming out of these efforts, it is now clear that biodiversity conservation cannot be addressed by keeping it in the state domain alone; rather it gains substantially by the participation of local communities and civil society. It is also clear that people not only use the biodiversity, but they also manage the landscape in such a way, which promotes biodiversity conservation over the landscape. Management practices include purposive protection of forests and groves, transformation of natural forests into resource-enriched forests, establishment of mixed forest plantations and agroforestry systems, integrated management of water and trees etc. (Gadgil and Guha; Anderson, 1990; Shepherd, 1992; Wiersum, 1997a&b, 1999a&b and 2000; Pandey, 1998 and 2000).

It is, then, logical that the people who are dependent on forests for their livelihood should be central actors in forestry.  It is also obvious that biodiversity conservation cannot be achieved only through provisioning of national parks, tiger reserves and sanctuaries. Biodiversity occurring in a variety of cultural landscapes equally contributes to the conservation2

Management requires making the right decisions, learning and taking feed back, taking corrective measures and developing appropriate policies.  Number of studies have proved the usefulness of indigenous knowledge for the sustainability of natural resources in general and biodiversity conservation in particular (see Gomez-Pompa, 1987; Balee, 1989,1993 and 1994; Gilmour, 1990 and 1998; Gomez-Pompa and Kraus, 1990; Gautam, 1991; Chandler, 1991; Fisher, 1991 and 1994; Mathias-Mundy et al., 1992; Die, 1993; Castro, 1995; Colfer et al., 1997; Becker et al., 1998; among others).

Cognitive Foundations of IK, TEK and Ethnoforestry

It would be worthwhile to examine the cognitive foundations of indigenous knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge, ethnoecology and ethnoforestry. This review will provide evolutionary course of the subject what is now identified as ‘ethnoforestry’.

Indigenous knowledge has been defined as ethnoscience3 or the “stock of knowledge” as well as “systems of concepts, beliefs, and ways of learning” (Chambers, 1983) held by the specific communities. Indigenous knowledge is considered mostly to be held in the memories of people and transmitted orally as opposed to being maintained in written record (Browder, 1995). Indigenous knowledge on forest management may be considered as subset of ethnoscience, which is “the study of systems of knowledge developed by a given culture to classify the objects, activities and events of its universe” (Hardesty, 1977).

There have been several definitions of term indigenous knowledge but the most often referred in the development discourse is by Warren (1991):

“The term ‘indigenous knowledge’ (IK) is used synonymously with ‘traditional’ and ‘local’ knowledge to differentiate the knowledge developed by a given community from the international knowledge system sometimes also called 'Western' system, generated through universities, government research centres and private industry. IK refers to the knowledge of indigenous peoples as well as any other defined community”.

Another definition that came after almost a decade is by Grenier (1998) in her famous manual for researchers of the indigenous knowledge:

“The unique, traditional, local knowledge existing within and developed around the specific conditions of women and men indigenous to a particular geographic area”.

Purcell (1998)4 suggests that defining indigenous knowledge is “deceptively” difficult as is the case with defining the indigenous people. It is further argued that for anthropologists culture is a relatively integrated whole, therefore, depending on the circumstances any aspect of culture that functions towards the long-term survival of that community may theoretically be treated as indigenous knowledge. It is further suggested that this knowledge to play a role in “transformative process” one has to take a broad view such as “indigenous perspective”. This view is more representative particularly when “we are dealing with autochthonous phenomenon even though its historical roots may be relatively shallow”. A broad definition given by Purcell (1998) states:

“Indigenous knowledge is the body of historically constituted (emic) knowledge instrumental in long-term adaptation of human groups to the biophysical environment”.

Emanating from these two came another from the editor of the IKDM, the famous journal on indigenous knowledge. Editir of IKDM, Marrewijk (1998) defines:

“Indigenous knowledge is the sum total of the knowledge and skills which people in a particular geographic area possess, and which enable them to get the most out of their natural environment. Most of this knowledge and these skills have been passed down from earlier generations, but individual men and women in each new generation adapt and add to this body of knowledge in a constant adjustment to changing circumstances and environmental conditions. They in turn pass on the body of knowledge intact to the next generation, in an effort to provide them with survival strategies”.

There have been several critiques of this definition (See, for example, Brouwer, 1998; Sillitoe, 1998, Mathias, 1998; and Berkes, 1999a).

Brouwer (1998) suggested that first two definitions are indeed similar, as both perceive indigenous knowledge in terms of space (local/particular area) and time (traditional). Marrewijk’s definition, however, keeping in mind the practical needs as well as the research needs, qualifies indigenous knowledge as the 'sum total of knowledge and skills'. It was also suggested to observe differences between indigenous knowledge (IK), indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) and indigenous technological knowledge (ITK). “Thus in general indigenous knowledge is the participants’ knowledge of their temporal and social space. Indigenous knowledge as such refers not only to the knowledge of indigenous peoples, but to that of any other defined community”.

It was also recommended that indigenous knowledge and traditional knowledge have distinction. Deriving the inspiration from Hobsbawn (1983), Brouwer (1998) maintains that true tradition consist of ancient, original and distinctive customs, conventions and routines. Thus, tradition operates on the practical stratum of repeated actions based on opinion or belief. What is more problematic in this discourse, however, is the Brouwer's conclusion that “the actors need not have any knowledge, indigenous or otherwise, to successfully carry out and pass on their traditions”. Problematic, because it is a common logic that no ‘action’ can be performed without knowledge. It was further argued that indigenous knowledge systems (IKS) demarcate a cognitive construction in which theories and perceptions of nature and culture are framed. Thus, “it includes definitions, classifications and concepts of the physical, natural, social, economic and ideational environments”. Indigenous technological knowledge (ITK), on the other hand, is practical, concerned with local practices in agriculture, fisheries, health, horticulture, and forestry.

There has been critique of Brouwer’s position. Recalling Warren’s attempts two decades ago to find a term that could replace ‘traditional’ because it denotes the ‘19th-century attitudes of simple, savage and static’, Berkes (1999a) laments that such a view of tradition seems to continue to date. “Traditional does not mean an inflexible adherence to the past; it simply means time-tested and wise”. The terms ‘traditional ecological knowledge’ (TEK) and ‘indigenous knowledge’ (IK) are sometimes used interchangeably. He suggests that IK should be used more broadly as the local knowledge held by indigenous peoples, or local knowledge unique to a given culture or society. TEK commences with the study of species identifications and classification (ethnobiology), and proceeds to peoples’ conception of ecological processes and their relationships with the environment (human ecology). Thus, implicit in TEK is a constituent of local ‘knowledge’ of species and ecosystems, a component of ‘practice’ in the way people do actions related to forestry, agriculture, hunting, fishing and other livelihood activities. There is also a component of ‘belief’ in the perception of communities of their role within ecosystems and how they interact with nature. This analysis brings us to the definition of TEK by Berkes (1999b):

“Traditional ecological knowledge is a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, evolving by adaptive processes5 and handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings (including humans) with one another and with their environment”.

Other terms also have come into currency. The re-emerging field of ethnoecology offers a promising way to document and analyse human-environment interactions. These aspects include natural resource conservation and sustainable development, the relationship between local knowledge and biodiversity, the role of the commons in development, and the importance of diversity and equity in environmental management (Nazarea, 1999).

Ethnoecology is the comparative study of human perception, categorisation, use, management, and application of the visible and invisible world in which they live.  The term is roughly synonymous with ethnobiology, although some would restrict this term to the “living” world, making it a subset of ethnoecology that deals with plants and animals. Others prefer to use ethnobiology as the more general term, leaving ethnoecology as the study of how humans perceive ecosystems and landscapes. These differences are semantic and reflect variations in the different use of ecology and biology in Latin vs Germanic languages. Herein, both terms are used interchangeably and in the broadest sense. Subcategories of ethnoecology/ ethnobiology are common and mirror the fragmented subdisciplines of western science (ethnobotany, ethnozoology, ethnoentomology, ethnopedology, ethnoastronomy, etc.) more than they do the holistic cosmovisions of other traditions (Posey, 2000, pers. comm.)6.

The term “folkbiology” refers to people's everyday understanding of the biological world--how they perceive, categorize, and reason about living kinds. The study of folkbiology not only sheds light on human nature, it may ultimately help us make the transition to a global economy without irreparably damaging the environment or destroying local cultures (Medin and Atran, 1999).

None of these, however, specifically pertain to the management practices and associated knowledge on indigenous forest management. It will, therefore, now be appropriate to examine the emergence and cognitive foundations of the term ethnoforestry. The term ‘ethnoforestry’ was coined for the first time in 1996 to specifically refer to the ‘traditional ecological knowledge on forests’ with inclusive and comprehensive connotations including ‘local knowledge on forests,’ ‘traditional ecological knowledge on forests’, traditional forest-related knowledge and ‘indigenous knowledge on forests’. Ethnoforestry has been defined as (Pandey, 1996):

“Ethnoforestry is the study of continued practice of creation, conservation, management and use of forest resources, through customary ways, by local communities”.

This definition was, indeed, the result of the growing body of literature within TEK that specifically examined the indigenous knowledge on forest management holistically, and not the study of the local use of plants alone.

Ethnoforestry, thus, has to be understood in the wider context of traditional ecological knowledge. It takes stocks of the philosophy of sustainability implicit in indigenous knowledge systems. Emergence of the discipline has empirically indicated that context-specific knowledge of forestry can be integrated into the formal science of forestry to effectively address the problems of forest depletion and to address current threats to the livelihoods of local communities (IK&DM, 1999). In the early phases of development the discipline has maintained that it also concerns with sharing and applying indigenous knowledge on forest management in order to gain recognition for that knowledge, to help secure the livelihoods of indigenous peoples, and to achieve sustainable forest management.

Ethnoforestry is contrasted from participatory forestry or joint forest Management7 or co-management that may be the management of forests and plantations by Village Committees constituted under enabling legal resolutions by the Governments. It is possible, however, that these approaches may use ethnoforestry practices to enhance the efficiency and success of these programmes.

There are some definitions that equate indigenous knowledge and community forestry. Wiersum (1997) maintains: “indigenous or community forest management may be defined as the process of making and effectuating decisions about the use and conservation of forest resources within a local territory, with the organization of these activities being based on social interactions and the shared norms and interests of the people living within this territory”.

Attempts to categorise indigenous knowledge on forests have been numerous. Olofson (1983) describes indigenous forest management in insular South-east Asia under the categories of sacred groves, enriched fallows, forest groves composed of domesticated tree species, and home gardens. These are referred as alternative forest-like structures. Pandey (1996) categorised ethnoforestry into protection ethnoforestry, plantation (regeneration) ethnoforestry, production ethnoforestry and ethnoagroforestry. Within these categories are included several sub categories that are similar to those suggested by others. Wiersum (1997) identified three major categories of forest management practices, e.g. controlled utilization of forest products, protection and maintenance of forest stands, and purposeful regeneration. (see table 4.2) The practices in the first category are related to social and biological factors both, and activities of the last two categories are biologically oriented. These principles were used to evolve a classification model of various evolutionary phases in forest management gradient that represents a continuum of forest-people interactions that “illustrates how the various manifestations of indigenous forest management may be arranged along a nature - culture continuum”.

Table 4.3: Examples of different types of indigenous forest management

Source: Modified after Wiersum (1997)

    Main types                                 Examples

Some Benchmarks: TEK, ethnoforestry and related disciplines

It would be worthwhile to present a brief review of the development in the discipline related to ethnoforestry by listing the events in chronological order. It will provide initiatives by academia, international bodies, civil society organisations and the indigenous people themselves8.

1563: Though without using the term ethnobotany, Gareia da Orta published his `Os cologuis' giving an account of the indigenous medicinal plants of India.

1895: William Harshberger used the term ‘Ethanobotany’ to denote the uses of plants by aboriginals and indigenous people.

1897: Dietrich Brandis, the first Inspector General of forest in India in his book Forestry in India: Origins and Early Development records Indigenous Indian forestry and describes sacred groves, game preserves and closures in Rajputana (now Rajasthan); and Kans (woodlands/sacred groves) of Mysore districts. There is a surprising paucity of literature on indigenous forest management after Brandis in India.

1962: R.E. Schultes defined the role of ethnobotanist in search of new medicinal plants. He elaborated the subject and enlarged its scope to related fields.

1963: A publication of fundamental importance appeared in Vanyajati (11th volume) Dr S.K. Jain gives his observations on ethnobotany of the tribes of Madhya Pradesh. The works of R.E. Schultes, Ammal and S.K. Jain are of vital importance for they not only gave direction and widened the scope of the subject; they also played a catalytic role in starting several ethnobotanical studies. Discussion on the indigenous ‘management’ of resources, however, remained wanting, except studies on sacred groves by Madhav Gadgil and V.D. Vartak during the decade of 70s.

1972: UNESCO’s Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage popularly known as World Heritage Convention adopted. It offers to protect the cultural landscapes and recognizes the value of the cultures, traditions and beliefs of indigenous communities.

1980: The All India Co-ordinated Research Project on Ethnobiology started. Several leading institutions in India played a key role in the project. These include Botanical Survey of India, National Botanical Research Institute, Regional Research Laboratories, Forest Research Institute and several Universities in India and abroad. No explicit reference, however, is seen on indigenous forest management systems.

1982: Society of Ethnobotanists established in India under the Chairmanship of Dr. S.K. Jain, the legendary ethnobotanist often referred as ‘Father of Indian Ethnobotany’.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 became the philosophical basis for the Working Group in Indigenous Populations created in 1982 under the structure of the UN Sub-Commission on the Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities (Purcell, 1998).

IUCN Working Group on Traditional Ecological Knowledge established. The Publications coming from the members of the WG include Johannes (1989), Williams and Baines (1993) and Berkes (1999).

1989: Publication of a journal Ethnobotany started, to disseminate original research reviews, and articles on ethnobotany of various tribes, including ethno-medicine, ethno-chemistry, ethno-pharmacology, ethno-taxonomy and ethnopharmacognosy.

1992: The Rio Summit results in international instruments such as Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) providing the space for recognition of indigenous knowledge. Agenda 21 and Rio Declaration on Environment Development become instrumental to promote the cause of indigenous knowledge. Article 8(j) of CBD explicitly refers to indigenous knowledge, innovations and practices (see chapter 1 for details) 9. India become signatory to CBD on June 5, 1992.

Arising out of Rio Summit the Non-legally binding Authoritative Statement of Principles for a Global Consensus on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests (the Forest Principles) establish the importance of indigenous knowledge.

The Kari-Oca Declaration and The Indigenous People’s Earth Charter presented at Rio Summit.

1993: Indigenous People under the banner of various Civil Society Organisations bring forth the Mataatua Declaration on Intellectual, Cultural and Scientific Rights of Indigenous People’s.

1994: The Santa Cruz Declaration on Intellectual Property Rights and Biodiversity.

1995: Institute of Ethnobiology established in India.

Intergovernmental Panel on Forests (IPF) established to promote the implementation of Forest Principles and created further space for Indigenous Knowledge.

1996: The term ‘ethnoforestry’ coined. Material defining the scope, classification and other aspects of ethnoforestry appeared (Pandey, 1996). 5th International Congress on Ethnobiology held in Nairobi, 2-6 September 1996. It has the theme ‘Ethnobiology and conservation of cultural and Biological Diversity’.

IUCN’s World Conservation Congress adapts resolutions regarding indigenous peoples and their knowledge.

Meeting of Indigenous and Other Forest Dependent People on the Management, Conservation and Sustainable Development of All Types of Forests attracts 100 indigenous groups and organisations. Leticia Declaration put forth.

1997: XI World Forestry Congress, Turkey accords acceptance to the term  ‘ethnoforestry’ and a paper titled ‘Ethnoforestry by Indigenous People’ examined the subject (Pandey, 1997).

A Seminar on Local Knowledge of Forests and Forest Uses among Tribal Communities in India was organized in New Delhi by the Chair of Forest Policy and Forest Economics, ETH, Zurich, GTZ and Max Mueller Bhavan, New Delhi (Seeland and Schmithusen, 1997). It was an excellent attempt to examine the cognitive aspects of indigenous knowledge on forests. 

Intergovernmental Forum on Forests (IFF) created to take forward the work being done by IPF.

Convention on Combating Desertification (CCD) Committee on Science and Technology suggests that the traditional knowledge should also be examined within the ambit of intellectual property rights.

1998: World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) initiated within the scope of Article 8 (j) of CBD.

1999: Government of India Task-Force on Sustainable Forest Management led by the chief-architect of Bhopal-India Process, Dr. Ram Prasad, deigns the C&I for SFM that include the incorporation of indigenous knowledge in management as one the indicators to assess the sustainability of forests in India.

International Network on Ethnoforestry established. INEF is an assembly of foresters, scientists, international agencies and NGOs working to document and disseminate indigenous knowledge on forest management and to promote the application of ethnoforestry. INEF’s work concerns cultures and indigenous peoples across the globe, and, to integrate the context-specific indigenous knowledge of forestry with formal science of forestry (IK&DM, 1999).

IFF includes the programme elements for proposed actions on traditional forest-related knowledge. IFF proposes the implementation of measures for recognition, respect, protection and maintenance of traditional forest-related knowledge as well as promotion of equitable sharing of benefits arising out of the use of indigenous knowledge on forests.

2000: IUFRO establishes a new research group (RG  6.19.00 Ethnoforestry). Main purposes of this research group (and working groups operating under the RG) are:

1. Research related to advancement of the principle of Equity of Knowledge between indigenous communities and formal forestry scientists across the globe.
2. Study of indigenous knowledge on forest management, including indigenous technologies, indigenous strategies, indigenous institutions.
3. Retrieval, transmission, integration and field application of ethnoforestry

2001: International Conference on Indigenous Indic Traditions in Forestry examines and explores, inter alia, ways to integrate the indigenous knowledge and Indic traditions to enhance the cause of sustainability of forests.

This, in brief, was the political-social-historical context in which a systematic attempt was made to respect, recognise and utilize the indigenous knowledge for the cause of sustainability in general and ethnoforestry for SFM in particular.

Sustainability and Multiple Stocks of Knowledge

The importance of indigenous knowledge for sustainability of natural resources has received attention since the middle part of 20th century (See, for example, Conklin, 1957; Haudricourt, 1962; Clarke, 1975; Ellen, 1978; Richards, 1979; Hower, 1980; Brokensha et al., 1980; Chambers, 1983). As Purcell (1998) opines, “the critique of the hegemonic colonial past implied in the systematic usage of local knowledge in development did not arise in vacuum. It occurred in the context of a history that took several turns during the 1960s and 1970s, all toward the destination of a form of anthropology more respectful of the culture and the history of the people studied”.  Interest in the indigenous knowledge in the contemporary society is reflected in the literature from within India and elsewhere. The decade of the 1990s saw indigenous knowledge as a fascinating field for research, and a wealth of information now exists on the topic. There are several comprehensive works that demonstrate how indigenous knowledge can contribute to sustainable development and sustainable natural resource management (Shengji, 1991; Inglis, 1993; Davis and Ebbe, 1993; Mathias, 1994; Quiroz, 1996; Langendijk, 1996; Pandey, 1996&1998; Grenier, 1998; Berkes, 1999; see also table 4.2).

Any research on indigenous knowledge, therefore, must focus on people’s assertions and aspirations for national development. Regulatory forest management strategies do not correspond any longer to the political reality. Social and political processes at the level of communities reflecting different interests in forests require more attention in policy analysis. National regulation can only be successful if they are meaningful to and accepted by indigenous people. At the global level, forests have become part of worldwide concern and subject to political efforts in order to develop a more consistent cooperation on their management. Policy research has to address such evolutions and their possible impact at the national and local level (Gadgil and Guha, 1995; Prasad and Bhatnagar, 1995; Pandey, 1996; Schmithusen, 1997, Seeland, 1997).

Gadgil and Guha (1995) suggest the decisive argument in favour of the application of indigenous wisdom for sustainability:

‘The practical knowledge and wisdom of India's ecosystem people must therefore once again come to assume an important role in enhancing the services being provided by natural systems, a role that is today being completely denied. We are, however, by no means proposing that modern science and technology should therefore withdraw. Folk knowledge is particularly relevant for processes that are evident to the eye and that take place on time scales of less than a few years. Enhancing ecosystem services beyond traditional levels must therefore depend on wise use of newer understanding and technologies. Indeed, in coming decades the startling new capabilities of moving genetic material at will from one organism into another are bound to revolutionize the whole process of biological production for human use. It would be folly not to take full advantage of such developments.’

Table 4.2: Landmark studies on indigenous knowledge on natural resource management

  Issues explored Reference

Transmission of indigenous knowledge Ruddle and Chesterfield (1977)

Application of indigenous knowledge for development Brokensha et al. (1980)

Systems of traditional resource management Klee (1980)

Fisheries and marine resource in Oceania, Asia and Pacific Johannes (1981, 1989); Ruddle and Johannes (1989); Freeman et al. (1991)

Traditional conservation Moruata et al. (1982); McNeely and Pilt (1985)

Traditional coastal resource management systems Lasserre and Ruddle (1983)

Traditional knowledge of renewable resource management in Northern regions Freeman and Carbyn (1988)

Ethnoforestry/Indigenous management of forests (see also table 4.3) Posey (1985); Posey and Balee (1989); Seeland (1997); Seeland and Schmithusen (1998): Balee (1989); Pandey (1996 and 1998); Wiersum (1997); Brodt (1998); Lawrence (2000)

Ethnoforestry bibliography; Bibliography on Private Tree Management Mathias-Mundy et al. (1992); Pandey and Kumar (2000)

Indigenous knowledge on dryland ecosystem Niamir (1990)

Indigenous knowledge systems Warren et al. (1993); Inglis (1993); Berkes (1999); Guchteneire et al. (1999)

Ethnoecology; folk-biology Nazarea (1999); Medin and Atran, (1999)

In consonance with global initiatives, the Indian Institute of Forest Management (IIFM) evolved the Criteria & Indicators under the well-known “Bhopal-India Process” in 1999. The Bhopal-India Process not only evolved the C&I it also ‘provided a platform for sensitising foresters, scientists, NGOs and other stakeholders about the need for evolving C&I for SFM in India’ (Prasad et al., 2000). The Bhopal India Process resulted in formulation of 8 national level  criteria and 51 related indicators for SFM in India (IIFM, 1999). The Government of India gave further momentum to the evolution of the C&I by appointing a National Task Force on SFM under the leadership of Dr. Ram Prasad, the chief architect of Bhopal-India Process. The Task Force provided 8 Criteria and 43 Indicators for the national level assessment of sustainable forest management (Prasad, 1999b, Prasad et al., 1999&2000; IIFM, 1999, 2000a&b). The evolved set of C&I has specific mention to the indigenous knowledge on forests as one of the indicators of SFM. This makes it obligatory to pursue the study of ethnoforestry in India.

The importance of ethnoforestry and its potential role for sustainable forest management as described above was one of the factors to decide one of the objectives of this research to document the practices in Mewar region of Rajasthan.

Methodological Inquiry on Indigenous Knowledge

Practices are the manifestation of the application of knowledge by the communities.  The obvious part of ‘local knowledge’, which is most easily appreciated by external observers, is the one that directly materialises into observable activities such as utilisation, regeneration and management techniques. In addition to technical knowledge other aspects include environmental knowledge relating to the ecological constraints and explanations that support observed techniques (Michon, 2000). Although not directly observable, this can be accessed through more or less direct questions, asking people what they ‘know’ as opposed to just observing what they ‘do’ (Martin, 1995; Sinclair and Walker, 1998; Walker and Sinclair, 1998; Michon, 2000). 

There is yet another aspect of local knowledge, relating to the institutional, socio-political, economic and religious dimensions. Apart from the technical knowledge on biodiversity conservation, communities also have a variety of institutional mechanisms to manage the landscape (Fisher, 1989; Poffenberger and McGean, 1996; Arnold, 1999; Berkes, 1999). This knowledge is expressed variously in social institutions and religious rituals, through beliefs and symbols and through codified norms, values and ethics that govern the conduct of a community and its relationship with nature.

Specific methods for investigating these aspects of knowledge have been developed in various disciplines such as anthropology, political ecology, social ecology that have a role to play in research connected with ethnoforestry (See, for example, Steward, 1955; Vayda, 1969 and 1983; Descola, 1986; Escobar and Hvalkof, 1998; Michon, 2000).

These aspects of knowledge can also be revealed to the researchers when obvious differences exist between practices (what people do) and knowledge (what people know). Often research on indigenous forestry concentrate on describing practices and explaining the technical or sometimes the economic rationale behind these reported practices (Michon, 2000); or it enters into the domain of ethnobotany by describing the folk use of native vegetation (See, for example, Jain, 1981, 1987 and 1989). 

This utilitarian approach to knowledge is useful as repository of local knowledge, but it is not sufficient because the approach does not pay enough attention to the cognition of these practices in the overall dynamics of the community. It avoids any reference to the social logic and ethics that guide these practices, and ‘ends in producing catalogues describing highly localised practices or very focused technical or ecological knowledge’. In doing so, institutions fail to pay attention to the inherent logic of knowledge, to the perception of ‘usefulness’ in the community compared with that of the external observer, or the social, economic or political factors influencing plant use. “Such catalogues tend to be used in highly simplified ways in development projects” (Michon, 2000).

Research on indigenous knowledge in forest management sometimes tries to elucidate the property regimes or social strategies associated with the use of resources, but it hardly addresses the social, political or religious logic and ethics that underlies indigenous cognition and interpretation of nature and culture (Barrau, 1970; Godelier, 1984; Descola, 1986 and 1994; Seeland, 1997; Michon, 2000). This is due to the fact that scientific ‘approach to knowledge is by its nature and through our culture segregated into well defined, very autonomous and sometimes even unrelated fields’ (Michon, 2000).

Knowledge underlying local practices on natural resource management do not conform to compartmentalised, specialised and fragmented approach.  Instead, they operate and interact in an intricate, holistic way, reflecting a world where various species of plants and animals, and people live in a complex interdependence (Descola, 1986; Friedberg, 1996; Gille-Escuret, 1998; Michon, 2000). This interdependence, sometimes also referred as symbiotic relationship, is expressed in utilisation, religious, social and institutional aspects.  Cognition of this aspect of relationship is extremely crucial to the development discourse that attempts to access, transmit and apply the ethnoforestry. This explains the selection of one of the objectives of this research to examine the indigenous environmental ethics in the study area.

To understand the ecological, economic and social dimensions of indigenous knowledge on forest management in its diverse forms and in order to ‘avoid standardisation and reductionist views’ of indigenous forest management systems, there is a need to relate similar, as well as different cases, to each other through comparisons or contrasts. This is required to develop the understanding of patterns, tendencies, consistencies and inconsistencies as well as critical factors and dynamics of the relations between people and forests (Michon, 2000).

A close scrutiny of local ecological knowledge and indigenous technical knowledge (IDS, 1979) suggests that often what has been written about technical knowledge refers to practice rather than knowledge.  What people do and what they know are different (Sinclair and Walker, 1999, Sinclair and Joshi, 2000).  Application of knowledge is done to make a variety of decisions that are required to be taken during the replication of practice as well as innovation, experimentation or management and upkeep of a system related to the practice. Knowledge may be used in making a series of decisions, but the resulting indigenous practice, such as a complex of tanks and trees, is the result of an interaction between the knowledge held by individuals or community and application of this knowledge. Implication of this is that all parts of knowledge cannot, therefore, be directly inferred only from observation of practice.

The ‘best practices’ that are being documented (See, for example, Guchteneire et al., 1999) are adding more diversity than any trend or consolidated scenario of the indigenous knowledge.  Such publications have value but are not sufficient to provide the direction for application of knowledge beyond its context.  In order to address this situation, Michon (2000) suggests these broad categories of themes and methods.

  1. Comparison of case studies, aimed at identifying similarities and contrasts, in order to define the significance or determining factors in these similarities/contrasts.
  2. Systematic examination of contrasting factors in order to frame the understanding of relationships between local knowledge and resultant practices and biodiversity conservation including ecological constraints and regulation of access to resources.
  3. A precise definition of the terms of the most appropriate systems approach for research object, just as that happened for the farming system approach and the related theory that constituted its fundaments.
  4. Drawing tendencies and consistencies in the profusion of diverse examples and ‘best practices’.

These are the issues, indeed, that have bearing on the selection of the methodology for conducting this research as described in chapter 2 as well as in subsequent chapters on results and findings.

Analysis of Dichotomy in Knowledge Systems

In a comprehensive literature review, Agrawal (1995a&b) distilled three major themes used to separate indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge. These comprise substantive issues (differences in subject matter), methodological issues (differences in methods of investigation and worldviews), and contextual issues (differences in the degree of incorporation of contextual elements such as culture in the knowledge systems). Arguing for “dismantling the divide between indigenous and scientific knowledge” Agrawal (1995a&b) interrogated the concept of indigenous knowledge and the strategies its advocates present to promote development, and suggested that the concept of indigenous knowledge and its role in development are problematic issues. To productively engage indigenous knowledge in development, it is suggested to go beyond the dichotomy of indigenous vs. scientific, and work towards greater autonomy for indigenous peoples. It is argued that differentiation between indigenous and Western/scientific knowledge can present problems for those who believe in the significance of indigenous knowledge for development. He examines some of the contradictions and ironies involved in accenting the importance of indigenous knowledge, with a view to eliciting a dialogue on the subject.

It has been opined by some that indigenous knowledge and “western agricultural science are both general and specific, theoretical and practical”, and that both “are context-specific, value-laden, and influenced by social relations of power” (Scoones and Thompson, 1994). Kloppenburg (1991), considers “local knowledge” as having “derived from the direct experience of a labour process which is itself shaped and delimited by the distinctive characteristics of a particular place with a unique social and physical environment”.  Many other scholars also describe indigenous knowledge as being closely connected to particular ecological systems and sites (IDS Workshop 1989; Clarks 1994; Sikana 1994).

Browder (1995) maintains that because indigenous knowledge systems are “spatially and culturally pluralistic, polymorphic, and polychronous” while scientific knowledge “seeks convergence, progression, homogeneity, and universality”. “Indigenous knowledge obviates subject/object dichotomies that permeate western scientific rationalism” by reflecting “a cosmology in which the human self is embedded in community and nature”.

Browder (1995) writes on the finiteness of knowledge for some indigenous societies, in which knowledge has a divine origin, while modern science seems infinite, each particular piece of knowledge “born to be short-lived, awaiting to be disproved and replaced” by continuously expanding new knowledge. Howes and Chambers (1980) similarly consider the practitioners of academic science to be more open to “revolutionary change”, or the possibility of alternative paradigms, whereas indigenous knowledge is a closed system characterised by a lack of awareness that there may be alternative worldviews. They also consider indigenous knowledge to be more exclusively reliant on “intuition” and evidence directly available to the senses, whereas “the scientific mode of thought is characterised by a greater ability to break down data presented to the senses and to reassemble it in different ways”.

These views are not necessarily always accepted and the contrary has been argued (See, for example, Brokensha, 1996; Haverkort, 1996; Kohler-Follefson, 1996). Main ground for this is the issue that development professionals and scientists working locally in reality ignore indigenous knowledge in favour of formal scientific knowledge. The only way to deal with the biases of these people, say these writers, is to work explicitly with such dichotomous thinking.

Integration of Indigenous Knowledge with formal Science

A comprehensive study by Leeuwen (1998)10 was another benchmark in ethnoforestry. Recognising the dichotomy, this study reaffirms that indigenous knowledge on forest management, and its integration with formal science for field application will alone lead to equity of knowledge between local communities and formal forestry scholars. This will ultimately decide the success or failure of sustainable forest management.

Leeuwen used both literature surveys and interviews with resource persons who had personal field-experiences. Particularly stimulating are the illustrative cases drawn from several developing countries including Nepal, Kenya, Bolivia, Laos, Colombia, Mali, Madagascar, Ecuador, Ethiopia and Solomon Islands. Nine concise chapters examine concepts and analytical framework, indigenous forest-related knowledge, value of and threats to indigenous forest-related knowledge, aspects requiring special attention during project identification, aspects for attention during project formulation and implementation, the role and position of extension and training, dealing with local authorities, and tools to preserve and enhance indigenous knowledge.

The dominant conclusion states that although the value and potential of indigenous forest-related knowledge is generally acknowledged and its existence in communities recognised, only a few cases could be found where interventions were actually based on incorporation and development of this knowledge to its full potential.

New approaches suggested for merging and applications are participatory process approach, continuous rural appraisal, participatory technology development, strategy of minimum intervention, and learning by doing. These approaches substantiate other pioneering studies on the subject. Although study sufficiently takes stock of published literature, inclusion and review of the pioneering works would have significantly enhanced its utility.

Though not explicitly stated, the study does point out that similar stocktaking studies are required, and shall be initiated for every country rich in local knowledge.

Suggesting a model for the integration of scientific and indigenous knowledge in agricultural research and development methodologies Den Biggelaar (1991) suggests that indigenous processes of acquiring and absorbing technical knowledge can enter into a comprehensive dialogue with exogenous scientific processes. Although it is still based on an idea of initial separation of indigenous and scientific knowledge systems, the implication of this theoretical model is that any differences between the two can be overcome in combining them in a joint development effort (Brodt, 1998).

Contemporary discussion on indigenous knowledge endeavours to emphasise it is fluid, dynamic and constantly evolving, culture and context-specific, socially and ecologically dependent. It has also been emphasised that two systems can only be compared and contrasted if they are indeed perceived of as distinct from one another, demarcated by clear boundaries.  But whereas the social contexts and methodologies for generating knowledge may be distinct, particular elements, such as “facts” or information pieces, may float indistinctly between two systems upon contact with each other, thus blurring any pre-determined boundaries (Brodt, 1998).

Text and Context: Ancient Indic Treatises as Chronicles of Indigenous Knowledge

A debate on dichotomy of ‘indigenous’ and ‘formal’ must also consider the position of Indic Sciences. The position of such ancient Indian works as Arthasastra, Ayurveda, Vrikshayurveda in Brahatsamhita etc. that have ingredients of both physical as well as social sciences is interesting. To some (See, for example, Brodt, 1998) this knowledge system is both ‘indigenous’ and ‘scientific’, because, as she suggest, they are non-Western and are product of the work of expert professionals. This issue has seldom been a subject of serious scrutiny within the scope of indigenous knowledge. Relevant portions of Indic Texts, therefore, need to be explored in line with the description of the contemporary ethnoforestry practices. It turn out that these ancient treatises contain the indigenous knowledge documentation by ancient Indic experts. Study of these texts shall be useful to throw some light on the development of indigenous environmental ethics intended to be examined in detail in this discussion.

Interaction between the indigenous knowledge systems and ‘great traditions’ of Indian civilization, indeed, has been a reality. One can draw on the sociology and social anthropology to elucidate the issue. This can be explained with the help of what Redfield (1956) called the Great and Little Traditions. But before that, a note will not be out of place as to why knowledge systems of contemporary India can not be understood by taking the isolate example of a village or a community, because, “it is not such an isolate”, as Madan (1995) suggests:

“[Village Community] is representative of Indian civilization and microcosm of it. Moreover, the village community is not passive carrier of some things handed down to it from above, but in fact actively contribute over time to the making and enriching of the great tradition itself.”

Madan’s emphasis draws further on Singer (1972) to argue that a valid view of cultural and social reality of India can only be comprehended when “text” and “context” are combined.  Singer writes:

“In this kind of inquiry, the cleavage between the contextual and textual approaches will be progressively closed as the texts of different kind-written, seen and heard – come to be regarded as the medium of cultural transmission cultivated by intellectual modern as well as traditional, to link different groups of people into a single and differentiated network of communication.”

This indeed is the beauty of “that abstract reality called Indian Civilization.” (Madan, 1995). Innovations have always been part of the life of the people of India. “The indigenous traditions and practices show how the indigenous people of India responded to the threats to their ecosystem in a contextual rather than textual way” (Prasad, 2001, pers. comm.).11

Thus, great tradition and little tradition indeed benefit from exchanges, and several relevant portions of ancient Indic texts can be interpreted as the archives of indigenous natural resource management systems that existed during the time of composition. Having suggested this, it is necessary to note the methodologies available to such chroniclers.

The practices existing in ancient India (and still continue to be practiced in some details) were observed by ancient scientists such as Charaka (80-180 AD?), Su[ruta (350 AD), Varahamihira (505-587 AD), Kautilya (328 BC) who were not only keen observers but also travelled a great deal. The basic methodology applied was review of literature, observations (systematic and informal), and in several cases experimentation and validation. Another collateral method very popular among the early authors was ‘envisioning’ used in combination with other methods to strengthen the argument and present a succinct description of practices prevailing during their times. Based on this methodology, a general concept was presented on the tendencies, consistencies and contrasts.  This approach is evident in several texts. To take an example, Varahamihira in his magnum opus the Brahatsamhita himself reviewed vast literature available to him from his earlier researchers and authors such as Garga, Kapila, Kashyapa, Charaka, and Susruta to examine his arguments. It is possible to find notes on methods used. For example, in the introductory chapter, Varahamihira (Brahatsamhita, 1.11) writes (emphasis added):

“Queries and answers, narrative stories, and origin of planets…leaving such trivial matters of little use, I shall elucidate the genuine facts with essential features along with all their benefits”.

Vannucci (1994) points out her study of the ecological readings in the Vedas that the ancient seers put to good use the knowledge of nature gained through empiricism and experimentation as well as that borrowed from other cultures.

The case in point does not essentially mean that the argument holds good for the texts of any specific country or religion alone. It applies to all such ancient texts, which contain descriptions, even if as passing references, of practices similar to what is now referred as indigenous knowledge.  Thus, for example, Koran provides interesting description of Garden of Eden (see, for example, an excellent translation of Koran by Dawood, 1990).  The garden is envisioned as a cool shady place with lofty trees watered by running stream. This description is a common occurrence throughout this finest work of classical Arabic pros. The geographical location of this work being the ancient Arab, it is only logical that the author, while describing a spatial setting that common man can understand, would draw from the contemporary landscape.  It is a well-known fact that ancient Arabs were the finest creators of gardens in the world. There are several other texts where such descriptions and their relationship with the cultural landscape can be established (Hasan, 2001, pers. comm.)

Thus, all ‘Western’ knowledge is not necessarily ‘scientific’, and professionals of West, or adhering to Western cultures do not necessarily produce all ‘scientific’ knowledge. Finally, scholars have often noted that rural people engaged in experimentation and innovation, and thus practice ‘science’ in their own right (Chambers, 1983; Richards, 1985; Box, 1989; Thrupp, 1989; Fujisaka, 1992; Rhoades and Bebbington, 1995; Brodt, 1998).

As an alternative, Brodt (1998) suggests that it may be more fruitful to view knowledge from a systems perspective by analysing the different elements and the interactions between elements that make up knowledge systems in general, and then to compare these separate elements across specific knowledge systems.

Traditions, Water and Trees

It is not a common practice to examine tank vegetation in a discussion either on community forestry or in the traditional water management. This aspect has remained unexplored in both these dominant streams of debate. Recently, however, a comprehensive study on this aspect found this aspect to be crucial significance (Pandey, 2000). The only other references where a mention has been made are Brandis (1897), Mishra (1993) and Mosse (1997, 1998). Some of the tanks, in fact, have been named or have come to be known by the type of trees associated. Thus, the tank predominantly surrounded by Aam (Mangifera indica) is called amaha or amraah. Similarly, a tank with Pipal (Ficus religiosa) is locally known as pipraah or pipraha., and a tank with neem trees on its embankment is referred as nimaha. Some studies from south Asia and elsewhere, however, have studied the water management in agroforestry systems.12 But these studies have concentrated on the private forest gardens on farm (Wagachchi and Wiersum, 1997, in Sri Lanka), fishponds and home gardens (Soemarwoto and Soemarwoto, 1984, in West Java), Chagga gardens (Allan, 1965, in Tanzania) and silvo-fishery systems (D'Silva and Maughan, 1994).

The earliest scholar to have commented on the relationship of tanks and trees is Varahamihira who described the detailed technical instructions for the tank constructions in his famous work Brahatsamhita (550 AD):

Without the shade of the trees on their sides, water reservoirs do not look charming; therefore, one ought to plant the gardens on the banks of the water (55.1)13

Commenting on the species to be planted on the embankments of the tank, after its construction, Varahamihira writes:

The shoreline (banks) of the tanks should be shaded (planted) with the mixed stands of Arjun (Terminalia arjuna), Vata (Ficus benghalensis), Aam (Mangifera indica), Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Nichul (Nauclea orientalis), Jambu (Syzygium cuminii), Vet (Calamus?), Neep (Mitragyna parvifolia), Kurvak (?), Tal (Borassus flabellifer), Ashok (Saraca asoka), Madhuk (Madhuca indica), and Bakul (Mimusops elengi) (54.119).

This is a very useful aspect of ethnoforestry that has bearing on the sustainability of biodiversity in the complex rural systems.

Indic Traditions, Worldviews and Ethics for Biodiversity Conservation

Religious beliefs and traditions are the products of logical internalisation of human experience and learning. Historically, several religions have explicitly or implicitly prescribed teachings related to duty of its followers towards the environment. Development of the reductionist view of nature, on which the 'Western' science is grounded, reduced the nature to a mere commodity called 'natural resource'. The technology that was developed with this approach, then, can only aim to gain domination over nature.

In an unprecedented crisis that looms large on humanity the responsibility of religious traditions can hardly be overemphasised. Tucker and Grim (1997) offer a compelling argument on the role of religion:

“For many people an environmental crisis of this complexity and scope is not only the result of certain economic, political, and social factors. It is also a moral and spiritual crisis which, in order to be addressed, will require broader philosophical and religious understandings of ourselves as creatures of nature, embedded in life cycles and dependent on ecosystems. Religions, thus, need to be reexamined in light of the current environmental crisis. This is because religions help to shape our attitudes toward nature in both conscious and unconscious ways…Religions also suggest how we should treat other humans and how we should relate to nature. These values make up the ethical orientation of a society. Religions thus generate worldviews and ethics which underlie fundamental attitudes and values of different cultures and societies”.

Ecological wisdom embedded in myths, symbols, and cosmologies of traditional societies helped them to manage resources well, through religious or ritual representation of resource management (Anderson, 1996). Studies from around the world show that indigenous communities have environmental ethics rooted in their worldviews14.

Trees have a very special role in the ethos of the people of India. Sacred trees symbolize specific arrays of human conditions, possibilities and anticipation. In India, species of trees are worshipped as manifestations of gods, as representatives of particular stars and planets, and as symbols of the natural elements-energy, water, land, air-each of which has its own independent and relational meanings. As sources of social cohesion, continuity, and control, religious trees shape human actions (Chandrakanth and Romm 1991).

Vatsyayan (1992) informs the sacredness of trees seen in every part of India. Deodara (Cedrus deodara) is considered the abode of the gods; Sal (Shorea robusta) is venerated in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. Similarly Rudraksha (Elaeocarpus sp.), Bel (Aegle marmelos), Ashok (Saraca asoka), Kadam (Anthocephalus chinensis) and Pipal (Ficus religiosa) are considered sacred in Rajasthan.

There are examples when all individuals of certain species are totally protected. For example, Bad (Ficus benghalensis), Pipal (Ficus religiousa) and Gular (Ficus glomerata) are afforded total protection in Chittaurgargh, Bhilwara, Rajsamand and Udaipur districts of southern Aravallis in Rajsthan. Ficus is now considered a keystone resource playing a significant role in the conservation of many insects, birds and mammals (Terborgh, 1986). These are an important species providing the site for beehive to honeybees in Aravallis. People in Aravallis also protect Boswellia serrata, Diospyros montana, Feronia limonia and Emblica officinalis (Pandey, 1998).

Trees of different species also have special associations with particular deities. For example in India, the Lord Vishnu is associated with the Pipal (Ficus religiosa), Bargad (Ficus bengalensis), and Gular (Ficus glomerata); the Lord Shiva with Bel (Aegle marmelos) and Maulashri (Mimusops elengi); the Lord Dattatreya with Gular (Ficus glomerata). Bel (Agele marmelos) and Rudraksha (Elaecarpus ganitrus) are associated with Lord Rudra(an incarnation of Lord Shiva). Devotees of Shiva wear the seeds of the Rudraksha as rosaries which are used in meditation. Acacia ferruginea is the most feared and respected tree because it represents the dangerous planet Saturn, and Agni, the powerful fire god. Although these species are particularly notable, many common species in India, including species currently planted in participatory forestry, production forestry and social forestry plantations have religious significance.

While there are studies on environmental ethics of traditional societies around the world a well-researched material on the attitude of the people of Mewar towards nature is still lacking. Also wanting is the exploration of reasons for the sustainability of the ethnoforestry practices. This was, then, another reason for examining the indigenous environmental ethics in the region. There is an urgent need to pool together such intellectual resources, as Callicott (1994) said, “the revival and deliberate construction of environmental ethics from the raw materials of indigenous, traditional and contemporary cognitive cultures represent an important and essential first step in the future movement of human material cultures toward a more symbiotic relationship, however incomplete and imperfect, with the natural environment.”

Forests too have a very special role in the ethos of the people of India. A very long history of indigenous forestry in India has contributed to the development of traditions of ethnoforestry. The early foundations of forestry in India date back to at least 1500 BC available in ancient texts that pronounced the principles of protection and regeneration of forests. Kautilya, an ancient Indian political-economist, for the first time, proposed a structure of the Forest Department, assigned a salary structure, classified the forests, laid down the specific principles for management in 328 BC. Varahamihira (505-587 AD) wrote the Brihatsamhita (550 AD), an encyclopaedic work dealing with, among other subjects, the study of trees. He wrote detailed description of 136 species including ecology, art of propagation, seed treatment, maintenance and pathological aspects. Several of the practices referred in these works are reflected in the contemporary indigenous forms of tree and forest management. These long traditions and indigenous ethics had and continue to have the impact and implications for conservation of biodiversity on the one hand, and on the other the economic and social well being of the people (Pandey, 1999, 2000a&b).

These ancient texts benefited from the indigenous practices, as has been argued earlier, and also had profound influence on the rulers and kings of the country. For example, a resource-impoverished area such as Rajasthan a powerful set of environmental ethics has operated and continues to operate. There are stories of “communities and disjunctions between royal past and democratic present”. A conservationist ruler, who died in 1947, completely identified himself with his forests and he would declare to his citizens, “If you cut one branch you cut my finger.” This strict enforcement of environmental policies harmonized with ancient ideals is supposed to have been derived from the king’s morality (dharma), even though his “personal responsibility was ultimately selfish—as he simultaneously sustained his own reputation and his hunting pleasure while protecting the forest and wild animals”. Nonetheless, it reminds the contemporary communities and State a “substantially shared and mutually determined destiny for nature and humankind” (Gold, 1997)15.

Indian societies at all stages of socioeconomic and cultural evolution exhibited practices of restrained resources use that may have the consequence of prudent use of natural resources (Gadgil and Guha 1992). This is not to say that all prescientific societies lived in a state of ecological balance. Many pleistocene huntergatherer communities are believed to have caused the local extinction of a number of large mammals through overexploitation (Joshi and Gadgil 1991).

There are numerous other studies to show that nonnomadic communities depending on sedentary fishing, horticulture or subsistence agriculture have evolved and accumulated, through trial and error, several historical observations of relevance to sustainability of natural resources (Clad, 1982; Gadgil and Berkes, 1991; Bagla, 1992; Chaudhury, 1993; Gadgil et al., 1993). Traditional natural resource management practices evolved through trial and error are as diverse as cultural and ecological diversity in India (See Table 3.4).

Of the 2600 ethnic communities in India, their dependence on biomass is substantial.  On the auspices of Anthropological Survey of India Singh (1991) estimates that at least some members in 5% of the communities are still engaged in huntinggathering; 7% in fishing; 2% in trapping birds; 2% in woodwork; 7% in basket and mat weaving; 3.5% in shifting cultivation; 20% in animal husbandry; and 50% in settled agriculture. Knowledge of these communities shall, indeed, be substantial.

Godgil and Malhotra (1983) have established the ecological significance of caste in India to promote prudent resource use and sustainability. Thus, each caste, in order to sustain its community, needed to create transfer and apply a distinct set of knowledge, practices and beliefs. The same holds true for other social groups including tribals in India.

Gadgil et al., (1993) examined local biodiversity conservation and enhancement activities of indigenous people. They classified activities and practices into biodiversity enhancement, biodiversity restoration and biodiversity conservation.

In addition, there are examples where communities regulate the use of resource by restricting the access to resources, and enforcing compliance through religious belief, ritual and social convention. It is debatable whether these 'restraints’ evolved after trial and error or as systematic prescriptions. However, it is certain that these restraints definitely contributed for the cause of biodiversity conservation.

Certain vulnerable stages in the life history of animals or in the phenological cycle of a plant may be offered protection. Thus Kols refrain from eating the unripe fruits of Kainth Feronia limonia and Aonla Emblica officinalis before the month of October. This saves the species from getting locally extinct, for fruits might otherwise be consumed even before the tree has produced viable seeds (Pandey, 1998). Among the Andaman Islanders in the Indian Ocean, for example, the headman extends authority to limit the over-harvest of Dioscorea yams or the hearts of the Caryota palm (Ayensu, 1980).  Menzies (1988) cites Chinese customary law and community control of wild lands through each locality’s mountain council.  Wu (1962, cited by Bruce and Fortmann, 1989a) states that “the mountain council specified that catalpa, a valuable hardwood, could only be cut for a brief period during the autumn, and that any person violating the regulation would be ‘expelled’ …by the head of the council.” 

Individuals, families, kinship groups and communities use various mechanisms to restrict access to natural resources on which their survival depends.

The influence of land and tree tenure on tree planting and maintenance has received a great deal of attention in the literature (see, for example, Fortmann and Riddell, 1985; Francis and Bulfeta, 1987; Fortmann and Bruce, 1988).  The type of tree, its use, and the land tenure system all help determine who has what rights.  Holders of rights fall into three categories: the state, kin and non-kin groups, and individuals. The restrictive, regulatory and limited rights imposed by these holders within a land tenure system may have the effect of protecting some trees and promoting sustainable management (see, for example,  Barrow, 1988&1990).  Limited rights occur when someone retains rights to the trees after giving up the right to cultivate the land on which they stand.  Weinstock and Vergara (1987) point out that outsiders are often “blinded by western notions of jurisprudence” and that land tenure, tree ownership and user rights.

It is also evident from tree management practices based on cultural beliefs, magico-religious practices and forest or tree taboos that common property in indigenous societies was not equivalent to open access – at least not until these societies were impacted by the West.  Bromley and Cernea (1989) argue that:

“compliance, protected and reinforced by an authority system, is a necessary condition for the viability of any property regime.  …When the authority breaks down or for whatever reasons, then the management or self-management of resources use cannot be exercised any longer and, for all practical purposes, common property (res communis) degenerates into open access (res nullis).”

Trees have long been protected through religious beliefs, values and practices.  Various species of palm, for instance, are important in all the main world religions (Schultes, 1974).  The role of religious and cultural beliefs in protecting trees has been observed by Schultes (1974) and Ayensu (1980) in Amazonia, Barrow (1988) in Kenya, Guha (1985) in India, Pei (1985) in Southwest China and Maydell (1986) in Africa.  The dependence of rural people on the forest, and hence their interest in its preservation, have been institutionalised through various social and cultural mechanisms (Guha, 1985).  Despite their apparent irrationality, religious restrictions and taboos may thus be highly rational ways of conserving resources (Waiko and Jiregari, 1982).

Taboos are the unwritten and orally transmitted community rules that govern human behaviour. These community-governed controls shape social life, indirectly affect or even directly manage, many components of the local ecosystem. Such constraints, taboos may, locally, play a major role for the conservation of natural resources, species, and ecosystems (Johannes 1978, 1982, 1984a&b; Chapman, 1985&1987; Gadgil, 1987; Mathias-Mundy et al, 1992; Gadgil et al, 1993; Colding and Folke, 1999; Ramakrishnan, 1998). Posey (1987) puts it:

“Myths encode important ecological information, as well as social rules and codes of behaviour. Thus, what superficially may seem to be nonsense or superstition may be structurally codified to transmit a variety of fundamental ideas at different semantic levels”.

Posey (1983b) opines that belief systems of every culture establish a relationship between its people and the environment. Several species of trees have long been protected by the followers of all the major religions of the world (Schultes, 1974). The dependence of rural people on forests and ecosystems, hence their interest in its preservation, have been institutionalised through various social and cultural mechanisms (Guha, 1985; Pandey, 1998).

There are, however, critics, remarks Colding and Folke (1999), who consider the practice of taboos as irrational and a hindrance toward development (Edgerton, 1992), who dismiss any ecological reasons behind them (Rea, 1981), or who argue that the taboos may not be adhered to by some groups and, consequently, may be of no value in conservation (Alvard, 1993&1994). Some taboos and practices may even be harmful to the conservation (Bell, 1928; Leakey, 1977).

In contrast, Waiko and Jiregari (1982) and Berkes et al., (1995) argue that despite their apparent irrationality, religious restrictions and taboos may be highly rational ways of biodiversity conservation. Berkes et al., (1995) describe social restraints, such as taboos, that lead to indigenous biological conservation. These restraints range from providing total protection to some biological communities, habitat patches, and certain selected species, to protection of some species during critical stages of their life history.

The most comprehensive study on taboos and their role in nature conservation on global scale is by Colding and Folke (1999). This study found that ~30% of the identified taboos prohibit any use of species listed as threatened by IUCN. Of the specific-species taboos, 60% are set on reptiles and mammals. In these two classes, ~50% of the species are threatened, representing all of the threatened species in their analysis, with the exception of one bird species. Specific-species taboos have important ecological ramifications for the protection of threatened and ecologically important populations of species. Authors say that they do not suggest that specific-species taboos are placed on species because they are, or have been, endangered; instead, the research emphasized that species are avoided for a variety of other reasons. It is urgent to identify and analyse resource practices and social mechanisms of traditional societies, such as taboos, and to investigate their possible ecological significance. It may provide insights of value for conservation, not only of species, but also of ecosystem processes and functions, such information is being lost rapidly.

Taboos may have developed for several apparent reasons such as morphological characteristics of the species (Zann, 1983), or perception of toxicity (Fox, 1952; Begossi, 1992; Begossi and de Souza Braga, 1992), perceptions of evil spirits (Wood et al., 1980), clan symbols, or religious symbols (Pandey, 1998) Thus, local world view, and cosmology may explain why species are culturally avoided (Colding and Folke, 1999).

In many cases, unintentional but consequential biodiversity conservation may be the outcome of such taboos, which may also be relevant from the point of view of modern ecology. Examples of such taboos and religious restrictions include sacred groves, sacred corridors, temple forests, and sacred gardens. Sacred groves are smaller or larger forest ecosystems, set aside for religious purposes (Gadgil and Vartak, 1974)16. These habitat patches of trees abound in India, Africa, and Europe (Frazer, 1922; Gadgil and Vartak, 1974; Dorm-Adzoby et al., 1991; Wilson, 1993), Shona in Zimbambwe (Makina, 1981), Dai of Yunnan (Pei, 1985), Bontok of northern Luzon in Philippines (Prill-Brett, 1986), the Tukanos of the Brazilian-Colombian border (Chernella 1987), South America, among the Kunas of Panama (Chapin, 1991), and the Cocnucos and Yanaconas of Colombia (Redford and Maclean Stearman, 1993)17.

They may act as area of defence against the depletion of genetically adapted ethno cultivars and biodiversity in its entirety in a locality. They can serve as important source of regeneration material such as seeds and vegetative cuttings for restoration of the areas surrounding the protected patches and elsewhere. Thus, culturally defined and practiced taboos may play a vital function for biodiversity conservation.

Taboos resemble mechanisms for the protection of species and habitats in contemporary society, but they have other social rules and sanctions, rooted in the traditional belief systems. Anthropologists have revealed the complex ecological connections of taboos (Rappaport 1967&1968; Harris 1979; Balée 1985).

Taboos also act as a social device in the management of natural resources, as documented in several studies (Reichel-Dolmatoff, 1971&1976; Johannes, 1978; Kwapena, 1984; Sarkar, 1984; Chapman, 1985; Chapman, 1985; Begossi, 1992; Child and Child, 1993; Sankhala, 1993; Pandey, 1996). These practices resemble the modern or formal strategies adapted for natural resource management (see Holling 1978, Walters 1986, Pandey 1996).

Sacred trees, groves and tree worship and their protection are common elements in the literature (Dove, 1988; Randhama, 1980; Appell, 1987; Fox, 1982; Posey, 1983b and 1985; Posey et al., 1984; Riley and Brokensha, 1988; Storrs, 1982).

Numerous other tracts of wooded land in India are regarded as sacred.  These often surround graves or religious sites such as shrines and temples. In parts of India, various species of trees and shrubs are thought to represent individual stars, planets or zodiac signs.  They are planted in prescribed patterns.  Such groves have traditionally not been used for firewood or charcoal production, though this restriction is breaking down as wood becomes scarce (Chandrakanth et al., 1990). Certain trees or forest groves are regarded as habitats of ancestral or evil spirits and are therefore access is not open to all. Large areas may be protected for religious reasons.  For example, approximately one-third of the remaining primary forest in the Hanunóo area of the Philippines surveyed by Conklin (1957) was subject to religious taboos.  There are cases in India when change in religion has harm sacred areas (Hazra, pers. comm.). Conversion to Christianity among the Rungus Dusun of Sabah, Malaysia, has led to forest degradation (Appell, 1987).  Converts no longer feel a need for the protection of spirits of the natural and social world.  They can therefore cut down with impunity the groves in which spirits dwell.

In some cases religious ethics extend to the environment as a whole.  Shona ethics, for instance, discourages the wholesale destruction of trees and vegetation (Makina, 1981).  Among the Aouan of the Ivory Coast, strict rules govern the establishment of new settlements or fields in the forest, often involving offerings to the Earth Goddess and the planting of a ceremonial tree.  Cultivating steep slopes is also prohibited for them (Breemer, 1987).  Posey (1983b) observes that each culture has a belief system that establishes a relationship between humans and the environment: “Cycles of rituals and ceremonies have been shown to function as regulators of natural resources.”  Boyd (1984) argues that the concept of stewardship of the earth (the individual or group’s responsibility to manage resources) transcends religious divisions of society.  He characterises “developers” as technocentrics who have a God-given dominion over nature, while “ecocentrics” see the holism of nature which includes people as part of the greater whole.  The protection of sacred groves by indigenous societies illustrates a sense of stewardship only now being grasped at in the West.

While most taboos relating to trees seem to be religious in nature, other types also exist. Fox (1952) identifies three categories of plant taboos among the Pinatubo Negritos of the Philippines: plants with supernatural powers, dangerous plants, and medicinal plants.  Plants thought by the Pinatubo to have supernatural powers and used as charms include Cissus repens Lam. and Piper refrofractum Vahl.  Not all taboos benefit trees.  People in Bhutan, for instance, believe that anyone who plants a walnut tree will die when it bears fruit. Sikkimese have a similar superstition regarding jackfruit. If the tree seeds itself, it has no ill effects (Bell, 1928).

The review demonstrates the richness and variety of indigenous tree management.  Techniques range from sample to highly sophisticated.  Many – though not all – indigenous practices are based on through ecological knowledge, are environmentally sound, and enable societies to maintain ecological equilibrium with their environment.  Besides its potential for environmental conservation, indigenous tree management can also contribute to the preservation of genetic resources.  But indigenous management systems are not merely neutral preservers of genetic information; they may be powerful breeding methods.  Management intensity and practices differ among societies and individuals.  However, all indigenous tree management system are complex, making it difficult to change one element without adversely affecting others.

Although rising populations, land scarcity or other factors may upset the delicate equilibrium between a management system and the environment. Development efforts often add to the pressure on indigenous tree management systems. Planners have neglected the existence of local tree management and undermined it with incompatible interventions.  This neglect has often led to project failure. The number of scientists urging the use of traditional resource and tree management for development is growing steadily.  They include Posey (1982, 1983a and 1985), Kartawinata et al. (1984), Posey et al. (1984), and Raintree (1984), Brokensha (1986), Marten (1986), Colfer et al. (1988), Fujisaka (1989), Hecht (1989), Barrow (1991), to name a few.

Technical know-how is an integral part of non-Western cultures and is more influenced by magic and religion than is true for Western science. Some traditional practices are similar to those employed by Western tree growers and therefore are easily recognised by outsiders as effective. Other methods seem strange and superstitious to outsiders; they often are immediately disregarded and even ridiculed.  But we should be aware that apparently superstitious practices may fulfil a useful purpose.  The interplay of culture and biology means that recording information on indigenous knowledge requires an interdisciplinary effort. Key concerns for indigenous knowledge-based research on trees include finding out what local people know about tree farming, which trees they plant when and where, how they maintain trees, why they use certain methods and not others, and how they classify, cure and prevent tree diseases (Matias et al., 1993).

Tree-level studies are relatively common18. All the technology level research has concentrated on methods of growing and maintenance and production and harvesting.  Studies of planting and propagation are relatively rare.  A compilation by Aumeeruddy and Pinglo (1989) is an outstanding exception.  Based on their own observations and a review of the literature, these authors survey crop improvement practices, concentrating on woody plants.  They provide an overview of numerous practices, indicating whether each practice is widespread, has been tested scientifically, needs further testing, or appears interesting but lacks adequate scientific study.  A number of studies have been published at the system level.  Indeed, much of the agroforestry literature is germane to indigenous tree management because the discipline is based on traditional integrated land-use practices (Goswami, 1982; Hoskins, 1984; Maydell, 1987).  A starting point for further research should be the systematic analysis of reports on multistory systems.  At all three levels, the economics of indigenous tree management is particularly neglected.  However, further studies at all three levels of analysis are necessary to demonstrate the economic benefits and drawbacks of indigenous practices.

Economic considerations are not the only determinants of farmers’ decisions.  Also important are factors such as personal preferences, traditions and values.  But many development projects have neglected this: Mc Neely and Pitt (1985) and Cohn (1988) refer to future as the missing element in conservation and development.  Sadly, many development planners and implementers tend to view traditional cultural beliefs and values as backward superstition and obstacles to development (Lovelace, 1984).  Information on a people’s knowledge, practices and beliefs can contribute to the social and cultural soundness of development projects.

The validity of an indigenous technique is not restricted to its area of origin.  As the example of the neem tree shows (e.g., Ahmed and Grainge, 1986), local know-how can be transferred into other areas.  But as is the case with its Western counterpart, indigenous knowledge is embedded in its own socio-cultural milieu. This means that transferring particular techniques – or a whole system – to other societies should be done with extreme prudence and sensitivity.

A major obstacle in using indigenous knowledge as a basis for development is the bias of many people – scientists, administrators, extensionists and even local people themselves – against such knowledge.  Overcoming this bias will not be easy.  It will involve revising scientific training and performing more on-farm, farmer-managed testing and field experiences, modifying extension practices and retraining personnel, and compiling teaching manuals.  Some manuals drawing on both indigenous and scientific knowledge have appeared; they include Nythuis (1981), Dupriez and Leener (1983), Lumdang (1983), Josiah and Ewald (1989) and Cleveland and Soleri (1991).


Ethnoforestry practices are the product of application of knowledge by the communities. Communities acquire transmit and apply the knowledge created by them through learning by doing, farmer innovations, observations, and trial and error and a variety of other ways. Community driven ethnoforestry practices, thus, relate to the operational part of local knowledge that manifests itself through a series of decision-making processes and implementation on the ground. The practices related to ecological well-being of the ethnoforests include the vegetation manipulation practices such as practices related to sustainable harvest and utilization, regeneration, canopy manipulation, habitat protection, multiple species management, maintenance of ecosystem structure and functions, resource rotation, succession management, management of landscape patchiness, maintenance of eco-system resilience to promote renewal, watershed based management, integrated management systems such as water-trees-farming-animal husbandry systems, agroforestry practices, management of ecological processes at multiple scales, etc. These practices essentially contribute to the maintenance of ecological integrity of the community-managed ethnoforests through good practices related to regeneration, sustainable use, protection and conservation.

The practices related to economic well-being include the manifestations of application of knowledge by the communities in order to maximise the livelihood security and community well-being without harming the ecological integrity of the community managed forests. These practices include management of forests in order to maximise the yields of multiple-use quality. These also include the mechanisms to enhance the market benefits without compromising on the ecological and societal well-being.

Ethnoforestry practices related to societal well-being associate to the mechanisms innovated by the society in order to facilitate the ecological and economic well-being. The practices that manifest through a variety of participatory mechanisms, diversity of policy instruments and innovative institutional infrastructures all contribute to the sustainability of Ethnoforestry practices. These also include monitoring resource availability and change in community-managed systems, resource rotation, response to manage pulse and surprises, interpretation of signals for learning, revival of local knowledge, integration of knowledge, transmission of knowledge, roles and responsibilities of stewardship, community-driven assessments, taboos and regulations, social and religious sanctions, rituals and traditions, community networks, community leadership, mechanisms to promote participation of stakeholders, indigenous environmental ethics and worldviews, etc. Together they help in community-based monitoring, feedback, learning and adaptations in order to ensure the sustainability of ethnoforestry practices.

That this knowledge is still surviving is a proof that it can help address the threat to ecosystems and humanity in contemporary society.

References: to be compiled.


1. This is a draft chapter on literature review of the PhD thesis entitled “Ethnoforestry practices for conservation and management of biological diversity in Mewar region of Rajasthan”.

2. See, for example, Saleh (2000) for an excellent exploration of the value assessment of cultural landscape in a village in Saudi Arabia.

3. The field of ethnoscience seeks to discover internal meaning and intentions associated with particular behaviour (Purcell, 1998).

4. For an excellent review that contributes to the study of indigenous knowledge and applied anthropology, see Purcell (1998). This work provides new insights and development in the study of knowledge systems within the scope of applied anthropology.

5. In a thought provoking paper Berkes et al. (2000) suggest that traditional ecological knowledge has similarities to the adaptive management “with its emphasis on feedback learning, and its treatment of uncertainty and unpredictability intrinsic to all ecosystems”.

6. This section draws from the personal communication with the world-renowned champion of indigenous resource rights, late Professor D.A. Posey. Professor Posey took a very keen interest in the establishment of the International Network on Ethnoforestry as well as development of a course on ethnoforestry at IIFM, Bhopal, India.

7. For an appraisal of joint forest management in India and the impact of state control over non-wood forest products, see, Prasad, (1999a) and Prasad et al.(1999b).

8. This chronology does not include the early Indian literature, which is discussed in detail later in this dissertation The review is only chronological in nature and gives only brief glimpses. An exhaustive discussion is beyond the scope of this dissertation. For an excellent treatment concerning the indigenous people and their knowledge, see the websites at http://www.unesco.org, and http://www.iucn.org.

9. For latest development on CBD, CCD, Forest Principles and other related international instruments, see the official website at http://www.biodiv.org.

10. The report was reviewed by Pandey (1999) in the famous journal, Indigenous Knowledge and Development Monitor published under the editorship of Dr. Anna von Marrewijk, Netherlands. This discussion is based on that review.

11. This passage is an from an interview that Dr. Ram Prasad, Dirctor, IIFM, India gave to the correspondent of the Indian Express, Yogesh Vajpeyi (see Vajpeyi, 2001)

12. See, for example, an excellent study on water management in agroforestry systems in Sri Lanka by Wagachchi and Wiersum (1997).

13. Arrangements of the verses are based on the Bhat (1981); translation of this and all subsequent Sanskrit texts of the Brahatsamhita is by the author.

14. See, for example, abstracts available on the Religion and Ecology Conference held at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religion. The website of the Harvard University provides the most comprehensive resources on this subject at http://divweb.harvard.edu/cswr/ecology

15. For resources on religion and ecology, see, for example, paper presented at the Religion of Ecology series of conferences at Harward University. Notable studies on indigenous environmental ethics include Environmental Ethics of Gikuyu people in Kenya (Hinga, 1997); Warly people in India (Prabhu, 1997); Kelabits in South East Asia (Urud, 1997); IK of Eskimoes (Finuf-Riordan, 1997); Kazaks (Janbel, 1997); Jakaltek-Maya in South America (Montejo, 1997); and Maori Polynesians of Aotearoa, New Zealand (Henare, 1997).

16. Yogesh Vajpeyi wrote in a popular article that an inventory of sacred groves in India compiled by the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS) of Bhopal puts their number at 4,875, covering an area of 39,063 hectares. However, this doesn't include data about sacred groves in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and several north-eastern States - where they abound - and experts estimate that the number of sacred groves in India should be in the range of 1,00,000 to 1,50,000. He also quoted Dr. Ram Prasad, Director, Indian Institute of Forest Management.from an interview: “a time when the area under the government protected forests is declining, sacred vegetation continues to account for more than two per cent of forested area in India.” Director, Indian Institute of Forest Management (Vajpeyi, 2001).

17. For an outstanding bibliography containing the literature on private tree management published before 1993, see Mathias et al. (1993). For an annotated bibliography on ethnoforestry containing the published literature up to 2000, see Pandey and Kumar (2001) available at http://www.inef.org

18. This section draws mainly from the Matias et al., (1993)

Deep N. Panday
Associate Professor & Coordinator
INEF-International Network on Ethnoforestry
Indian Institute of Forest Management
Bhopal, India-462003
To contact Professor Deep N. Pandey via E-mail: dnpandey@vsnl.com