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Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 10, pp 2919–2931 | Cite as

Biodiversity: negotiating the border between nature and culture

  • Sophie CaillonEmail author
  • Patrick Degeorges
Original Paper

Abstract

In a context of globalization, Article 8j. from the Convention on Biological Diversity recognizes the value of biodiversity and formalizes its mixed nature through its biological as well as cultural dimensions. This new definition raises questions more than it solves them. We demonstrate that national and international organizations, local communities, and even researchers from different disciplines (anthropology, botany or genetics) identify and evaluate biodiversity differently. The various stakeholder groups have developed an unavoidable social relation with multiple aspects of biodiversity that they relate to through their job or way of life. And therefore, they pursue various conservation purposes: the preservation of place’s memory through ancestral links, cultural diversity, phenotypic variability or evolutionary potential. Which disciplinary and ethical boundaries are these actors willing to compromise, in order to preserve biodiversity in the name of development? Which indicators should we choose to fulfil which goals? The contrasting examples of taro (a socially valued object, planted on taro pondfields inherited “from the ancestors”, linked to an important cultural diversity and to a narrow genetic-base) and coconut (a socially devalued object, cultivated in coconut plantations at the prompting of “the Whites” and genetically diverse despite few named types) demonstrate that same farmers from a village in Vanuatu (South Pacific) affirm traditional ecological knowledge though their management of taro, and still participate in a market economy by intensifying their crop of coconuts. Conservation and research programs should integrate ethical questions and political processes to reconcile systems of diversified values and representations.

Keywords

Biodiversity conservation Biological diversity Colocasia esculenta Coconut Cocos nucifera Cultural diversity Environmental ethics Melanesia Taro Vanuatu 

Abbreviations

CBD

Convention on Biological Diversity

CIRAD

Centre de coopération International en Recherche Agronomique pour le Développement

FFEM

Fond Français pour l’Environnement Mondial

IRD

Institut de Recherche pour le Développement.

IFB

Institut Français de la Biodiversité

Notes

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank all villagers from Vêtuboso––especially Chiefs Eli Field Malau and Hosea Waras––the geneticists José Quero-García for the taro, and Patricia Lebrun and Angélique Berger for the coconut, without whom this work could not have reached such an interdisciplinary width. We thank the anonymous reviewer for his/she comments on earlier draft of this paper. We are also grateful to the French Institute of Biodiversity (IFB) that allowed us to examine our ideas on biodiversity in the framework of the “Young-Researchers” competition organized in 2004. The project “conservation of coconut-taro in Vanuatu” (2001–2003) was financed by the Région Centre, CIRAD and IRD.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Département Hommes Natures SociétésMuséum National d’Histoire NaturelleParisFrance
  2. 2.Institut d’Etudes Politiques de ParisChaire du Développement Durable, PROSESParisFrance

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