A new Biocultural Diversity Programme

Image: Shutterstock

By |2022-06-15T05:37:33+00:00February 16th, 2021|Agroecology, Approach, Biocultural Diversity, Biodiversity, Community, Culture, Flourishing Diversity|Comments Off on A new Biocultural Diversity Programme

The Biocultural Diversity Programme (formerly the Flourishing Diversity Programme) is a new Synchronicity Earth programme that supports partners to defend indigenous and community territories; protect and revive biological and cultural diversity; and try to increase the focus on ‘diversity’ more broadly within conservation and development work and funding. Here, our Head of Biocultural Diversity, Katy Scholfield, talks about the evolution of the programme and some of the exciting partnerships within it.

Seven years ago, I visited Liberia to meet with some of our partners and see their work in action supporting communities to protect their forests from destructive developments. The stark image of vast palm oil plantations as far as the eye could see is still etched in my mind. Visiting forest communities in tiny pockets of forest surrounded by immense monocultures was an eye-opener for me. I heard from skilled community members about how their only option these days was to carry out low paid manual work on plantations, listened to stories of increased crime and violence around plantations, and saw company markers designating plans for plantations across sacred sites where communities’ ancestors were buried. This experience helped bring to life the reality of the struggles communities are facing around the world to protect their territories, illustrating first hand some of the things we’d been hearing from our partners over the years.

The promise of ‘development’ and monoculture was also a promise of loss: of ecosystem loss, of biodiversity loss, of economic loss and of loss of culture, community, identity and self-determination.

Yet, on the same trip, I was captivated by the vast variety of colourful products communities sustainably harvest from their forests and I was given hope by the unwavering commitment of these frontline communities to stopping the expansion of industrial palm oil plantations, regardless of ‘development’ promises.

I returned from Liberia feeling ever more committed to supporting partners to challenge monocultures on their lands. But alongside this, I also felt energised to do more to also support the less ‘frontline’ aspects of their work to celebrate and revive indigenous and community lifeways and cultures, to support communities to unify around their own values and goals; and to support and promote an alternative development pathway from the industrial, capitalist model of economic growth.

The seeds of Flourishing Diversity

Members of the Ashaninka delegation at the Flourishing Diversity Summit, London, 2019. © Tim Ireland

Members of the Ashaninka delegation at the Flourishing Diversity Summit, London, 2019. © Tim Ireland

Synchronicity Earth’s Biocultural Diversity Programme officially grew out of the Flourishing Diversity Series that took place in London in September 2019. The series of events brought together Indigenous Peoples from around the world to share their wisdom with diverse audiences (including university students, conservation organisations, artists, business leaders and many more) about how we can all be better ‘flourishers’ and help to protect and restore the wonderful diversity of earth’s plants, animals and cultures wherever we live in the world. In reality, however, the programme has been in the making at Synchronicity Earth for nearly a decade and is the culmination of side conversations at international conferences, calls with partners across all of our programmes, meetings in NGO (and the Synchronicity Earth) offices, seeing the environmental and social devastation of vast palm oil monoculture plantations in West Africa, discussions over coffee (and cake) in African villages, treks in the Peruvian Amazon and – slightly less exotic – scribbles in notepads on numerous train and tube journeys.

Nature, culture and language are deeply intertwined. Image: The Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty

Nature, culture and language

Biodiversity, culture and language are deeply intertwined. Throughout history, humans have interacted with nature – and as part of nature – to meet their needs, from food and medicine to spiritual connection and mental wellbeing.

Through these interactions humans have shaped landscapes and nature and their diverse cultures, worldviews, lifeways and languages have been shaped by nature, holding a wealth of information about plants, animals, ecosystems, ecological processes and the relationships and interdependencies  between them.

An understanding of and respect for these relationships and the importance of maintaining a balance within them is embedded deeply within the beliefs of most Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world and reflected in the way they interact with and as part of nature. These interdependencies translate into strong correlations between biological and cultural diversity and are often referred to as ‘biocultural diversity’. They are the reason why the science shows such a huge overlap between where the most plants and animals are found and t