04 agosto 2015

Indigenous peoples, biodiversity and “buen vivir”

How do indigenous peoples work with governments to develop public policies that promote biodiversity as a tool for sustainable development? This question is fundamental for our reflections this week as we celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, established by the United Nations in 1994 to support indigenous peoples and their solutions to problems, and to recognize the fundamental role of indigenous peoples in determining their own futures.

With this question in mind, the IDB organized a participatory workshop as part of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples. The session was attended by a dynamic group of activists and leaders from Latin America and, perhaps not surprisingly, the discussion focused almost exclusively on the integration of biodiversity with daily life and aspects of health and well-being. You can check out their answers in this video (in Spanish):

The reason is that biodiversity is viewed by indigenous peoples as both the mechanism for measuring the health of the community as well as the source of natural materials to restore and preserve the community. As explained in this cyclical relationship, biodiversity is buen vivir (sumak kawsay) and the act of being able to live well (vivir bien) can only be realized when peoples and their communities are in harmony with nature.

You cannot have, preserve or restore a healthy community without biodiversity in balance. If you are sick you go into the forest to find a cure, if the biodiversity in your region is weak you are not healthy, and your community is not healthy.

I would argue that for many people who follow development, the concept of buen vivir may seem foreign or detached in part because it is so interrelated, interconnected and holistic. The measurements that we use to determine aspects of development may not work well with this level of complexity. Indicators, weights and measures require a prioritization of development concepts, buen vivir is not hierarchical, the cure is not more important than the intrinsic value of the resource.

However, if we explore concepts of resilience, integrated development, or even the concept of creating necessary ecosystems for development we may find that buen vivir is not so different than the broader concepts of development that we have learned about, or are more comfortable analyzing. Increasingly research shows that lack of harmony with nature has a cost that is real and increasingly possible to measure. The traditional knowledge that is embedded in the concept of buen vivir will be explored in greater detail by my colleague David Cotacachi in a following post this week.

Indigenous peoples have worked hard to help policy makers in places like Bolivia and Ecuador, incorporate buen vivir into law and policy. Now, as we move forward it is vital that we take the next step and learn to listen and understand how these important concept can improve our notion of what development might mean. The more we are able to bridge these gaps, the closer we will be to development with identity that best meets indigenous peoples needs, and that might better meet the needs of society as a whole.

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