Biocultural heritage landscape to be established in Eastern Himalayas

New biocultural heritage landscape will protect rich biodiversity and cultural identities of Indigenous communities.

News, 30 November 2017
Indigenous people at the Himalayan workshop

The workshop brought together Indigenous mountain people to discuss how to protect their environment and way of life

Seven Indigenous ethnic groups in the Eastern Himalayas have committed to establish a biocultural heritage landscape to protect one of the world's richest areas for wild plants, food crops and indigenous culture.

The plans were set out at a training workshop held on 13-17 November 2017 near Kalimpong, India, in the Eastern Himalayas. Around 50 participants gathered for the workshop, titled 'Methods, tools and processes for establishing biocultural heritage landscapes.' The event was organised by the Centre for Mountain Dynamics (India) and the International Network for Mountain Indigenous Peoples (INMIP), with support from Asociación ANDES (Peru) and IIED. 

As a result of the workshop, the participants committed to establish a biocultural heritage landscape to protect the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the area and its Indigenous Peoples, including the Lepcha and Limbu communities. 

As well as conserving biodiversity, biocultural heritage landscapes aim to support endogenous development – local economic growth which incorporates Indigenous land tenure systems, methods of food production, and spiritual and cultural identities. They aim to protect areas with rich biodiversity for the future, enhancing food security and securing crop diversity for climate change adaptation. 

The area selected for the biocultural heritage landscape is adjacent to a national park, and is among the richest in the world for diversity of food crops, wild plants and culture. The Kalimpong area is home to around 300 different species of orchids, and local people operate numerous gladioli and orchid nurseries. Participants decided to use the orchid as their emblematic species, under which economic development, conservation, and good governance of natural resources will be carried out.  

Workshop participants agreed to work together to develop plans for economic development, conservation and the protection of cultural and spiritual values. Their work plan will also look at developing an appropriate policy and legal framework under Indian and international law to enhance local food security and biodiversity conservation in the face of of climate change. Implementing the action plan developed will include establishing micro-enterprises, including a focus on eco-tourism.

The workshop was part of an international exchange programme to scale out biocultural heritage landscapes arranged by INMIP, Asociacion ANDES, and IIED. As part of this programme, members of the Lepcha community of the Eastern Himalayas visited Peru's Potato Park on an exchange visit hosted by Asociacion ANDES in April 2017.

The Potato Park covers a combined territory of more than 9,000 hectares in the high Andes. Six Indigenous Quechua farming communities maintain over 1,440 different cultivars of potato in the park, protecting crop diversity against future climate change. 

The Himalayan workshop was organised with support from INMIP (which is funded by the Christensen Fund, Tamalpais, New Field Foundation and UNDP), from Asociacion ANDES with funding from the Swift Foundation, and from IIED's SIFOR project (Smallholder Innovation for Resilience), which is funded by the European Union.

The SIFOR project a is five-year programme of work  that aims to strengthen biocultural innovation for food security in the face of climate change in China, India, Peru and Kenya.