Krystyna Swiderska

Principal researcher (biocultural heritage), Natural Resources

Krystyna Swiderska is an expert in traditional knowledge and biocultural heritage of indigenous peoples and local communities. She is currently leading a British Academy funded project on Indigenous Biocultural Heritage for Sustainable Development, which aims to catalyse the establishment of biocultural heritage territories and integrate indigenous wellbeing concepts into the Sustainable Development Goals.

Her interests are in supporting indigenous peoples’ struggles to secure rights to land, resources and self-determination, enhancing understanding of the linkages between culture and biodiversity, and enhancing support for in situ conservation of evolving gene banks under community stewardship.

She is working with partners and indigenous communities in Peru, Kenya, India and China to support participatory action research to establish collectively managed landscapes and indigenous enterprises in centres of origin and diversity of major food crops.

Krystyna leads IIED’s work on biocultural heritage. From 2012-17 she coordinated a five-year European Union funded project on ‘Smallholder Innovation for Resilience: strengthening innovation systems for food security in the face of climate change’ in the Potato Park Peru, Stone Village Southwest China, Mijikenda forests of coastal Kenya and Indian Himalayas. Prior to that she coordinated an IDRC-funded project on ‘Protecting community rights over traditional knowledge: Implications of customary laws and practices’ in Peru, China, Kenya, India and Panama.

Krystyna has engaged in Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) policy processes for several years, particularly on article 8(j) on traditional knowledge and access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing. She has also been active in UNFCCC and UNESCO forums to enhance recognition of the role of traditional knowledge and crops in climate adaptation; and in the CBD-UNESCO joint programme of work on linking biological and cultural diversity. She is currently working with ANDES (Peru) and University of Leeds to develop a global biocultural heritage labelling system.

In 2018, Krystyna was the lead author for a UNEP Handbook on Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in mountain, dryland and coastal ecosystems, which provides guidance for community-led EbA.

Since 2014, Krystyna has been actively supporting the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples, which seeks to revitalise biocultural heritage for climate adaptation and sustainable food systems through community to community learning exchanges. She was co-chair of the International Society for Ethnobiology’s Global Coalition for Biocultural Diversity from 2012-14.


Traditional knowledge, biocultural heritage, agrobiodiversity and indigenous food systems; biocultural heritage territories, indigenous enterprises and community-led ecosystem-based adaptation.

Before IIED

MSc in Environmental Technology at Imperial College London; BSc in Natural Sciences, Cambridge University. Currently conducting a part-time PhD in biocultural heritage at Coventry University’s Centre for Agroecology, Water and Resilience.

Current work

Principal investigator for a GCRF project funded by the British Academy, involving research on indigenous worldviews and wellbeing concepts and biocultural systems, and their role in addressing SDG2 (end hunger). This participatory action-research seeks to support the establishment of community-managed biocultural heritage territories and to inform policy makers in Peru, India, China and Kenya.

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