Globalization, biological diversity and traditional knowledge

*Key theme. Excerpt from UNEP article: "...Nature’s secrets, locked away in the songs, stories, art and handicrafts of indigenous people, may be lost forever as a result of growing globalization, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is warning. Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said yesterday: ”The freeing up of markets around the world may well be the key to economic growth in rich and poor countries alike. But this must not happen at the expense of the thousands of indigenous cultures and their traditions”. “Indigenous peoples not only have a right to preserve their way of life. But they also hold vital knowledge on the animals and plants with which they live. Enshrined in their cultures and customs are also secrets of how to manage habitats and the land in environmentally friendly, sustainable, ways,” he said. Much of this knowledge is passed down from generation to generation orally, in art works or in the designs of handicrafts such as baskets, rather than being written down...losing a language and its cultural context is like burning a unique reference book of the natural world. “If these cultures disappear they and their intimate relationship with nature will be lost forever. We must do all we can to protect these people. If they disappear the world will be a poorer place,”...Studies estimate that there are 5,000 to 7,000 spoken languages in the world with 4,000 to 5,000 of these classed as indigenous...More than 2,500 are in danger of immediate extinction and many more are losing their link with the natural world. Around a third, or 32 per cent of the world’s spoken languages, are found in Asia; 30 per cent in Africa; 19 per cent in the Pacific; 15 per cent in the Americas and three per cent in Europe. The report also links a profusion of languages with a wealth of wildlife underscoring how native peoples have thrived on a rich natural environment and managed it for the benefit of animals and plants...Many native people have a vested interest in maintaining a wide variety and animals and plants in their area so they are not reliant on just one source of food. But encroachment by western-style civilization and its farming methods mean that many of these varieties, encouraged by tribal and native people, are fast disappearing along with their genetic diversity. It is increasing the threat of crop failures across the globe as a result of genetic uniformity in the world’s major crops. The report cites work by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in Cambridge, England, and other researchers on the disappearance of diversity in common crops. In 1903 there were 13 known varieties of asparagus. By 1983 there was just one, or a decline of 97.8 per cent. There were 287 varieties of carrot in 1903 but this has fallen to just 21 or a fall of 92.7 per cent. Over 460 varieties of radish were known in 1903 but this has dropped to 27 or a decline of 94.2 per cent. Nearly 500 varieties of lettuce were catalogued at the turn of the century but this has fallen to 36...New sources of medicines may also be being lost as a result of the decline of indigenous languages, cultures and traditions. Many indigenous peoples have intimate, local, knowledge of plants, such as herbs, trees and flowers and parts of animals, and their use as medicines which in turn could give clues to new drugs for the west..."

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