Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures?

Abstract: Wastewater-fed aquaculture is generally in decline. The 12,500 ha East Kolkata Wetlands (EKW) Ramsar site in peri-urban Kolkata, India, is the only large-scale formal system still operating and appears to demonstrate a high degree of resilience. This paper identifies aspects of wastewater-fed aquaculture in the EKW that contribute to its sustained operation. The Driving Forces, Pressures, State, Impact, Response (DPSIR) framework was used to structure the assessment. Resilience within the EKW can be attributed to the scale of operation, adaptive production strategies that optimise resource utilisation while minimising risks, self-organisation among stakeholders and timely legislation and institutional interventions to preserve the natural character of the wetlands. The introduction of externalising technologies, erosion of social capital and loss of traditional ecological knowledge threaten to undermine this resilience. Outcomes from this analysis should inform future management of the EKW to ensure that resilience is retained and enhanced.

Citation: Bunting S., Pretty J. and Edwards P. 2010. Wastewater-fed aquaculture in the East Kolkata Wetlands, India: anachronism or archetype for resilient ecocultures? Reviews in Aquaculture 2(3): 138-153.

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Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems

Abstract: The emergent human cultures have shaped, and in turn been shaped by, local ecosystems. Yet humanity’s intense modification of the environment has resulted in dramatic worldwide declines in natural and cultural capital. Social-ecological systems are becoming more vulnerable through the disruption of livelihoods, governance, institutions, resources and cultural traditions. This paper reviews the environmental sub-disciplines that have emerged to seek solutions for conservation and maintenance of the resilience of social-ecological systems. It shows that a central component is engagement with the knowledges of people within their contexts. Local knowledges of nature (traditional, indigenous, local ecological knowledge and ecoliteracy) are used by place-based cultures to guide actions towards nature. The importance of new engagements between different knowledges is now becoming more widely recognized by scientific institutions. Yet there still exist many false dualisms (for example local knowledge versus science) which tend to emphasize a superiority of one over the other. Ecocultures retain or strive to regain their connections with the environment, and thus improve their own resilience. Revitalization projects offer ways to connect knowledge with action to produce optimal outcomes for both nature and culture, suggesting that systems can be redesigned by emphasis on incorporation of local and traditional knowledge systems.

Citation:  Jules Pretty (2011). Interdisciplinary progress in approaches to address social-ecological and ecocultural systems. Environmental Conservation, 38: 127-139.

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The roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems

Abstract: Almost every ecosystem has been amended so that plants and animals can be used as food, fibre, fodder, medicines, traps and weapons. Historically, wild plants and animals were sole dietary components for hunter–gatherer and forager cultures. Today, they remain key to many agricultural communities. The mean use of wild foods by agricultural and forager communities in 22 countries of Asia and Africa (36 studies) is 90–100 species per location. Aggregate country estimates can reach 300–800 species (e.g. India, Ethiopia, Kenya). The mean use of wild species is 120 per community for indigenous communities in both industrialized and developing countries. Many of these wild foods are actively managed, suggesting there is a false dichotomy around ideas of the agricultural and the wild: hunter–gatherers and foragers farm and manage their environments, and cultivators use many wild plants and animals. Yet, provision of and access to these sources of food may be declining as natural habitats come under increasing pressure from development, conservation-exclusions and agricultural expansion. Despite their value, wild foods are excluded from official statistics on economic values of natural resources. It is clear that wild plants and animals continue to form a significant proportion of the global food basket, and while a variety of social and ecological drivers are acting to reduce wild food use, their importance may be set to grow as pressures on agricultural productivity increase.

Citation: Bharucha, Z. and Pretty, J. 2010. The roles and values of wild foods in agricultural systems. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society (B). 365(1554): 2913-2926

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Nature and Culture: Rebuilding Lost Connections

Nature and Culture. 2010. Edited by Sarah Pilgrim and Jules Pretty. London, Earthscan

There is a growing recognition that the diversity of life comprises both biological and cultural diversity. But this division is not universal and, in many cases, has been deepened by the common disciplinary divide between the natural and social sciences and our apparent need to manage and control nature.

This book goes beyond divisive definitions and investigates the bridges linking biological and cultural diversity. The authors explore the common drivers of loss, and argue that policy responses should target both forms of diversity in a novel integrative approach to conservation, thus reducing the gap between science, policy and practice.

While conserving nature alongside human cultures presents unique challenges, this book forcefully shows that any hope for saving biological diversity is predicated on a concomitant effort to appreciate and protect cultural diversity.

Endorsements for Nature and Culture: 

  • “This collection provides a glimpse of paradise re-gained, when our mis-judged separation from and ambition to master Nature can be repaired. If we are to survive and prosper in the decades to come, we must knit ourselves back into the web of life, recognising the resilience which stems from investing in diverse social, dietary and eco-systems.” Dr Camilla Toulmin, Director, International Institute for Environment and Development
  • “This richly textured book tells vitally important stories about how indigenous cultures are closely tied to the ecosystems they inhabit. As their societies are harassed by encroaching and usually hostile forces, those close links are being stretched and broken. Quite apart from their right to continue to live as they choose, there is much we can learn from them about how to live in harmony with nature.  Indeed, our very existence may depend upon our recognizing this.” Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, President Survival International
  • “People have been considered separate from nature for far too long, and this book provides a welcome antidote. With a group of experienced contributors, it provides a kaleidoscope of the unity of people with the rest of nature. These perspectives have immediate application for anyone seeking a more sustainable future for both biological and cultural diversity, which this book shows to be part of the same unity.” Dr Jeffrey A. McNeely, Senior Science Advisor, IUCN

See more on the book on the publishers’ website.