The costs of living in the material world

Researchers at the Essex Sustainability Institute, in collaboration with colleagues at the University of Exeter Medical School and the NHS Sustainable Development Unit have recently published a paper exploring the externalities associated with high levels of material consumption. In the UK, poor diets, physical inactivity, loneliness and other artefacts of modern lifestyles cost an estimated £180 billion each year. The researchers conclude that there is a clear need to redefine what we think of as prosperity.

The paper is available open-access online here.

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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