In our world today of rapid changes, biological diversity and cultural diversity are increasingly recognized as key elements for sustainable development. Dedicated to strike for a balance between conservation and development, biosphere reserves (BRs) serve as testing sites to seal the link between these two keys. In Việt Nam, eight recognized World BRs is also the home of about 1,5 million people including thousands of people belong to different ethnic minority groups. Each group has their own ways of living, which reflect their unique understandings and interpretations of the nature accumulated through their hundreds of years residing in these sites. While these minority groups are often vulnerable to the pressure of development from outside, their identity and cultural values embrace with a rich knowledge of the nature are foundation not only to their endogenous development but also to the conservation of these sites as our common home.
Biodiversity and cultural diversity as key elements for sustainable development
The complexity of different individual parts of nature forms the web of life as the foundation for the existence and development of humankind as a part of it, that no alternative is yet foreseen. Biodiversity offers fundamental conditions for livelihoods and human well-beings which are extremely important for poor people whose livings depend much and directly on the availability of natural resources. In developing countries where is often rich on biodiversity, it is the essential resource for tackling poverty, building resilience against natural and artificial shocks as well as a vehicle for sustainable development.
As much important as biodiversity for the nature is cultural diversity for human beings. Defined as “the manifold ways in which the cultures of groups and societies find expression”, the diversity of these expressions and their dynamic allow human beings as individuals and groups to develop, exchange and accumulate understandings and interpretations of life, including the nature. Cultural expressions, therefore, encompass rich knowledge of biodiversity, which are valuable in both scientific and spiritual terms for individuals and groups of humankind. Cultural diversity is the reflection of biodiversity in our human society. At their inter-link, a loss of a species or the degradation of an ecosystem can lead to the destruction of a way of living, or to a great extent, the collapse of a civilization. On the other hand, a loss of a cultural expression can take away important threads to invaluable knowledge of the nature. The modern path of development, however, resulted in severe loss of biodiversity and cultural diversity with irreversible consequences. This threat to the loss of diversity as our most universal quality is increasingly recognized and addressed through several instruments and collective efforts. The framework for World BRs was set up as one innovative approach toward sustaining human development based on and for both biodiversity and cultural diversity.
Integrating biological and cultural diversity in the management of BRs
BRs are the model designated to realize a vision of which man coexists in a more harmonized relationship with the environment. One of three goals for BRs as set in the Seville Strategy (UNESCO, 1996) is to conserve natural and cultural diversity. Actions are taken to integrate biological and cultural diversity in the management of biosphere reserves, especially through enhancing the role of traditional knowledge and cultural heritage.
Vietnamese BRs: initiatives to seal the linkage between cultural and biodiversity
The network of eight Vietnamese BRs covers diverse natural settings, from marine and coastal ecosystems to the rain forest, which is also the home of about 1,5 million people. Thousands of these residents belong to about 16 ethnic minority groups. On the other hand, like most indigenous groups, they have developed invaluable knowledge and spiritual values toward the natural environment, which is important not only for their own group but also for the wider community. Addressing their special needs and aspirations needs a flexible approach, while Vietnamese BRs were recognized based on the national legal framework for protected areas where the conventional approach focusing on strict conservation dominated. Moving towards the vision designated for BRs, therefore, requires efforts on capacity building, testing and demonstration of models that harmonise conservation and human development.
From 2009 to 2011, UNESCO and the MAB Vietnam National Program initiated a project to promote customary use of natural resources by local groups in BRs and World Natural Heritage sites in Việt Nam. The project created a platform for dialogue among site managers, local communities and decision makers from a broad level on tools and approach for managing their sites to specific measures on handling individual practice.
Such initiative demonstrated that sealing the linkage between cultural diversity and biodiversity can bring in positive solutions for conservation and development in biosphere reserves. It was also confirmed that nurturing dialogue and participation requires more time and effort from all relevant stakeholders. In a context like Việt Nam where economic development has high pressure on conservation, ensuring sustainable outcomes from introducing a new approach to these BRs requires continuous investment both technically and financially in improving capacity for better management of these sites.
Nguyễn Kim Hoa - Nhâm Hiền
(Source: Vietnam Environment Administration Magazine, English Edition II - 2021)