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Feb 27, 2012

Missouri Botanical Garden Ethonobotanist - Climate Change & Biodiversity Lessons from Indigenous Peoples in Tibet & Peru

Dr. Jan Salick, Ethnobotanist
photo courtesy, Missouri Botanical Garden
On 27 February 2012, ScienceDaily reported on the research of Dr. Jan Salick, ethnobotanist at the William L. Brown Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden.  She has been working with the Yanesha people of the upper Peruvian Amazon and the Tibetans of the Himalayas for the past 40 years.

In  Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability, published by Cambridge University Press, Dr. Salick writes on how indigenous knowledge and practices "hold the key to conserving, managing and even creating new biodiversity. ... The Yanesha and Tibetans are dramatically different peoples living in radically dissimilar environments, but both cultures utilize and highly value plant biodiversity for their food, shelters, clothing and medicines. ... Both cultures use traditional knowledge to create, manage and conserve this biodiversity, and both are learning to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change."

The Yanesha, living at the headwaters of the Amazon basin in Peru, know much about the forest management in one of the most bio-diverse tropical rainforests in the world. "They plant a diversity of more than 75 species of crops in home gardens and more than 125 species in swidden fields (an ecological and sustainable system of traditional agriculture) to protect against potential crop destruction from pests, disease or weather. Their agrobiodiversity includes species rarely grown outside of indigenous agriculture."

After studying the Yanesha's planting of over 200 cassava cultivars twice over a 15-year time period in 16 indigenous communities, Salick concluded that they had an incredible ability to breed new cultivars.  Otherwise, there could not have been over 90 percent turnover of cultivars in less than 15 years. 

The Tibetans of the eastern Himalayas live between the slopes of sacred Mt. Khawa Karpo (6,740 meters above sea level) and the headwaters of the upper Mekong River (2,000 meters). In this region, there is a great variation of plant species due to the different elevations. Due to climate change, the region is changing rapidly as glaciers retreat.  The Tibetans are adapting to these changes.  One example Salick observes is their ability to grow grapes and make "ice wine." 

About Margaret

CEO and Curator (The Food Museum) | Managing Director and Chief Editor (GR2 Global LLC) | Educator (UCLA PhD) | Researching and writing on global food issues, nutrition and health, sustainability, history (preservation), conservation (natural resources), and design.
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