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Conserving agrobiodiversity amid global change, migration, and nontraditional livelihood networks: the dynamic uses of cultural landscape knowledge

Karl S. Zimmerer, Department of Geography, Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI), Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment (PSIEE)


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I examined agrobiodiversity in smallholder cultural landscapes with the goal of offering new insights into management and policy options for the resilience-based in situ conservation and social-ecological sustainability of local, food-producing crop types, i.e., landraces. I built a general, integrative approach to focus on both land use and livelihood functions of crop landraces in the context of nontraditional, migration-related livelihoods amid global change. The research involved a multimethod, case-study design focused on a cultural landscape of maize, i.e., corn, growing in the Andes of central Bolivia, which is a global hot spot for this crop’s agrobiodiversity. Central questions included the following: (1) What are major agroecological functions and food-related services of the agrobiodiversity of Andean maize landraces, and how are they related to cultural landscapes and associated knowledge systems? (2) What are new migration-related livelihood groups, and how are their dynamic livelihoods propelled through global change, in particular international and national migration, linked to the use and cultural landscapes of agrobiodiversity? (3) What are management and policy options derived from the previous questions? Combined social-ecological services as both cultivation and food resources are found to function in relation to the cultural landscape. Results demonstrated major variations of maturation-based, phenologic traits and food-use properties that are cornerstones of the landrace-level agrobiodiversity of Andean maize. Knowledge of these parameters is widespread. Linkage of these production and consumption functions yields a major insight into dynamics of Andean maize agrobiodiversity. Concurrently, this smallholder cultural landscape has become increasingly dependent on new rural conditions, especially increased livelihood diversification and migration amid growing peri-urban influences. Viability of landrace-level maize agrobiodiversity between 2006 and 2012 is shown to have occurred amid a transition toward the integral roles of multiple migration-related groups, namely women farmers, consumers, and local business owners; migrants; field caretakers; and local in-migrant laborers. The nontraditional social networks among these livelihood groups must be incorporated into analysis and planning of the design, participation, and monitoring of management and policy options for cultural landscapes ensuring the use, in situ conservation, and sustainability, including ecosystem services, of food plant landraces in global agrobiodiversity hot spots.

Key words

cultural landscapes; knowledge systems; maize; phenology-based adaptive capacity; social networks of migration

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087