(ST. LOUIS): Humans are frequently blamed for deforestation and the destruction of environments, yet there are also examples of peoples and cultures around the world that have learned to manage and conserve the precious resources around them. The Yanesha of the upper Peruvian Amazon and the Tibetans of the Himalayas are two groups of indigenous peoples carrying on traditional ways of life, even in the face of rapid environmental changes. Over the last 40 years, Dr. Jan Salick, senior curator and ethnobotanist with the William L. Brown Center of the Missouri Botanical Garden has worked with these two cultures. She explains how their traditional knowledge and practices hold the key to conserving, managing and even creating new biodiversity in a paper released in the new text, "Biodiversity in Agriculture: Domestication, Evolution, and Sustainability," published by Cambridge University Press.
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," said Salick. "They have much to teach and to offer the world if we can successfully learn to integrate science and traditional knowledge."
The Yanesha live a few hundred meters above sea level at the headwaters of the Amazon basin in central Peru. The people possess traditional knowledge about one of the most diverse tropical rainforests in the world. Salick studied the cocona (Solanum sessiliflorum), a fruit native to the upper Amazon, nutritionally important especially for women and children. She found the Yanesha have increased the genetic diversity of the species over time through preferential selection of oddly sized and shaped fruits.
"In the c
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Missouri Botanical Garden