Biocultural Heritage: Characteristics And Examples

The biocultural heritage are the knowledge, beliefs and practices of indigenous and rural communities related to their natural environment. It includes the biodiversity of said environment and the use that communities make of it, as well as the landscape that is built in the process.

This heritage arises in traditional communities that have a close relationship with nature. In this process they develop a certain balance with their environment on the basis of practices and knowledge that are passed from generation to generation.

It is a collective heritage, generally highly influenced by a certain set of deeply rooted spiritual values . In addition, it includes a close knowledge of the existing natural resources and their intensive use is promoted.

Biocultural heritage generally conflicts with the dominant Western view. In this sense, it is permanently threatened by the modern trend towards accelerated change in the way of life and the environment.

Therefore, biocultural heritage must be protected for the benefit of humanity, both for its practical and spiritual value.

Features of the biocultural heritage

Biocultural heritage is the set of knowledge, practices, traditions and beliefs that certain communities have developed in close relationship with their natural environment.

Traditional communities

It arises in traditional communities, far from urban centers linked to the dominant cultures. These are generally indigenous, peasant or local communities engaged in traditional activities with low technological impact.

For the consolidation of the biocultural heritage and its survival, a certain minimum isolation is required on the part of these communities in relation to the dominant culture.

Collective character

Biocultural heritage has a collective character, in the sense that it is developed in the life process of a community. In general, the main activities of the community are carried out collectively, increasing and maintaining this heritage.

Spiritual values

The strength of the biocultural heritage lies above all in its high content of spiritual values. These, due to the survival needs of the community, are closely linked to respect for the natural environment.

Traditional knowledge and practices

Biocultural heritage includes a series of knowledge and practices linked to the material and spiritual needs of the community. This knowledge is characterized by a close relationship with the spiritual and natural world.

Conservative character

This heritage is conservative by nature, since the lifestyle of these communities determines a certain resistance to change. The strength of the biocultural heritage is precisely that it is transmitted without much change from one generation to another.

Legal basis

The biocultural heritage is developed in the legal plane based on the right to the uses and customs of the community. In recent times, society has become aware of the value of biocultural heritage, so in many cases its rules have become written law.

Close relationship with nature

They are communities that live in natural environments little altered by humans or that still maintain a high natural component.

In this context, the community obtains all or a large part of its resources directly from nature. Hence, the need for a deep knowledge of the environment has developed in order to survive.

Landscape value

Biocultural heritage is developed within the scope of a specific territory, which is part of the heritage itself. In these cases, the communities have been shaping the landscape as a consequence of their traditional practices over hundreds or thousands of years.

However, the level of impact is relatively low and the natural landscape is part of its heritage. On the other hand, given the dependence of the community on the environment, the value assigned to the landscape becomes relevant.

Biodiversity and ecological balance

As they are communities with a long relationship with their natural environment, they have developed close links with their biodiversity. They normally depend on it for survival, providing them with food, medicine, clothing, building materials, and other resources.

Therefore, they tend to have traditional knowledge of existing biodiversity. In the same way, their traditional practices have been adapted to maintain the ecological balance.

Conservation of agrodiversity

The survival of many varieties of little diffused cultivated species depends to a great extent on their being part of the biocultural heritage of a given community. This is because agribusiness concentrates on promoting a restricted number of varieties and hybrids.

If these communities disappear or abandon their bioculture, these traditional varieties are no longer planted and disappear in a short time.

Biocultural products

 Traditional communities have made valuable contributions to humanity as part of their biocultural heritage. This is particularly related to the conservation of practices and knowledge related to the medicinal and nutritional use of natural resources.

Thus, many communities have domesticated and selected various plant species, conserving their genetic variability. On the other hand, they have developed and preserved agricultural and artisan practices that today have value as an alternative form of production.

Conflict with the dominant view

Due to its traditional, conservative and peripheral character with respect to the dominant culture, the biocultural heritage is in conflict with the dominant society. Western society is based on the growing exploitation of natural resources and the incorporation of territories and communities into the capitalist market.

Therefore, constant social, economic, political and cultural pressure is exerted against the permanence of the biocultural heritage of traditional communities.

Appropriation of knowledge

Another problem raised is the appropriation of the knowledge generated by the communities and that are part of their biocultural heritage. In many cases, neither the contribution of these communities is recognized nor do they receive benefits from their applications.

This is especially relevant when this knowledge is related to natural products of medicinal value.

Examples of biocultural heritage

– The Quechua communities of the Potato Park in Peru

This is a project carried out by 5 Quechua communities organized in the ANDES Association, located in Cusco, Peru. Here these communities inheritors of the Inca biocultural heritage, cultivate around 1,500 varieties of potato (Solanum tuberosum).

The project aims to achieve sustainable agricultural and forestry development based on traditional indigenous knowledge and practices. In fact, this experience has contributed significantly to the development of the concept of biocultural heritage.


The territory where this project is developed has the greatest genetic diversity of the potato, hosting numerous species of wild potato. Therefore, it represents a bank of germplasm or genetic material of unequaled value for the improvement of this crop.

Biocultural heritage and the modern world

The project seeks to harmonize the conservation of biocultural heritage, including potato germplasm, with the realities of the modern world. To this end, these communities are developing organic products for marketing and you have tourism projects.

– The Yanomami ethnic group in the Amazon

The Yanomami people live in the Amazon rainforest, where their territory covers part of the border between Venezuela and Brazil. Their way of life is basically what they have traditionally led for thousands of years.

These communities live from hunting, fishing, gathering and traditional agriculture based on the conuco, a multicultural system of rotating areas.

Housing and beliefs

Their houses or shabonosThey are multi-family, built with materials collected in the jungle and are shaped like a truncated cone. The very structure of the house is closely related to your spiritual world.

Their myths and beliefs are linked to the environment that surrounds them, especially reflecting the rich biodiversity of the jungle. In the Yanomami culture, it is considered that there are invisible beings in the jungle that are related to the plants and animals of the environment.

Use of plants

The Yanomami use more than 500 plant species from the Amazon rainforest, as food, clothing, construction of tools and houses, as well as for medicine. Its biocultural heritage is the object of study with various interests, among them knowing the medicinal use they give to many plants.

– The peasant communities of the south of the state of Aragua in Venezuela

Not only do indigenous communities develop a biocultural heritage, it also occurs in rural communities closely linked to their environment. An example of this are the peasant communities that inhabit the south of the state of Aragua, Venezuela.

They in their daily work over hundreds of years have developed a particular knowledge of their natural environment. This is especially relevant in the case of the use of wild plants, especially as medicines.

Use of plants

In a study carried out to know the biocultural heritage of these communities in the plant environment, 243 species of plants were identified. Of these, more than 50% are used as medicinal plants, the rest are used in food, construction, crafts and other uses.

Threatened varieties and culinary practices

An example of the role of biocultural heritage in conserving diversity can be found in these communities. Here the tradition of making bread from the oven (traditional sweet in the form of small threads) is maintained based on the variety of corn called “cariaco”.

This sweet is made with the flour of this variety of corn, sugar cane extract (papelón), butter and spices. The “cariaco” corn is increasingly scarce because it has been displaced from cultivation to plant commercial hybrids, therefore these communities help its conservation.


  1. Argumedo, A. (2008). The potato park, Peru: conserving agrobiodiversity in an Andean Indigenous Biocultural Heritage Area. In: Thora Amend, T., Brown, J. and Kothari, A. (Edis.). Protected Landscapes and Agrobiodiversity Values.
  2. Biocultural Heritage. Seen on February 24, 2020. Taken from:
  3. Biocultural and Territories Diversity Group. The value of biocultural heritage in the development of sustainable territories and the reduction of inequalities. Viewed on February 25, 2020. Taken from:
  4. Latin American Network for the Defense of Biocultural Heritage. Seen on 24 February 2020. Taken from:
  5. Rotherham, ID (2015). Bio-cultural heritage and biodiversity: emerging paradigms in conservation and planning. Biodiversity and Conservation.
  6. Ruiz-Zapata, T., Castro, M., Jaramillo, M., Lastres, M., Torrecilla, P., Lapp, M., Hernández-Chong, L. and Muñoz, D. (2015). Illustrated catalog of useful plants from communities in the south of Aragua state. Ernstia. Special edition.
  7. Swiderska. K. (2006). Protecting traditional knowledge: A framework based on Customary Laws and Bio-Cultural Heritage. Paper for the International Conference on Endogenous Development and BioCultural Diversity, 3-5 October 2006, Geneva.

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