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Conservation and indigenous cultures: learning from the Yanadi community in the Eastern Ghats, India

Diya Paul, Cottey College, USA
Suresh Jones, LORIS-The Biodiversity Conservation Society, India


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Biodiversity conservation in the Global South is defined and implemented through multiple approaches and frameworks, but in most cases, there is little understanding or value for cultural ecosystem services (CES). CES remain a challenge to incorporate, not only because of their intangibility, but also because of multiple definitions and specificities that emerge from particular human–nature interactions. In India, CES literally and figuratively form a critical part of the social fabric of rural communities. Hence, there is an imperative to acknowledge CES broadly, but also more critically within indigenous communities whose lives continue to revolve around natural resources. Here, we examine CES in part of the Eastern Ghats, southern India through the lifeworld of the Yanadi or Irula people, who shape their lives around the forests, successfully adapting to scarcity and dealing with present-day challenges that threaten their existence. Drawing on a mixed-methods approach that includes semistructured interviews and participant observation, we argue that, as much as the Yanadi lifeworld is shaped by the forests, the forests have been shaped by the community and their interaction with species and spaces. We discuss the CES that are sought out by the Yanadi community and elaborate on how these intangible or nonmaterial benefits are critical. We also examine the consequences of the state’s lack of acknowledgement of CES in its management interventions since the 1970s, alienating the community that depends on the forest for not only resources, but also spiritual, cultural, and social capital.

Key words

cultural ecosystem services; Eastern Ghats; forest management; indigenous community; marginality

Copyright © 2021 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work 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