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Cultural valuation and biodiversity conservation in the Upper Guinea forest, West Africa

James A. Fraser, Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, Lancaster, UK
Moussa Diabaté, IRAG, CRA, Seredou, Guinea
Woulay Narmah, College of Agriculture and Forestry, University of Liberia, Capitol Hill, Monrovia, Liberia
Pépé Beavogui, IRAG, CRA, Seredou, Guinea
Kaman Guilavogui, IRAG, CRA, Seredou, Guinea
Hubert de Foresta, IRD, UMR AMAP, Montpellier, France
André B. Junqueira, Department of Soil Quality, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands


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The cultural valuation of biodiversity has taken on renewed importance over the last two decades as the ecosystem services framework has become widely adopted. Conservation initiatives increasingly use ecosystem service frameworks to render tropical forest landscapes and their peoples legible to market-oriented initiatives such as REDD+ and biodiversity offsetting schemes. Ecosystem service approaches have been widely criticized by scholars in the social sciences and humanities for their narrow focus on a small number of easily quantifiable and marketable services and a reductionist and sometimes simplistic approach to culture. We address the need to combine methods from each of the “three cultures” of natural science, quantitative social science, and qualitative social science/humanities in conceptualizing the relationship between cultural valuation and biodiversity conservation. We combine qualitative data with forest inventories and a quantitative index of cultural value to evaluate the relationship between cultural valuation and biodiversity conservation in Upper Guinea forest in Liberia, West Africa. Our study focuses on “sacred agroforests,” spaces that are associated with Mande macro-language speaking groups such as the Loma. We demonstrate that sacred agroforests are associated with different cultural values compared with secondary forests. Although biodiversity and biomass are similar, sacred agroforests exhibit a different species composition, especially of culturally salient species, increasing overall landscape agro-biodiversity. Sacred agroforests are also shaped and conserved by local cultural institutions revolving around ancestor worship, ritual, and the metaphysical conceptual category “salɛ.” We conclude that to understand the relationship between cultural valuation and biodiversity conservation, interpretivist approaches such as phenomenology should be employed alongside positivist ecosystem service frameworks.

Key words

anthropogenic landscapes; conservation science; cultural heritage; ecosystem services; sacred forests; secondary forests

Copyright © 2016 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