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LIFESTYLE AND ECOLOGY
Traditional Resource Management Systems
Human influence on natural systems has often been portrayed as destructive. It is only relatively recently that ecologists have started to appreciate how traditional peoples use their resources without destroying them. For many marine ecologists, Johannes’ Words of the Lagoon (1981) brought this point home. Several studies have documented systems of traditional knowledge (Ruddle and Johannes, 1985; McNeely and Pitt, 1985; Freeman and Carbyn, 1988). Others showed that community-based resource management systems worked because of the presence of appropriate common property institutions, not merely because of a superabundance of resources (McCay and Acheson, 1987; Berkes, ed., 1989). Particularly rich case studies came from agroecosystems, showing how traditional peoples interacted or co-evolved with (Norgaard, 1984) their environment, modifying nature but actively maintaining it in a diverse and productive state (Gliessman et al., 1981; Irvine, 1989).
Different human societies have elaborated a striking diversity of ways of working with nature. Many of these are ecologically adaptive, but this is not to say that all of them make ecological sense. Some certainly do not, and some may have become ecologically maladaptive. The point, however, is that the diversity of traditional resource use practices represents a pool of human experience spanning many millennia and many cultures. The conservation of this rapidly diminishing pool of experience, a kind of cultural diversity, is as pressing as the conservation of biological diversity (Gadgil, 1987).
The irony is that, as scientists are beginning to appreciate folk ecology and its implications, a monolithic vision of modern management is engulfing these traditional systems. This is an underlying theme of the present paper, which proceeds through a number of interrelated themes. First, different world-views are examined in relation to the evolution of ecologically prudent resource use practices. Second, the paper examines traditional views of the world as an interacting community of beings. This leads to a discussion of belief systems and prescriptions for restricted resource use and a synthesis of some resource management ‘rules of thumb’ that emerge from that experience.
The paper then reviews similarities between old and new conservation prescriptions and explores the questions of why modern scientific resource management has been so ineffectual in bringing about ecologically sustainable use and how the science of ecology may fit into a new synthesis of old and new environmental wisdom. In keeping with the holistic approach developed in the paper, an eclectic diversity of examples, not just from the marine environment but also from terrestrial and freshwater environments, is used.
It is generally known that the way in which various societies approach the utilization of their natural resource base depends on their perception and experience of how it responds to patterns of resource use. For example, if the resource base is perceived as fluctuating in a capricious fashion regardless of how it is used, a society would tend to impose few restraints on its use. Some hunting-gathering and herding societies are likely to behave in this fashion. Societies that perceive their resource base as infinite, and in fact ever-expanding by virtue of technological advances, are even less likely to observe any resource use restraints. Agrarian societies colonizing new lands, as during European settlement of new overseas territories, or the early industrial societies confident of the ability of technology to take care of any problems of resource exhaustion that may arise, adopt this approach.
It is when the resource base is perceived as well-demarcated, finite and sensitive to the resource-use pattern that societies are most likely to stress restrained, sustainable patterns of resource-use. Many horticultural societies, or those combining fishing with horticulture, have developed sustainable resource-use practices, and it is possible to examine the conditions under which ecological prudence has presumably evolved. These societies are characterized by plant cultivation without the use of the plough or iron implements. Particular methods of cultivation tie them to a specific, rather restricted locality for extended periods of time. Given a simple technological base and an inability to engage in large-scale land clearance, these horticulturists live in small communities of a few hundred individuals, cultivating small plots of land surrounded by extensive tracts of land under natural vegetation. Consequently hunting, fishing and gathering of a whole variety of resources from a finite territory is critical to their subsistence. Such communities are linked together in societies of very modest size, around 100 and 6,000 for simple and advanced horticultural societies, respectively (Lenski and Lenski, 1978).
Prudent resource use is likely to be of survival value for such societies, for they are often in acute territorial conflict with neighbouring societies. At the same time, any serious resource shortages, even if short-lived and seasonal, are apt to seriously weaken the ability of these societies to withstand assaults on their territories by their neighbours. Such societies may therefore be in danger of cultural, if not genetic, extermination if they exhaust their resource base. This may have favoured the evolution of cultural traditions of prudent use (Gadgil, 1987).
"Community of Beings" vs. "Dominion over Nature"
Many horticultural societies seem to have elaborated a world-view which provides the underpinning for a whole range of practices of restrained resource-use. They often either have no conception at all of a single supreme creator, or believe that such a creator has little concern with human affairs. Instead they impute sacred qualities to a number of landscape elements, plants and animals in their own immediate surroundings. Indeed, their world is perceived as a community of beings: rocks, rivers, trees, birds and beasts with whom humans are linked in a variety of ways. Rivers may be seen as mothers, altruistically bestowing waters that are valued; trees as demons that need to be placated by offerings so that they will reciprocate by not harming people; antelopes as brethren for whose killing one must apologize.
It appears that horticultural societies are characterized by a number of conditions conducive to the evolution of a "community of beings" world-view: small community size, the presence of extended kin groups, repeated social interactions, and a geographically well-defined resource base. However, many other non-industrial societies also show many or most of these characteristics. In fact, many rural societies of the contemporary world do this as well.
It is not surprising, therefore, that a "community of beings" world-view is not restricted to horticulturists. In general, these beliefs go back to the pantheistic tradition dominant before the rise of monotheistic religions. Such pantheistic traditions still exist in some modern hunter-gatherer groups (Tanner, 1979). They existed in pre-Christian Europe, survived for a time in the Christian mysticism of St. Francis (White, 1967), and their remnants may still be found today, for example in rural Irish society (Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill, personal communication). Similarly, under Islam pantheism is in the traditions of many cultures, including many in Africa (Omari, 1990) and North Asia (Martynov, 1988). It is seen also among the native peoples of Australia and the Americas (Williams and Hunn, eds., 1982).
By contrast, there is no identification with nature in the "dominion over nature" world-view. The roots of this world-view, however named, have been hotly debated (Capra, 1982). It may be argued that this world-view derives from the Judaeo-Christian tradition and early European science, as well as from the values and perspectives that emerge from the Industrial Revolution.
If the "community of beings" world-view can be characterized as an "I — thou" relationship between humans and nature, the "dominion over nature" world-view is characterized as an "I — it" relationship. Nature is viewed as clockwork and is considered to exist separately from humans (Worster, 1977). It can be studied by taking it apart and by asking systematic, testable questions. It can be brought under control and made to yield human benefits. Economic growth is seen as a consequence of somehow freeing these limitless resources. Productive activity, therefore, is seen as a process of overcoming environmental constraints.
Resource management science in the employ of the "dominion over nature" world-view has given us the MSY concept to maximize fish yields and has paved the way for the giant trawlers, seiners and drift-netters of today. It has also given us such management techniques as clear-cutting large tracts of land and predator control. Utilitarian approaches such as these have clashed not only with the "community of beings" world-view but also with the naturalist-ecological tradition in the West (Worster, 1977).
Regier et al. (1989) use the term "conventional exploitative development" to refer to the utilitarian ideology which has dominated resource management science in the West. They have pointed out that more ecologically sensible alternatives are available, and further, that these alternatives are beginning to take a foothold in some parts of the West (Regier et al., 1989). Some of these alternatives are consistent with traditional ecological views.
Traditional Ecosystem Views
Many traditional societies view physical as well as biological components of the environment and the human population as being linked together in a web of relationships. This is akin to the modern ecosystem view of the natural world. By ecosystem view we mean a holistic view that takes into account all ecosystem components and their interactions, including those involving human societies.
The beginnings of the ecosystem concept in Western science go back to von Humboldt’s writings of 1807, but traditional ecosystem ideas may extend as far back as the ancient Sumerians, according to one review of the historical development of the concept (Major, 1969). One particular ecosystem concept, that of a watershed managed as a unit with interacting components of water, land, plants and animals, crops up in several ancient cultures. There are written records going back nine centuries to show that Swiss communes controlled watersheds and used watershed resources in an integrated fashion (M.F. Price, personal communication). In Japan the use of the watershed ecosystem idea goes back at least to the 1600s (R. Hunt, personal communication). There are records showing that in the Ottoman Empire Sultan Mehmed II instituted watershed conservation measures (prohibition of overgrazing, prohibition of tree-cutting, river bank stabilization, and the revegetation of the catchment area) in the river basin supporting Constantinople (later Istanbul) when he captured that city in 1453 (Gurpinar, 1978). Table 1.1 summarizes a diversity of traditional ecosystem views and practices from a variety of different cultures and geographical areas. Amerindians of the west coast of North America ‘managed’ their salmon fisheries and a number of other marine resources, depending on the area, through a variety of traditional practices, rituals and taboos signifying respect. The key to this management system was the territorial control of resources. By the early 20th century, however, these native systems were overpowered by commercial salmon fishing interests and open-access conditions created in place of communal management (Rogers, 1979).
Although there was much variation in resources use practices from area to area, the general picture is that of a nested system of rights. For example, the entire Nass River watershed in northern British Columbia was claimed as traditional land by the Nishga tribe. Each Nishga community used one part of the watershed. Some fisheries were conducted communally, but specific salmon fishing sites were controlled by individuals on behalf of ‘house’ groups or the local divisions of clans. Thus there was a hierarchy of control of resource use rights, from the watershed level down to specific fishing sites (Berkes, 1985).
A Summary of Some Traditional Ecosystem Views
|Watershed management of salmon rivers and associated hunting and gathering areas by tribal groups and kin groups||Amerindians of coastal British Columbia, Canada||Williams and Hunn, eds. (1982)|
|Delta and lagoon system management for fish culture (tambak in Java), and the integrated cultivation of rice and fish||South and South-east Asia, especially Indonesia||Lasserre and Ruddle (1983)|
|Vanua (in Fiji), which refers to land-water area and its water, soil, plants, animals and human occupants seen as an interrelated whole||Parts of Oceania, including Fiji, Solomon islands||Baines (1984) Hviding (1989)|
|The caste system, in which different endogamous groups hold exclusive rights and responsibilities for the use and management of specific resources||Indian subcontinent||Gadgil (1985a, 1985b)|
|The integrated resource management system (dina), in which farming, grazing and fishing territories are shared by different social groups through reciprocal arrangements for access||Mali, Africa||Moorehead (1989) Fay (1989)|
In Southeast Asia the use of brackish water fish-ponds (tambaks) dates back as far as the 15th century (Lasserre and Ruddle, 1983). Since delta and lagoon systems often extend inland, fish cultivation in tambaks can be integrated with rice culture. These rice irrigation systems (subaks) are not merely autonomous local-level management units. In Bali, for example, subaks are part of a water temple system, and the entire regional terrace ecosystem is managed as a unit (Lansing, 1987). Thus, the integration of tambak and subak systems for combined rice and fish cultivation, as practised in some areas, is a sophisticated application of the relatively recent ecological idea of the coupling of land and water systems (Hasler, ed. 1974).
The terms vanua in Fiji and puava in the Solomon Islands refer to the intimate association of individuals with land, reef, lagoon, and all that grows on or in them (Baines, 1984). Vanua refers to a land-sea continuum, but it has social-cultural as well as biological-physical dimensions. As Hviding (1989) puts it, puava is "a defined, named area of land and in most cases sea. A puava in the widest sense includes all areas and resources associated with a butubutu (descent group) through ancestral rights, from the top of mainland mountains to the open sea outside the barrier reef".
The caste system of the Indian subcontinent may also be seen as a traditional ecosystem approach. Caste groups may be considered a human-ecological analogue of ‘species’ specializing on different resources. Caste society, which crystallized around the 5th century, promoted sustainable resource use by restricting access to many specialized resources of a given locality to members of just one endogamous group (some 40,000 of them in total). Both rights to and responsibilities for the use of a specific resource vested in one group. This improved the feasibility of the long-term conservation of that resource.
Further, just as the resources of a specific area are linked together, members of different endogamous groups were also linked together in a network of reciprocal exchange and mutual obligations. The overall picture is one of an ecosystem in which different human groups assumed specialized but interconnected ‘niches’, interconnected not only functionally but also culturally through time-honoured practices and reciprocal obligations (Gadgil, 1985b; Gadgil and Malhotra, 1983).
The dina system of Mali also provides for integrated resource management through resource specialization by different groups. The system was formalized in the 19th century by codifying the then existing resource management systems into grazing, fishing and farming territories. Resource specialists were ethnic or tribal groups and much fewer in number than in India. In the inland delta of the Niger river, for example, the Bozo people specialized in shallow water fishing whereas the Somono people specialized in net fishing. The farmers consisted of four ethnic groups, and among the herders the Fulani people were the dominant group (Moorehead, 1989). Detailed rules of access governed productive activities and provided for reciprocal rights for the various groups. Fishing, for example, was regulated by "masters of the water", who supervised the use of allowable techniques, set opening dates for different fisheries, could extend fishing rights to outsiders (for a tithe) and conducted ceremonies for water deities (Moorehead, 1989; Fay, 1989).
There is relatively little historical information about how these various ecosystem approaches developed. Geertz (1963), however, has traced some 400 years of the history of paddy rice culture in Indonesia. He found that as the system developed from less intensive modes of agriculture, productivity was increased through the building of dikes, terraces and irrigation canals. Water was managed for weed control and nutrient retention. At the same time, the developing irrigation technology necessitated the parallel development of appropriate common property institutions for collective action. The users established ways of collective decision-making and resource management, since the maintenance of the irrigation work and the security of food production depended upon the cooperation of all participants. Thus Norgaard (1984) comments, "contrary to the view of growth as a process of overcoming environmental constraints, the coevolutionary perspective emphasizes an increasingly important, and frequently more complex, interaction between man and his environment".
Such a view, whether in subak maintenance or in the management of Pacific salmon stocks, is ecologically more sensible than the conventional developers’ view of achieving dominion over nature. Closely linked, two-way feedback interactions and reciprocal responses of the social system and the natural system, or coevolution, is an appropriate paradigm under which resource management activities can be structured. In general, traditional resource management fundamentally differs from the utilitarian approach in emphasizing interaction and co-existence rather than control, and by incorporating personal — spiritual components instead of an impersonal I — it relationship with nature.
Restraints on Resource Use
These various traditional ecosystem approaches require a belief system which includes a number of prescriptions for restrained resource use. It is of course possible that such apparent restraint may have nothing to do with long-term conservation of the resource base. A harvester interested in the calculus of immediate return may still not use a resource if the net gain obtainable from it is below a certain threshold, or lower than the net gain obtainable from alternative resources. We must therefore examine each supposed instance of restraint to assess whether it could involve such a discontinuation of resource use, for instance, because the cost of harvest has increased excessively (Johannes, 1978; Smith, 1983; Borgerhoff-Mulder, 1988).
The range of practices pertaining to restrained resource use by human groups may be classified under ten broad categories:
Some Rules of Thumb
It is increasingly realized that precise prescriptions for the prudent use of living resources are difficult and that detailed quantitative ones might be impossible to arrive at in the present state of our knowledge (Clark, 1985). This is particularly so if the entire prey population is continually subject to harvesting. By contrast, some simpler general prescriptions for averting resource collapse may be feasible and yet have a significant effect in enabling sustainable use. These are five: (i) Provide total protection to some habitat patches, representing different ecosystems, so that resource populations are always maintained above some threshold level; (ii) provide total protection to some selected species so that community level interactions are minimally disrupted; (iii) protect such life history stages as appear critical to the maintenance of the resource population; (iv) provide total protection to resource populations at certain times; and (v) organize resource use in such a way that only a relatively small group of people controls access to a particular resource.
Modern ecological and evolutionary theory does indeed suggest that such prescriptions are likely to assist in avoiding resource collapse, although they would by no means ensure harvest at maximum sustainable yield levels. In his classic experiments on prey — predator cycles of protozoans, Gause showed that prey extinction could be effectively avoided only by providing the prey a refugium, an area of the experimental arena inaccessible to the predator, where the prey could maintain a minimal population and from which other areas could be colonized (Gause, 1969). Sacred groves, sacred ponds, and stretches of sea coast or coral reefs from which all fishing is prohibited are such refugia.
Modern ecological theory also stresses the significance of some species that serve as ‘keystone resources’ or mobile links in maintaining the overall functioning of the community (Terborgh, 1986). The tree genus Ficus, to which belong species such as the banyan and the peepal, widely protected in Asia and Africa, is one such keystone resource genus. Contemporary ecological theory also points to the fact that certain stages in a population are of higher "reproductive value" and therefore more significant for permitting continued population growth. Pregnant does and nesting birds, again often protected by humans, are such stages. Finally, there is a rapidly growing body of literature to show that sustainable resource-use develops when a particular group has both control over and responsibility for a particular resource (Berkes, ed. 1989). Recent work on the evolution of cooperative behaviour emphasizes that restraint is more likely to evolve in groups of smaller numbers of individuals in repeated social interactions (Joshi, 1987; Berkes and Kence, 1987).
It thus appears plausible that over the course of human history there have been human groups whose interests were strongly linked to the prudent use of their resource bases, and that such groups did evolve appropriate conservation practices. These practices were apparently based on simple rules of thumb that tended to ensure the long-term sustainability of the resource base. These rules would necessarily have been approximate. They would have been arrived at through a process of trial and error, with the continued acceptance of practices which appeared to keep the resource base secure, coupled with the rejection of those practices which appeared to destroy it. Practices observed by other social groups may also have been adopted if they appeared to lead to the persistence of a whole range of practices, some beneficial from the point of view of resource conservation, but also others that were neutral, and perhaps some that once were beneficial or neutral but became harmful due to changed circumstances.
Some hunter-gatherer, horticultural and simple fishing societies institutionalized a number of such measures of resource conservation through their religious belief systems. The nomadic herder as well as technologically more advanced agrarian and early industrial societies became progressively less concerned with the well-being of their resource base, and consequently abandoned a number of these practices. The mainstream monotheistic traditions of the more recent Middle Eastern religions rejected them with great vehemence as pagan practices; however, the religions of the East — Buddhism, Jainism, Taoism and Hinduism — absorbed several of these practices, partly as religious beliefs, partly as accepted customs.
The modern scientific tradition arising in the advanced agrarian societies of Christian Europe began with a strong faith in man being apart from nature and fully entitled to the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources (White, 1967). The relatively late development of the science of ecology and resource management may be related to this. Resource management science did not begin until the second half of the 19th century, when the finite nature of the world’s resource base first began to be evident to European civilization with the closing of the many frontiers along which European expansion had been in progress during the previous three centuries. Only then did scientific prescriptions for restrained resource use make a slow appearance. However, these new prescriptions for preservation in many ways merely paralleled the pre-scientific prescriptions typical of earlier modes.
Perhaps most important of all, just as many societies developed systems for integrated resource management, the ecosystem approach now provides a guide towards more sustainable resource use.
Scientific prescriptions thus often resemble or parallel ‘pre-scientific’ prescriptions based on traditional ecological knowledge and simple rules of thumb. Indeed, considering the track records, one could argue that the scientific prescriptions of industrial society show little evidence of progress over simple rule-of-thumb prescriptions. Similarly, one could argue that government enforcement of these scientific prescriptions represents little progress compared with the earlier enforcement of procedures based on religion or social convention.
To many it is a paradox that with all its power, modern science seems unable to halt and reverse the depletion of resources and the degradation of the environment. Part of the reason for this paradox may be that scientific resource management, and Western reductionist science in general, developed in the service of the utilitarian, exploitative "dominion over nature" world-view of colonialists and developers. It is best geared to the efficient utilization of resources as if they were boundless. This is a legacy of the laissez-faire doctrine of Adam Smith and still persists in the neoclassical economic theory of today (Daly and Cobb, 1989).
Thus modern resource management science is well suited by design for conventional exploitative development but not for sustainable use (Regier et al., 1989). The task then is to rethink and reconstruct a new resource management science that is better adapted to serve the needs of ecological sustainability and the people who use resources. To do this, there is a need to conserve both biological and cultural diversity, which are tied together (Gadgil, 1987; Norgaard, 1987); there also is a need to conserve the diversity of traditional resource management practices and systems.
During the past century the diversity of resource management systems has been replaced by a monolithic scientific management vision — one that often has not led to sustainable outcomes. Such a trend is clearly maladaptive, but the indigenous, adaptive systems have in the mean time suffered as well. Each of the traditional ecosystem approaches summarized in this paper has been impacted by colonialists or developers. Contrary to conventional wisdom, these systems did not collapse primarily because of population pressure. For example, Johannes (1978) has shown for the Pacific islands case, and Rogers (1979) for Alaska, that traditional systems collapsed because of outside interference and the forced institution of open-access conditions at a time when local populations were actually declining. Population pressure is real, of course, but in many cases it comes after local systems collapse and local resource users lose control, not before.
The rejection of a monolithic scientific resource management vision does not mean the rejection of all Western science. There are excellent examples of how modern and traditional management can be brought together successfully, as in Japanese inshore fisheries (Ruddle, 1989). Rather, as Regier (1975) suggested, the task is to develop a flexible approach by conserving what is useful in Western science and nurturing some of its more radical components. Ecology as a science concerned with the whole (rather than its parts) is one of the components. It stands at the fringe of Western scientific traditions because, together with a select few disciplines such as systems science, quantum physics, gestalt psychology, operations research, ecology is holistic. As such, ecological thinking is sympathetic to the mode of thinking of the ancient traditions of East Asian, African and Amerindian cultures. Especially important in this regard, ecology is concerned with diversity and adaptiveness.
All these put ecology in a unique position to be the cornerstone of a new science of resource management that synthesizes the best of old and new wisdom towards a more sustainable future. But ecology would first have to extricate itself from the older, utilitarian "control over nature" tradition of resource management. For ecology’s involvement with that tradition is very real (Worster, 1977). The challenge posed by Theodore Roszak (1972) is still relevant, albeit in a somewhat different context: "The question remains open: Which will ecology be, the last of the old science or the first of the new?"
©1998 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi