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Research article2013Peer reviewedOpen access

Bio-cultural refugia-Safeguarding diversity of practices for food security and biodiversity

Barthel, S; Crumley, Carole; Svedin, Uno


Food security for a growing world population is high on the list of grand sustainability challenges, as is reducing the pace of biodiversity loss in landscapes of food production. Here we shed new insights on areas that harbor place specific social memories related to food security and stewardship of biodiversity. We call them bio-cultural refugia. Our goals are to illuminate how bio-cultural refugia store, revive and transmit memory of agricultural biodiversity and ecosystem services, and how such social memories are carried forward between people and across cohorts. We discuss the functions of such refugia for addressing the twin goals of food security and biodiversity conservation in landscapes of food production. The methodological approach is first of its kind in combining the discourses on food security, social memory and biodiversity management. We find that the rich biodiversity of many regionally distinct cultural landscapes has been maintained through a mosaic of management practices that have co-evolved in relation to local environmental fluctuations, and that such practices are carried forward by both biophysical and social features in bio-cultural refugia including; genotypes, artifacts, written accounts, as well as embodied rituals, art, oral traditions and self-organized systems of rules. Combined these structure a diverse portfolio of practices that result in genetic reservoirs-source areas-for the wide array of species, which in interplay produce vital ecosystem services, needed for future food security related to environmental uncertainties, volatile financial markets and large scale conflicts. In Europe, processes related to the large-scale industrialization of agriculture threaten such bio-cultural refugia. The paper highlights that the dual goals to reduce pressures from modern agriculture on biodiversity, while maintaining food security, entails more extensive collaboration with farmers oriented toward ecologically sound practices. (C) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.


Food security; Social memory; Social-ecological resilience; Sustainability; Historical ecology; Anthropocene

Published in

Global Environmental Change
2013, Volume: 23, number: 5, pages: 1142-1152

    Associated SLU-program

    SLU Swedish Biodiversity Centre

    Sustainable Development Goals

    Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
    End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary
    Economic Geography
    Human Geography

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)