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Conservation and Society
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Conservation and Society
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Year : 2008  |  Volume : 6  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 204-205

Globalization and Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Changing the Local-global Interface

School of Natural Resource and Environment, University of Michigan, USA

Correspondence Address:
Richard Tucker
School of Natural Resource and Environment, University of Michigan
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Date of Web Publication26-Jun-2009

How to cite this article:
Tucker R. Globalization and Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Changing the Local-global Interface. Conservat Soc 2008;6:204-5

How to cite this URL:
Tucker R. Globalization and Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Changing the Local-global Interface. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2008 [cited 2020 Feb 21];6:204-5. Available from: http://www.conservationandsociety.org/text.asp?2008/6/2/204/55780

Dev Nathan, Govind Kelkar and Pierre Walter (eds.). Globalization and Indigenous Peoples in Asia: Changing the Local-global Interface. Sage Publications Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, India. 2004. 348 pp. USD 76.95 (Hardcover). ISBN 0-761-93253-4.

The public debate over impacts of globalisation continues to rage worldwide, but it suffers all too often from ideological polarisation and stereotyped generalisations. This carefully crafted volume is a welcome antidote. It is an excellent example of the detailed research and analysis that is urgently needed, if we are to understand adequately the complex interactions between producers on the fringes of the global economy and the international forces that are reshaping their lives and communities. Moreover, this density of research is the only firm basis for adjusting or overhauling today's international system of trade, investment and consumption so as to make it both more socio-economically equitable and more environmentally sustainable.

The editors of this volume, all of whom are doing important basic field research themselves, have worked with the other authors as a team, supported by research institutes in Rome, Bangkok, Kathmandu, Bogor and Kunming. They have compiled a set of local studies and regional analyses that demonstrate how this great task can be addressed. The papers are organised into two sections, 'Environmental services and forest management' and 'Markets and civilizational change'. They present detailed field data from mountain regions of southern China, northeastern India and Nepal, with many additional references to other hill regions around Southeast Asia. They present a powerful synthesis of market economics, public policy discussion, cultural anthropology, and ecosystems analysis. They concentrate on indigenous communities, those that have until very recently been on the far periphery of the great market economy, but are crucial for maintaining natural resource systems upon which many downstream and distant people depend. Indeed, hill peoples' daily sustenance has critical implications for maintaining forests, watersheds and other ecosystem functioning. In this sense they are by no means peripheral to our collective future. The editors argue convincingly that meeting the needs of hill communities in more equitable balance with the interests of outsiders will be vital for the collective future of both the human populations and the river basins of Asia, and the world as a whole.

The overall framework for these studies is the global transition from collective to state and private ownership and control of resources, associated with the monetization or the commodification of forest resources. The case studies presented in several chapters indicate that ownership of timber resources by interests centered remote from the forests almost inevitably results in degradation of forest ecosystems and watersheds, to the long term detriment of both upstream and downstream communities. Timber contractors in particular almost always have disruptive impacts on forests, villages and watersheds.

In contrast, these studies reinforce the view of previous authors that villagers take better care of forests that they own, rather than leased or state forests. They are more consistent in harvesting trees selectively rather than clearfelling groves, in limiting the number of trees felled, in replanting trees and in protecting the stability of their own watersheds. There is a danger of falling into a romantic view of 'primitive' non-acquisitive villagers as environmental saints-the literature represents this fantasy widely. But the present studies avoid the danger, through both the specificity of their data, and the authors' critical alertness to the limitations of indigenous communities' knowledge and tools in present situations.

One of this study's important strengths is the close collaboration between Indian and Chinese scientists. The book includes several case studies from China, which survey the intricate and rapidly changing relations between indigenous upstream minorities and Chinese communities downstream, within what is reputedly a highly centralised economy. These studies reveal the impacts, often unanticipated, of the Chinese government's recently imposed severe restrictions on harvesting timber: the national timber moratorium of 1999, which followed disastrous floods in the previous year. The authors demonstrate that hill villagers (usually ethnic minorities) were the most hard hit by the ban, since they depend most heavily on timber sales for cash income. They had little choice but to evade the restrictions; thus both their needs and the health of the forest have eroded. This is a vivid case of the authors' broader argument, that sustainable forest management results only when hill people have strong, clearly delineated tenure in the forest, and can be confident that each household benefits from selective harvesting of both timber and non-timber resources. This in turn is the best hope that they will maintain their traditional management of the forest as a stable watershed.

Imbedded in several chapters is the vexing question: should governments guarantee 'subsistence' villagers the right to sell forest products in the expanding money market? This is an issue in forest management that has been debated for over a century in India, virtually from the inception of the Forest Service in colonial times. Even today there lingers an old official stereotype that villagers on the periphery of the market economy do not need- and for preservation of the forest, should not indulge in- harvesting of forest products beyond their immediate household needs. Several detailed studies in this volume demonstrate that this assumption is both unrealistic and paternalistic.

Closely related to this discussion are several vivid examples of the impacts of tourism, including the new forms of ecotourism. In several areas of Yunnan hill, minorities now face a rapid expansion of ecotourism trade, as that becomes fashionable among the urban, middleclass Chinese. The authors' discussion reinforces observations from other parts of the world, where welcome cash income that villagers earn from their ecological knowledge and cultural artifacts is offset by tourist pressure on forests and the cultural commodification that seems unavoidable.

An additional and sustained dimension of these studies concerns gender distinctions in hill economies. Govind Kelkar's outstanding work in particular has shown that women's changing roles are a central element of the stratification of access to resources, since women bear much of the burden of work in harvesting subsistence resources such as non-timber forest products. They are usually, but by no means always, among the most disadvantaged by new pressures of the market economy and official restrictions on forest use. When their husbands' cash income from timber labour is cut off by moratoria on timber harvesting, the women must work harder than ever to sustain their households. Kelkar and others conclude that women must have direct access to the wider money economy, not just through the men of their households, since they are most directly involved in harvesting forest resources, and must have an assured stake in sustainable forest use.

The challenge, then, is how to give economic value to the natural resources of indigenous peoples' territories, i.e. greater economic returns to hill peoples' careful management of 'environmental services', such as forest products and watershed protection thus validating in practice their intimate traditional knowledge of local natural systems, and their collective system of managing and sharing resources. The editors emphasise that this is a complex and difficult task. In rapidly changing times, hill minorities' traditional knowledge systems must be both consolidated and extended by modern policy tools. New product demands on regional and international markets represent both a threat and an opportunity to hill forest peoples. As in the case of tourists' purchases, goods not just harvested but processed in the villages can find new markets. But it is difficult to manage the spread of effective entrepreneurial skills and values to villagers who have to compete with more entrepreneurial lowlanders. The research team represented in this volume gives guidelines for the most hopeful ways of approaching the dilemma.


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