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

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article

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  • James Angus Fraser
  • Moussa Diabaté
  • Woulay Narmah
  • Pépé Beavogui
  • Kaman Guilavogui
  • Hubert de Foresta
  • André Braga Junqueira
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Article number36
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>20/09/2016
<mark>Journal</mark>Ecology and Society
Issue number3
Volume21
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished
Early online date11/07/16
Original languageEnglish

Abstract

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.