The relationship between nature and culture in biocultural landscapes runs deep, where everyday practices and rituals have coevolved with the environment over millennia. Such tightly intertwined social–ecological systems are, however, often in the world’s poorest regions and commonly subject to development interventions which effect biocultural diversity. This paper investigates the social and ecological implications of an introduced wheat seed in the Pamir Mountains. We examine contrasting responses to the intervention through participatory observation of food practices around a New Year ritual, and interviews in two communities.
Our results show how one community fostered biocultural diversity, while the other did not, resulting in divergent processes of social and cultural change. In the former, ritual is practiced with traditional seed varieties, involving reciprocal exchange and is characterised by little outmigration of youth. In contrast, the second community celebrates the ritual with replaced store-bought ingredients, no longer cultivates any grain crops and where circular migration to Russia is the main livelihood strategy. Coevolution as an analytical lens enables us to understand these divergent pathways as processes of dynamically changing social–ecological relations.
The paper suggests that a deeper understanding of social–ecological relationships in landscapes offers a dynamic and process-oriented understanding of development interventions and can help identify endogenous responses to local, regional and global change—thereby empowering more appropriate and effective development pathways.
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