Sustainability Research in Spotlight: Ethnobiology as an Active Edge in Sustainability Science

In this part of the Sustainability Research in Spotlight video series, Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares presents his ethnobiological research work with Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The video includes stunning photographic and video footage from Fernández-Llamazares’ ethnographic field-based encounters in Bolivia and Kenya, so besides the interesting topic, it is worth watching!

Álvaro Fernández-Llamazares is a HELSUS-based researcher in ethnobiology. Fernández-Llamazares describes ethnobiology as the scientific study of the dynamic relations between people and biota and the rest of the natural world. He says that ethnobiology is a diverse and interdisciplinary field of study that brings into focus human-nature inter-relations, often in place-based contexts, and from the very distant past to the immediate present.

Fernández-Llamazares thinks that ethnobiological research is a mission-driven discipline, which promotes appreciation towards the contributions of Indigenous Peoples and local communities in preventing biological and cultural diversity losses. He says that these losses are simultaneous and deeply intertwined, co-evolved and threatened by the same pressures and drivers. Consequently, sustainability is at the center of his research. Fernández-Llamazares hopes to raise awareness about the immense values of Indigenous and local knowledge systems for local, regional, and global sustainability. He argues that these knowledge systems and practices could offer rich insights into how to address some of our most pressing social-ecological problems.

In practice, Fernández-Llamazares has done more than 30 months of fieldwork, working alongside Indigenous peoples and local communities. The research includes partnering with Indigenous Peoples for documenting their biocultural heritage, always according to the Indigenous Peoples’ needs and priorities.

Nowadays there are more action-oriented programs in ethnobiology, in which ethnobiologists are standing behind their local partners and collaborators in addressing social and environmental injustices. “We are trying to highlight that these communities have played very fundamental roles in safeguarding their territories and all the biodiversity they harbor and the cultural diversity they encompass,” Fernández-Llamazares explains. Ethnobiology thrives when is grounded in reciprocity, meaningful relations and relational accountability, he states.

Working with Indigenous Peoples, Fernández-Llamazares is very aware of the history of colonialism. In fact, the communities with whom he works have survived centuries of colonial oppression and marginalization. “Ethnobiology can be an antidote to that,” he states. Unfortunately, these colonial legacies still limit people’s engagement with their traditional lands, Fernández-Llamazares explains. With growing economic demands on the lands of Indigenous Peoples, they increasingly find themselves in the frontlines of industrial development, and resource extraction. The global economy sees Indigenous lands as being the last frontiers of resource extraction. “We are standing in the frontline of these struggles, trying to bring visibility to these fights, to support their ongoing efforts to sustain their homelands, cultures and connections to places that are meaningful to them.”

The world is rapidly waking to the enormous value of ethnobiology, and its important place within the wide spectrum of sustainability research. Find out in more detail what Fernández-Llamazares has to say about ethnobiology and sustainability in the video!

Sustainability Research in Spot­light – video series!

Sustainability Research in Spotlight video series aims at opening up what sustainability research can be about. Sustainability science is inter- and transdisciplinary field of research covering a variety of research topics, approaches, and theories. The new HELSUS video series gives a voice to sustainability scientists and different perspectives of sustainability. We start with eight videos in which HELSUS members introduce their valuable research. In the following weeks, we will introduce one researcher and research per week. We hope that these videos enlighten your autumn and give food for thought!