Landscapes of Diversity: Indigenous Knowledge, Sustainable Livelihoods and Resource Governance in Montane Mainland Southeast Asia, edited by Xu Jianchu and Stephen Mikesell. Kunming, China: Yunnan Science and Technology Press, 2003. 608 pp. Yuan 180. ISBN 7-5416-1859-4/Q 85.
Mountain environments are unique in many ways, including varied slope gradients, cool climates, and high precipitation, often in the form of snow. The combination of these heterogeneous physical conditions has led to many mountain areas becoming refuges for biodiversity; it has also profoundly influenced the way in which humans have adapted to mountain environments and use them. In fact, it is the interactions between humans and physical processes that shape mountain environments.
Worldwide, human-induced processes such as deforestation, land degradation, and the conversion of traditional agricultural practices to permanent agriculture pose threats to the sustainability of resources. These threats become even more important and immediate in regions that support high biological and cultural diversity, such as Montane Mainland South East Asia (MMSEA). The global recognition of the value of this area has triggered long-term efforts by both scientific and local communities to reduce harmful processes. One fruit of these efforts has been a series of conferences on sustainability and indigenous knowledge in MMSEA. This book contains the proceedings of the third of these conferences, which took place in Lijiang, China, in 2002.
The MMSEA region is, by definition, situated between 300 and 3000 m asl, and overlaps with much of the area of the Southeast Asian mainland nation states and of Yunnan province in southwest China, encompassing a vast geographical area characterized by various political boundaries and socioeconomic settings, including the uplands of Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, a part of Cambodia, and Yunnan. These areas share common cultural and biophysical features, even though this is partly ignored or denied by political boundaries (p 3). The title of the book could thus not be more appropriate. Nevertheless, a little more geographical specificity would have benefited readers who are not familiar with the region. Moreover, from a reader's perspective, an overview of the history of the MMSEA initiative and its scope would have been useful in the introduction.
Following an introductory section with country profiles, the book covers 6 main thematic areas: 1) nature reserves, forests and non-timber forest products; 2) local governance in natural resource management and biodiversity conservation; 3) agro-biodiversity in MMSEA landscapes; 4) participatory watershed management; 5) rural knowledge and indigenous knowledge; 6) multifunctionality of mountain ecosystems.
The task of the book is over-ambitious, as it spans a diversity of disciplines and issues. However, this interdisciplinary, holistic view of mountain environments in Southeast Asia is also where its strength and interest lie. The multitude of experiences and narratives described raise important issues related to the appreciation of indigenous knowledge, the principle of inclusion in nature reserve management, and holistic approaches to landscape management. It may be important to note that the book refers to sources that are difficult to access and often not available in English, such as government policy and gray literature.
Some issues are only superficially addressed or not mentioned at all. Biodiversity is one of these. A recent publication by Conservation International on world biodiversity hotspots (Mittermeier et al 2005) includes the mountains of southwest China with a total number of 12,000 plants (3500 endemic) and Indo-Burma with a total number of 13,500 plants (7000 endemic), highlighting the global importance of these areas. Therefore, at least in the introduction, some more information should have been given on the region's biodiversity, in addition to the sketchy indications provided in Part I of the book.
The adoption and control of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is one of today's important controversies in science and development policy. It is intrinsically linked with biodiversity and sustainability issues, including human health—especially in developing countries, where local farmers are often forced to make less informed choices. China, a key player in the MMSEA area, has been investing in GMO research for 20 years and is one of the world's largest importers of GMOs. It is a widely acknowledged fact that other developing countries bordering the MMSEA, even if they are willing to safeguard their natural heritage, lack the resources (trained personnel and money) necessary to exert detailed control over potentially imported or accidentally introduced GMOs (monitoring, labeling, segregation procedures). It is somewhat disappointing that the book fails to address this important issue and its implications for indigenous practices and sustainability.
Although mountain environments are subject to a wide variety of natural and human-induced changes, those related to climate change are a major topic of research at present. It is also widely accepted that ecosystems with steep temperature gradients, such as alpine mountain zones and eco-tones between sub-alpine and alpine zones, will be particularly affected by climate change. Since MMSEA is such an area, the book should have addressed implications for agriculture and biodiversity that may result from future climate change. This issue is all the more essential as most of the main crops cultivated in the area are climate-sensitive. Moreover, a rise in the sea level would cause coastal inundation, driving more people towards the montane areas. This, in turn, would intensify pressure on natural resources in these areas.
The correction of some inconsistencies and careless mistakes would have greatly improved this presentation. For example, the short CVs of the contributors are one line in length for some, while the CV for one of the editors is missing altogether. The index of authors is not correctly ordered in alphabetical order. The maps are not of very good quality, particularly those at the beginning. References in the text suggest that the maps were originally meant to be in color and were later replaced by black-and-white products, probably reflecting limitations related to publication costs. Moreover, some maps and figures have not been translated into English.
Nevertheless, this inexpensive book will be a good source of information for academics and students alike on mountain issues in general and the mountain environments of Southeast Asia in particular. There is a wealth of information that can also be useful to colleagues with research- and teaching-related interests in natural resource management in general. However, this is not a strictly academic book. With a diversity of contributors from academia, NGOs, charity, international organizations, and indigenous peoples, it is a book for both academics and a wider audience. The individual contributions to this book are also available as free PDF downloads from the web at http://www.cbik.org/cbik-en/cbik/resource/MMSEA_index.asp.