In 2015 for the first time an agricultural practice received the status of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) from UNESCO: the alberello cultivation of the Zibibbo grape in Pantelleria. This panel aims to discuss comparatively the implications of protecting rural and forest livelihoods as ICH.
Certain traditional agricultural and hunting and gathering activities, often linked to common property regimes, are increasing being recognised by researchers and practitioners not only for their intrinsic value as distinctive cultural expressions, but also, in a more utilitarian vein, as examples of good practice in terms of environmental sustainability. Unlike other forms of ICH, they are also clearly economic in character, constituting modes of production that are often central to local economies. Yet Global Change (GC, Zalasiewicz et al.), referring to the related processes of socio-economic globalisation and biophysical transformations arising from climate change, poses challenges to traditional livelihoods. Intangible cultural heritage can be used as a protection mechanism for the preservation of such practices, but objections have been raised about the potential negative consequences of doing so: that it treats culture as fixed and static, as property, and even as a commodity, sometimes leading to competing claims of ownership and to 'new inequities' (Brown). It is well known that traditions are subject to change and adaptation, and yet cultural practices may maintain a distinctive identity or core features while adapting to changing circumstances (Sahlins); they are also part of a complex set of interactions and relationships which can include and give rise to new economic opportunities. In this spirit, we invite papers that address how distinctive bio-cultural practices that may be construed and, at least potentially, protected as 'heritage' are engaging with GC to contribute to or even generate new sustainable economies.