Engaging indigenous and academic knowledge on bees in the Amazon: Implications for environmental management and transdisciplinary research

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Abstract

Background: This paper contributes to the development of theoretical and methodological approaches that aim to engage indigenous, technical and academic knowledge for environmental management. We present an exploratory analysis of a transdisciplinary project carried out to identify and contrast indigenous and academic perspectives on the relationship between the Africanized honey bee and stingless bee species in the Brazilian Amazon. The project was developed by practitioners and researchers of the Instituto Socioambiental (ISA, a Brazilian NGO), responding to a concern raised by a funding agency, regarding the potential impact of apiculture development by indigenous peoples, on the diversity of stingless bee species in the Xingu Park, southern Brazilian Amazon. Research and educational activities were carried out among four indigenous peoples: Kawaiwete or Kaiabi, Yudja or Juruna, Kīsêdjê or Suyá and Ikpeng or Txicão. Methods: A constructivist qualitative approach was developed, which included academic literature review, conduction of semi-structured interviews with elders and leaders, community focus groups, field walks and workshops in schools in four villages. Semi-structured interviews and on-line surveys were carried out among academic experts and practitioners. Results: We found that in both indigenous and scientific perspectives, diversity is a key aspect in keeping exotic and native species in balance and thus avoiding heightened competition and extinction. The Africanized honey bee was compared to the non-indigenous westerners who colonized the Americas, with whom indigenous peoples had to learn to coexist. We identify challenges and opportunities for engagement of indigenous and scientific knowledge for research and management of bee species in the Amazon. A combination of small-scale apiculture and meliponiculture is viewed as an approach that might help to maintain biological and cultural diversity in Amazonian landscapes. Conclusion: The articulation of knowledge from non-indigenous practitioners and researchers with that of indigenous peoples might inform sustainable management practices that are, at the same time, respectful of indigenous perspectives and intellectual property rights. However, there are ontological, epistemological, political and financial barriers and constraints that need to be addressed in transdisciplinary research projects inter-relating academic, technical and indigenous knowledge systems for environmental management.

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Athayde, S., Stepp, J. R., & Ballester, W. C. (2016). Engaging indigenous and academic knowledge on bees in the Amazon: Implications for environmental management and transdisciplinary research. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 12(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-016-0093-z

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