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Year : 2022  |  Volume : 20  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 103-112

'Rooting,' For Change: The Role of Culture Beyond Resilience and Adaptation

Thompson Writing Center, Duke University, North Carolina, USA

Correspondence Address:
Paolo Bocci
Thompson Writing Center, Duke University, North Carolina
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cs.cs_7_21

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Date of Submission13-Jan-2021
Date of Acceptance11-Feb-2022
Date of Web Publication27-May-2022


Confronted with concerns about rising biodiversity loss and pollution, conservation on the Galápagos has recently moved away from the goal of preserving pristine ecosystems to managing a complex socio-ecological system (SES). While acknowledging the positive aspects of this model, this article shows that the conceptualisation of “the human factor” in resilient SESs often limits local participation to compliance to existing plans of conservation. In so doing, I argue that participation under resilience ignores the potential that a more nuanced understanding of humans' relation to non-human nature poses for rethinking conservation as a whole. Drawing on ethnographic research, I discuss how local farmers affirm arraigo (a culture of belonging), in contrast to the imaginary of inhospitable islands that can only be visited—either for tourism or scientific research. By showing farmers' active role in the highlands, this article expands on the potential for 'convivial conservation' to reframe the traditional (and limiting) framework for local participation in conservation. This role offers important lessons about transitioning conservation away from a northern, protectionist agenda towards one that is driven by social justice and local agenda.

Keywords: cultural change, resilience, systems thinking, participation, buen vivir, protected areas, Galápagos, Ecuador

How to cite this article:
Bocci P. 'Rooting,' For Change: The Role of Culture Beyond Resilience and Adaptation. Conservat Soc 2022;20:103-12

How to cite this URL:
Bocci P. 'Rooting,' For Change: The Role of Culture Beyond Resilience and Adaptation. Conservat Soc [serial online] 2022 [cited 2023 Mar 23];20:103-12. Available from: https://www.conservationandsociety.org.in//text.asp?2022/20/2/103/346208

Abstract in Spanish: https://bit.ly/35uvIkD

   Introduction: The Promise of Resilience Top

On June 13, 2013, Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa landed on Santa Cruz Island, in the Galápagos, for a reunion del gabinete itinerante (of the itinerant cabinet). Here, the Ministry of Agriculture and the director of the Galápagos National Park presented future projects of conservation and development in the highlands, involving both, park rangers and farmers. These projects signalled a remarkable shift in the official management of the islands that had been in the making during the previous three years. As the latest Management Plan (Plan de Manejo, referred to as the MP hereafter) of the Galápagos National Park, which had just been completed, spelled out, conservation on the islands would extend beyond the protected areas and consider both protected and human areas as integrated. It did so, “for the first time ever in the history of the Galápagos,” by framing the archipelago as a complex socio-ecological system (SES) and by centring conservation around 'resilience' (Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014: 15). Under this plan, conservation would thus become “more” than traditional conservation, aligning itself with the goal of multispecies flourishing that the 2008 Ecuadorian constitution famously set with the proclamation of buen vivir (good life).

According to the MP, 'resilience' would account for the capacity of the whole archipelago to both maintain its biodiversity and ensure sustainability by offering “an integrative and inclusive management” (Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014: 23). Promising a participatory approach, the concept of resilience in SESs has gained popularity in conservation worldwide during the past decades, as conservation practitioners and scientists have searched for new methods to address the steep rise of global biodiversity loss and connect it to the well-being of local, often marginalised, communities (Berkes et al. 2000; Fischer et al. 2009). In contrast with conservation's early preoccupation with maintaining or restoring a static nature, resilience considers anthropogenic disturbance as inevitable and focuses on how a plurality of actors, such as ecologists but also local residents, can ensure that the entire ecosystem continues its functions.

A plan for establishing buen vivir and resilience in one of the world's most famous protected areas, the Galápagos National Park, seems to converge with the 'convivial conservation' concept. Proposed as “a vision, a politics, and a set of governance principles for the future of conservation,” 'convivial conservation' wants, among other goals, to move past old but persisting dichotomies between “humans” (in fact, local residents) and nature and to strengthen forms of democratic politics in conservation (Büscher and Fletcher 2019: 284). On the Galápagos as elsewhere, the resilient SES approach promises to do just that: to set at once a more pragmatic goal for conservation (as opposed to restoration of pristine places) and to become a tool for more inclusive participation (Graham and Cruz 2007; Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014). Both, the resilient SES framework and convivial conservation proposal, point to local participation as a critical tool to address the persisting challenges of conservation today, which, despite single positive outcomes, has not been able to reverse the global trends of biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, and climate change (Ceballos et al. 2015; Pörtner et al. 2021).

Despite this apparent convergence of goals, and while acknowledging the positive aspects of this approach, this article argues that the conceptualisation of “the human factor” in resilient SESs often limits local participation to compliance to existing plans of conservation. In so doing, 'participation' under a resilience approach ignores the potential that a more nuanced understanding of humans' relation to non-human nature poses for rethinking conservation as a whole—and not just for imparting cosmetic tweaks to the system that gesture towards equity. Convivial conservation, on the other hand, calls for addressing assumptions and practices of both protectionist and market approaches, which are both at play on the Galápagos. Both of them grappling with the exacerbation of biodiversity loss, one renews protectionist claims to separate more land from humans (Wilson 2016), the other by seeking alliances within the neo-liberal economy, whereby a fraction of the wealth accumulated at the expense of nature (be it through industry or tourism) funds conservation projects (Kareiva 2014). Yet, if convivial conservation wants to deliver on its promise of radical change then it needs to more explicitly address how it proposes to define participation in terms that are clearly distinct from the one of resilience.

In this article, I engage with the question of participation by looking at the management of the highlands of the Galápagos' four inhabited islands, where farmers live alongside the park's protected areas. As the Ecuadorian government meeting in 2013 announced, the new objective of resilient SESs [is to] set in motion several new projects that bridged the divide between rural and protected highlands, promising win-win solutions for farmers and ecosystem conservation. However, these first experiments largely enrolled locals only as participants in already established conservation projects, while continuing to treat farmers primarily as actors who pose a danger of ecological degradation. Although these plans defined local residents as 'allies of conservation,' the approach often resulted in farmers participating in multiple, time-consuming meetings where such projects were presented, and in donating uncompensated labour for the execution of such projects. All the while, farmers had little to no involvement in the design of such projects, and conservation agencies showed little to no interest in understanding locals' role in conservation beyond the one of willing participants in the resilience framework.

While I focus on farmers' marginalisation under the thinking approach of resilience systems, I argue that they are not just victims of conservation but also actors who are already practising a scalable alternative to the current management of the Galápagos islands. Drawing on over a decade of ethnographic research, I show how farmers on the islands care for cultivated crops and native vegetation, the soil, and the highlands as a whole. Farmers have cultivated a deep sense of attachment to the islands, which I theorise as 'rooting'. This form of connectedness challenges the foundational assumption informing both conservation and tourism: that the islands are only a place to visit. These cultural and agricultural elements of their life in the highlands contains practical and historically informed indications of co-living on the islands. Rather than focusing on the usual questions of 'why' or 'how much' locals participate, then, this article reframes local participation around practices and beliefs of mutual obligation and care.

The following sections provide a theoretical discussion of participation in conservation in general and especially within an SES approach, followed by its conceptual and practical application in the Galápagos. After a discussion of my methodology, the last two sections of the article show how farmers have sought to engage in conservation by aiming at a shared, composite well-being beyond the park's confines. The concluding section spells out how the convivial conservation concept can draw on these grounded experiences to articulate a qualitatively different role for local communities that is based on a social-justice rather than either a protectionist or market-based conservation agenda.

   The Missing Piece in Participation and Resilience: Politics Top

Today, practitioners and researchers alike consider participation as a key tenet of conservation. Participation now consistently figures as a tool in conservation management from the local to the international scale, and it is applied not just in protected areas but also in sites devoted to payment for ecosystem services (PES) and other market-based conservation projects. While definitions and typologies of 'participation' abound, participation often refers to forms of involvement in conservation projects by local residents that empower them, as well as a key factor in the success and durability of such projects. While scholarly critiques of exclusionary conservation and its colonial matrix date back to the seventies, participatory conservation gained worldwide popularity under the banner of community-based conservation (CBC) in the nineties, following the 1992 Convention on Biological Diversity (Berkes 2004; Ghimire and Pimbert 2013).

CBC projects largely accelerated the decades-long transition from a protectionist stance toward a more participatory (including resilience-based) one, although in constant tension with old and new protectionist proposals. Protectionism derived from ecological theories in the early twentieth century that conceived change within an ecosystem as desired only when functional to the establishment of an optimal 'natural' (without human) state. This approach has traditionally promoted the identification of patterns of anthropogenic change, the protection of individual species, and the separation of swaths of land or sea from human activities (Wilshusen et al. 2002; Goldman 2003).

Conversely, since the 1970s, the ecological concept of resilience has promoted a human-in-nature conservation paradigm. Unlike older ecological theories, resilience embraces disturbance and uncertainty as constitutive properties of, respectively, ecosystems and ecological theories—the latter falling under the umbrella of the 'new ecology'. This approach has led to a burgeoning field of analyses and policy interventions in ecology and beyond: as policy framework, resilience has a strong footing in areas as diverse as development, disaster response, finance, and security (Walker and Cooper 2011). In conservation, resilience has promoted many positive changes. Aside from its emancipation from early equilibrium theories in ecology and strict protectionist approaches in conservation, resilience has also allowed to move past the rigid determination of carrying capacity or maximum sustained yield (MSY). Lastly, resilience has also enabled meaningful collaborations with indigenous communities, although some interventions have been more successful than others in avoiding the reification or instrumentalisation of their environmental knowledge (Cote and Nightingale 2012).

To strengthen the resilience of an SES means, among other goals, to promote diversity and redundancy, and to broaden participation (Biggs et al. 2015). Normative claims about the positive outcomes of participatory conservation have accumulated over the decades; however, so has the frustration about lack of systematisation of this approach. By instituting multiscalar and continuous feedback loops, the SES framework has offered a more rigorous approach to the application of participation. Social scientists, however, have raised issues about how a resilient approach defines participation (Walker and Cooper 2011; Cote and Nightingale 2012). While SES studies treat the natural system as in flux and complex, they often understand society as a static entity, insofar as they neglect issues of power or offer functional explanation of human agency. This approach runs the risk of narrowing local participation to the aggregate role of stakeholders, or to rarefying it to the category of individual choice, in disregard of institutional arrangements as well as power dynamics. As a concept that developed independently from critical work in political ecology, geography, and anthropology, resilience is now widely adopted by market-based approaches in conservation (Fletcher et al. 2016). The latter, market-based conservation approach, invokes participation as a means for reaching 'consensus solutions' on technocratic, 'pragmatic' measures that often avoid interrogating the political context within which conservation operates.

Resilience and sustainability are both conceived as properties of a system that ensure the “delivery of ecosystem services” rather than socio-ecological justice (Folke et al. 2016). Resilience, in particular, overlaps with the language of disaster capitalism when it treats crises as “windows of opportunity” (Cumming and Allen 2017), ignoring the disproportional harm on marginalised communities and the exacerbation of inequalities resulting from 'slow' or fast-paced environmental crises. A similar case happens with participation: in a scenario, for example, of unequal access to natural resources within a society, encouraging 'more' participation without addressing the skewed access to those resources can led to an entrenchment of inequalities rather than their alleviation (O'Brien 2012). On the Galápagos, early attempts to formally include residents have similarly resulted in the disproportionate influence of powerful constituents, such as tourism representatives, who avoided restrictive measures for themselves while shifting attention (and restrictions) to other segments of the population with significantly less political clout such as local fishers (Lu et al. 2013; Barragan-Paladines and Chuenpagdee 2017). Resilience's supposed qualities of adaptation, uncertainty, and openness in fact operate within the same assumptions about conservation, impervious to the mounting critiques of its shortfalls by political ecologists, anthropologists, and geographers (Nelson et al. 2007; Walker and Cooper 2011; Cons 2018).

Resilience also recasts the role of agriculture within conservation. Conservation programmes have long considered farmers as a threat, earlier largely because of anti-local sentiments, and today animated by concerns about the devastating ecological effects of agribusiness (Welch et al. 2013; Soutullo et al. 2020). Focusing on resilience, models such as agroecology and eco-agriculture promise to increase plant diversity and perennial plant cover, to improve trophic interaction at multiple scales, and ultimately to strengthen local and regional biodiversity. These proposals, thus, argue for a mutually beneficial relationship between agriculture and conservation. On the one hand agriculture would benefit from the ecosystem services generated in the region it is located, such as water availability, soil retention, pollinators, and natural buffers to climatic extremes. On the other, conservation would be able to expand its scope of influence beyond protected areas, which the very socio-ecological system framework recognises as a flaw (Wezel et al. 2016; Liere at all. 2017). However, while offering viable alternatives to agribusiness, policies following these approaches have seldom moved beyond metrics such as desired environmental outcomes and productivity (agricultural output) to measure of their efficacy. Even when they contemplate “non-commodity outputs” in an attempt to situate agricultural practices within local cultures, such metrics still maintain a dichotomous relationship between people and nature (Kremen and Miles 2012; Gliessman 2021).

These and other critiques of how environmental governance involves locals (including REDD+ programmes and prior informed consent), however, should not result in the repudiation of local participation as a whole. A similar backlash against local participation resulted after mounting critiques of CBC programmes in the 1990s; the backlash led to the rise of bio-regional and landscape approaches that, by design, were less concerned with incorporating local dwellers in their plans (Peterson et al. 2010). Today, as protected areas continue to expand, mostly in the global south and neo-protectionist claims gain more force (Brockington and Duffy 2011; Massarella et al. 2018), critiques of participation in resilient SESs conservation must not further weaken involvement of local communities.

Convivial conservation advances an integrative, “whole earth” approach that promotes territories and their human inhabitants, rather than pitting one against each other (Büscher and Fletcher 2020). To that end, Büscher and Fletcher (2020: 164) propose a shift from protected to promoted areas: “places where people are considered welcomed visitors, dwellers or travellers rather than temporary alien invaders upon a non-human landscape.” 'Promoted areas' want to rethink the connections between human and non-human away from the pervasive logic among conservation biologists and practitioners of conflict and competition. Yet, as convivial conservation wants to contribute to a decolonial agenda, who should inform this new conservation agenda: local dwellers or “welcomed visitors” (Kothari 2021)? Second, at what level and how can locals contribute to conservation? Below, I advance the concept of 'rootedness' (arraigo) to reflect on the significance of farmers' care for the islands. Rather than mere compliance to already set conservation programmes, 'rootedness' allows us to appreciate locals' participation for its potential to shape a new understanding of coexistence and conservation on the islands.

   Methods Top

This article draws primarily on dialogues I have sustained with over 80 farmers of the four inhabited islands during my fieldwork stints, amounting to more than two years, between 2008 and 2018. Recently, in response to the COVID pandemic, I have continued my dialogue with a dozen of farmers over phone conversations. During my stay on the islands, I conducted over 200 open-ended interviews and a dozen focus-group workshops with farmers. Moreover, I engaged in participant observation with farmers, state agronomists, biologists and ecologists, and park rangers. I regularly participated in the monthly meetings of the four farmers associations in Santa Cruz and, when possible, of those in San Cristobal and Isabela. In addition, I interviewed the three directors (during the time-frame of my overall fieldwork) of the provincial Ministry of Agriculture and Fishery (MAGAP) and over a dozen of the state agronomists working on agriculture in the islands. I also interviewed National Research Institute of Agriculture and Fishery (INIEP) agronomists and soil scientists as they conducted research on the islands and participated in their field trips. In Quito, I conducted follow-up interviews with the same INIEP researchers and, at the headquarter of MAGAP, I interviewed state agronomists and the assistant to the Minister. For over four months in 2013, I participated in the daily work and salidas de campo (field trips) of MAGAP agronomists. In 2013 and 2018, for a total of six months, I collabourated with the MAGAP directors on ongoing projects to strengthen agroecology in the archipelago. I produced and presented two reports evaluating the two plans for islands' buen vivir and green practices in agriculture.

To understand the political and economic context of conservation and agriculture, I conducted repeated interviews with members of other associations (fisherfolks, artisans), the director of Institute for The Popular and Solidarity Economy (IEPS) of the Galápagos, representatives of the state bank (Banco del Fomento), the two directors and other officials of the Government Council (Consejo de Gobierno, the highest governmental institution on the islands), and mayors and representative of the three coastal town of Puerto Ayora, Puerto Villamil, and Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, as well as the representative of four parishes on these three islands. Further, I conducted multiple interviews with the director and other members of Invasive Species Fund (FEI), the Galápagos National Park (PNG), Charles Darwin Foundation (CDF). Additionally, I participated in over 40 field trips with CDF scientists and park rangers, as well with members of Conservation International (CI), Island Conservation (IC), and local conservation organisations. Lastly, I interviewed international state and private donors in visit on the islands.

The long-term commitment in my research has allowed for collabouration within and beyond the scope of my work. In this spirit, I taught English to their children, worked with farmers on their land, and, more broadly, tried to help when possible, whether by calculating their sales, thinking together about distribution, or talking on their behalf to tourist agencies and cruises in order to find new markets. My participation in their daily lives avoided the informant fatigue that, on the Galápagos, arises in response to, and compromises, both research and conservation projects. Crucially, this methodology permitted me to appreciate the cultural and political relevance of their practices and beliefs in enacting a form of convivial conservation, which is the contribution of this article.

   From Threats to Allies: The Evolution of Local Participation in Conservation Top

The Galápagos have long conjured the image of a pristine place inhospitable to humans. This archipelago, composed of thirteen large islands and over one hundred rocks 1,000 km west of mainland Ecuador, evolved for millions of years without human presence until the sixteenth century. It was not until 1832 that the nascent state of Ecuador established permanent settlements on the Galápagos—a short period indeed in the islands' geological history. The reasons for this image of a pristine place, however, are far from biogeographical alone. The islands are the mythical birthplace of Darwin's revolutionary theory of evolution, that motivated sustained conservation efforts from the US and Europe that framed the islands as a pristine place. While producing this image of the archipelago, conservationists perceived local residents primarily as encroaching on this pristine space. Infused with classist and racist assumptions about people in developing countries and especially the Latinos, foreign naturalists indicated in several reports that local presence threatened not only biodiversity, but also what the islands promised to offer to science and tourism (Hennessy 2018; Bocci 2019b). While hostile to certain forms of human presence, however, conservation in fact encouraged and depended on other humans: tourists and scientists. In the following years, almost 97% of the islands became protected areas, where no (local) human could go, while at the same time the islands began to open to international tourism.

The quality of 'pristine' that conservation advocates attached to the islands, then, did not set the goal of producing a space without people, but rather one with few local residents.1 Given its dependence on tourist money, state conservation has largely understudied the ecological consequences of international tourism to the islands. This conservation paradigm led to considering local in-migration as a prime threat to the islands' ecological integrity. Expressing concerns about rising human pressure on fragile ecosystems, resource overexploitation, and the spread of invasive species, a 1998 Special Law for the Galápagos strictly regulated residency on the islands. The Law contemplated a temporary work visa for mainland Ecuadorians, but only on a renewable one-year basis. Permanent residency is limited to those who had lived on the islands for three years prior to the Law, along with their spouses and children. However, the Law did not address the booming number of tourists on the islands, which has quadrupled in the past 15 years (Walsh et al. 2018). More broadly, conservation reforms have evaded discussions about international tourism as a driver of local in-migration from mainland Ecuador even in the past two decades. The law proved, unsurprisingly, ineffective at improving conservation. In 2007, the Ecuadorian state and, soon after, UNESCO declared the islands “at risk” and a World Heritage Site “in danger” (Sevilla 2007; UNESCO 2007). More protectionist interventions followed as a result, with further biocontrol measures and additional restrictions on fishing and in-migration (Lu et al. 2013). Although UNESCO pointed to the issue of tourism too, no cap on the total number of visitors was placed during the following years. Satisfied with the protectionist measures targeting locals, UNESCO withdrew the Galápagos from the list of “in danger” heritage sites in 2010 (Sanchez 2010).

These declarations of crisis nevertheless led to the park's proposal of systems thinking in conservation. Led by a pool of local and international conservation scientists, this proposal advocated moving away from a unique focus on the Galápagos' protected areas and analysing the non-linear, multiscalar feedback loops between humans and ecosystems in the whole archipelago. In so doing, it promised to get to the causes of land change, and not simply to register their effects (González et al. 2008). Furthermore, in contrast to a static understanding of ecology, the proposal drew on the key concept of resilience in SES to plan conservation measures around the goal of maintaining ecosystem functions. The 2014 management plan (PM) of Parque Nacional Galápagos states that this integrative ecosystem functions approach has informed ten years of conservation activities. The PM acknowledges that it is the first official conservation document which addresses “the islands as a whole” (Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014: 21). Breaking with over four decades of tradition that excluded local residents, the 2014 PM used SES methodology as the sole management tool of the islands, claiming that “a rational and harmonious co-presence [of humans and protected areas]” is possible. Given tourism's close reliance on the well-being of the ecosystems, the plan argued that the choice between conservation and development was false. Rather, this relationship was mutual, in that development relies on conservation, and vice versa: “there is no conservation without development, nor development without conservation” (“no hay conservación posible sin desarollo, ni desarrollo sin conservación” (Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014: 23).

The PM's framing of development and conservation as a mutual relationship followed national directives to centre the economy around the well-being of people and environment: the concept of buen vivir. On a provincial level, however, the park's claims to radically reconfigure conservation and development around buen vivir continued to promote conventional protectionist measures, albeit under a new conceptual framework. In other words, if the PM's conservation paradigm was new, conservation assumptions and goals were not. The plan's inclusion of human areas was articulated by placing the responsibility for conservation outcomes on local residents. The PM claimed that as a complex socio-ecological system, the Galápagos' ecosystems would provide services to the benefit of society, and therefore, people should “recognise that the resilience capacity of marine and island ecosystems has limits that must not be exceeded” (Calvopiña et al. 2013: 15). Resilience, then, included residents in the calculus of conservation, but framed them as a problem, because “many of the direct and indirect drivers of change [in the protected areas] originate in the populated zones” (Calvopiña et al. 2013: 6). Rather than politics, the problem was considered to stem from individual behaviours,

the current dominance of the [unsustainable] model is determined, to a large degree, by the choice of local residents who select short-term economic growth pattern in which there are few limits to the use of ecosystem services and most of the subsequent benefits are invested in obtaining consumer and material goods (González et al. 2008: 13).

The emphasis on individuals over structural conditions fit within national plans. Buen vivir positioned citizens not only as the goal of politics (that is, in providing them a dignified and fulfilling life), but also as its main actors. However, the government codified a strict definition of citizenship based on people's adherence to buen vivir, thus marginalising and even excluding those who did not comply. Similarly, the PM involved Galápagos residents but limited their role to participating in conservation plans, with the assumption that conservation most challenging task was going to regulate local residents' behaviour. As a result, under the goal of promoting participatory processes, the Plan listed the activities of “environmental communication, participation, education, and interpretation,” all forms of unilaterally imparting knowledge rather than establishing a dialogue (Parque Nacional Galápagos 2014: 17).

The PM's emphasis on resilience allowed for the important call to move conservation's focus away from single species to ecosystem variables such as land use, nutrient and water distribution, soil properties, and species abundance. The traditional singular attention to charismatic species has proven effective in attracting money for research and conservation (Santander et al. 2009), but it runs the risks of losing sight of slow but in the long term “irreversible changes in the system” (González et al. 2008: 13). The section below, on conservation in the highlands, shows how resilience theory continued the assumptions of tourism as a source of funding for conservation and of locals as actors to be educated (and contained).

   Implementing Resilience in the Highlands Top

On the four main inhabited islands, the highlands are divided between rural and protected areas. However, the highlands share climate, soil properties, and the presence of invasive species across the landscape. Compared to the coastal plains, temperature in the highlands is significantly lower, with precipitation an average of three times higher (Trueman and d'Ozouville 2010). Rainwater and humidity are responsible for making the highlands the most diverse land ecosystems of the Galápagos. This climate also ensured the survival of settlers, who largely depended on agriculture and cattle ranching in the highlands for well over a century before the advent of tourism. From the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century, state-sponsored colonisation through agriculture was responsible for the increased population on the islands. Today, humid soils are a crucial condition for the spread of invasive species like Psidium guayava, Rubus niveus, and Cedrela odorata that have propagated in fallow or minimally managed farmland and then crossed over to the park Ecologists consider invasive species as the single biggest threat to the Galápagos' biodiversity (Atkinson et al. 2012).

With the newly stated goal of strengthening the resilience of the highlands as a single SES, the park began to encourage interventions that addressed unwanted ecological change across the human/protected areas divide. In response, the 2014 provincial plan of MAGAP argued for investing in agriculture in the Galápagos on the basis that it can be an effective form of controlling invasive plants (Guzmán and Poma 2013). Rural highlands are, in fact, mostly abandoned, as a result of decades-long politics catered to tourism and conservation (SIGTIERRAS 2014). Despite unprecedented, decades-long efforts at eliminating these species, the park had succeeded in eradicating only those invasive plant species with relatively slower propagation, or those whose presence in the archipelago was still limited at the time of the eradication campaign (Atkinson et al. 2012). Stronger agriculture, MAGAP asserted, would result in more cultivated land, and thus less open terrain, for invasive plants to spread. Furthermore, it claimed that a higher local production would decrease the volume of imported food, one of the main vectors of new pathogens and invasive species on the islands.

Once it framed farmers as allies in conservation, MAGAP launched projects to develop organic agriculture to limit the use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers (cf. also Robinson et al. 2018). Similarly, the park enrolled farmers in projects for invasive species control in areas on both sides of the park's perimeter. While the conservation goals were clear, these projects stressed the win-win outcomes for both the environment and farmers. For instance, “improving the quality of production and producing safe and nutritious food using eco-friendly methods,” the MAGAP asserted, would “ensure the health of farmers, consumers, and the environment” (Guzmán and Poma 2013: 27).

My ethnographic research with farmers instead showed that these projects were, first, time-consuming and often even required farmers' uncompensated labour. A project for ecological restoration and support to agriculture, for example, asked farmers to 'donate' vegetable saplings they had germinated, to grow them without the support of fertilizers and pesticides (even organic ones), and to conduct weekly measurements of their growth. All this served to test a new water-saving technology for plants, although the experiment ran right before the rainy season. Second, when measures tackled shared issues among farmers and conservationists such as invasive species, these interventions rarely constituted 'help' to farmers. The integrated plan to control Rubus niveus, for example, enrolled a few farmers in a project to clear this invasive plant species along the border of their farms and the park. The farm areas contiguous to the park, of high elevation, the furthest removed from roads and irrigation infrastructure, and often on steep inclines, were the areas where farmers least needed help with Rubus niveus, if they needed it at all. Finally, some of these projects continued the narrative of farmers as ecological threats, while diverting attention from larger causes or even manifestations of the same issue. For instance, in 2017 the provincial MAGAP organised a clean-up campaign of plastic from farms. This campaign drew attention to the few plastic bags and empty plastic bottles on the farms, while leaving unremarked the enormous issue of ocean plastic and microplastic (affecting both the protected and human areas) within the confines of academic research by CDF scientists.

Although the projects set important goals to protect biodiversity and strengthen the resilience of rural and protected highlands, they have neither addressed farmers' needs nor the underlying drivers of ecological change: the rising influx of people and goods sustained by ever growing tourism. Instead, the preoccupation with in-migration dominates both conservation and agriculture policies of the highlands, leaving farmers with little support and not fulfilling any of the stated goals of integrated socio-ecological management. Farmers, for example, have faced rising challenges during the past two decades as the workforce has dwindled due to restrictions on local in-migration and competition from higher-paying jobs in tourism. Further, climate change has increased erratic seasonality and thus exacerbated the issue of water scarcity, another key concern for agriculture (Echeverria 2020). Although they invoke food security and strong agriculture, the park's and MAGAP's plans have only marginally addressed the issue of water, and have ignored altogether the long-standing requests of seasonal workers and more robust state support.

Meaningful state support to farmers would disturb a key tenet in local conservation because it ostensibly drives in-migration. This approach rests on a false equivalency, assuming that if agriculture in the past caused in-migration from the mainland, then limiting agriculture today would have a similar effect albeit in reverse. However, the limited support for agriculture today has not led to the desired result of curbing in-migration, which continues to be driven by tourism. As a result, farmers have been forced to abandon cultivation on their lands, with negative ecological repercussions for the highlands and increased economic insecurity due to higher reliance on tourism. Although promoters of the resilient SES framework for the Galápagos promised to move past the geographical scope of protected areas and to address the causes of systemic change as a whole, the policy approach and the conservation measures around invasive species and in-migration in the highlands failed because they continued to regard farmers as responsible for in-migration and other ecological crises (Laso 2020). Consequently, the park entrance fee, a considerable source of revenue for conservation and public services on the islands, continues to allocate no funds to agriculture today (Congreso Nacional 1998).

   Beyond Participation Top

My analysis of conservation in the highlands shows how not only the legacy of the old protectionist paradigm but also the participation under the new regime of resilient SESs limit the possibility for rethinking conservation on the Galápagos. It is as though resilience, the capacity of a system to absorb a shock while retaining its functions and structure, becomes a property not of the Galápagos but of its conservation paradigm, which has maintained its 'identity' despite the ongoing challenges and crises. Confronted with a plethora of challenges during the past three decades, protectionist conservation has demonstrated extraordinary resilience by continually innovating itself while steering clear of questioning tourism as its fundamental tenets (Grenier 2007). In the name of resilience, the park has put forth ambitious societal goals, such as “the identification of the most appropriate tourism model for Galápagos,” which is considered “a top priority of research and planning for the next few years” (González 2008: 12), or the strengthening of an cultura isleña (island lifestyle) in consonance with the archipelago's fragile ecosystems. These important declarations, however, lack any substantive indication of how to achieve these goals. The SES framework, with its promise to synthetise all fluxes and actors into one single paradigm, risks being more grandiose than useful. After all, a systemic approach might not be the right tool to change the very entrenched system and interests of conventional conservation.

My long-term fieldwork and engagement with farmers reveal an alternative path that farmers propose for conservation on the islands. The very issues of lifestyle, geographical opening, and reliance on tourism are the ones that farmers contest daily in their practices and values. Counter to a society largely dependent on touristic consumption, quick visits, and the image of deserted islands, farmers establish long-term ties with the islands, which I refer to as arraigo. Obviously, farmers are not a homogenous category. Aside from differences in gender, age, time on the islands, and province of origin in the mainland Ecuador, farmers on the Galápagos enjoy (or suffer from) different legal status, ranging from undocumented to permanent residents. This has profound consequences on their access to land, capital, market, and state assistance (as well as health, education, and mobility). Further, in the context of scarce labour, limited access to land, water scarcity, and competition with import produce, some farmers also take other jobs as taxi drivers, carpenters, and fishers. The goal of this article, however, is not to discuss these differences, but to present several scalable lessons that emerge from within the diversity of farmers' life on the islands.

First, this culture of arraigo stems from the fact that farmers situate their dwelling on the Galápagos within a much longer temporal frame than that of a tourist economy (Bocci 2017). This history has produced cultural values and attitudes towards the islands that grew out of a difficult life in isolation and with limited resources. Memories of subsistence agriculture during early colonisation inform an understanding of the fragility of the ecosystems and the human communities that have directly depended on them. Farmers who belong to families with generations on the islands, which sometime span almost 100 years, invoke this past as they practice a careful use of resources (such as water), which conservation now nominally proclaims under the goal of sustainability. This history also shapes these farmers' awareness of the limits to living on the coast and the scepticism around a tourist economy based there. With a modicum of water, fertile soil, and shade, the highlands were, until five decades ago, the only place for survival. On the other hand, living on the coast, aside from minimal subsistence fishing (of lobsters, crabs, and the endemic mollusc canchalagua), was long inhabitable (Ospina 2001).

Second, most farmers establish ties with the islands through their commitment to feeding the local community. Amidst a changing climate, tenuous state support, the influx of imported food, and an insufficient labour force, farmers voice pride in growing food and sustaining the local community. Against the rhetoric of farmers as anti-environmentalists and thus not a desirable presence, farmers vindicate their essential role in the society. Farmers feel a sense of responsibility not only for the community's well-being, but also for the thriving highlands. Their nomenclature of desirable versus undesirable species sometimes diverges with the park's restoration agenda, which is based on native versus alien status. More often, however, their actions converge around targeting invasive species, which spread on cultivated and protected areas alike. Some farmers also keep native plants on their properties for ecological reasons, such as providing habitat to certain birds, or maintaining microclimatic conditions of air and soil humidity. Their reasons are also aesthetic and cultural, more broadly, as farmers protect endangered native plants “as an inspiration as how to survive in a place like this,” as a farmer once put it to me. Other farmers lament how people from the coast buy land in the highlands to build hotels or bed and breakfasts. Unfamiliar with, or even uninterested in, the highlands' ecology, these new owners indiscriminately cut down all trees—young, invasive ones as well as old, endangered ones—even though they might not have the money to build for years, if ever. These farmers, in contrast, see themselves as part of the highlands, not only because their livelihood, but also due to the affect and care that emerge from daily connections to other species and the landscape. A farmer who also owns a house in the coastal town told me that she can stay there only for a couple of days maximum, as she soon “feels the need to check on the animals [in her farm], but she also miss[es] the woods too much” (pers. comm. 2018).

Third, during my decade of research, farmers have repeatedly affirmed the highlands' (and agriculture's) unique capacity to ensure survival in the times of local or the global crisis, such as the oil spills in 2001 and 2019, the 2009 global financial crisis, all resulting in significant reduction in tourism and extreme hardships for the local community. In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the province shut itself for tourists from mid-March in 2020 until the end of June 2020, and tourism continued to be at historic low for the rest of 2020. To my informants, the lock-down engendered considerable losses as the demand for produce and meat plummeted. One of my friends lost all of her 100 pigs to starvation, since the restaurants that gave her food scraps for the pigs (in exchange for the meat at reduced price) had all closed. However, despite the financial and health concerns, enduring lock-down in fincas (farms) in the highlands was bearable, as farmers could feed themselves and move about their farms. Many farmers told me that being immersed in a landscape teeming with life gave them a welcome respite from the local news, unlike what residents in the coast experienced while stuck in small apartments. “The air is different here,” a friend told me as we talked on the phone, referring to both the local air devoid of virus but also a less gloomy atmosphere (pers. comm. 2020). Although I had heard the argument before, COVID has only fortified the importance that farmers place on self-sufficiency by establishing long-term, mutual connections with the islands, rather than solely relying on outside tourist money.

Fourth, rather than passively waiting for top-down instructions on how to participate in the highlands, farmers are already deliberate actors in the landscape. And, in the context of ongoing climate and socio-ecological change, they act with flexibility and inventiveness. Sometimes farmers generate new solutions to long-standing, although worsening, problems. For example, during a recent severe drought that lasted for seven months, a farmer cut wild plantain trees at the base of their trunks and planted them next to dying orange trees. Rich in minerals and water, these trunks alone helped his orchard survive. In other cases, farmers recover past strategies that are almost forgotten: when the pasture had dried out during another harsh dry season, a farmer remembered and applied his grandfather's solution—cutting and crushing banana leaves for livestock, helping cows endure the food shortage. In other cases, farmers repurpose existing farming techniques to suit new needs. For instance, scions of porotillo tree (of the Erythrina family) grow without help if planted on the ground. Farmers on the Galápagos have long used them to delimit farms. Now, farmers with exiguous capital, often undocumented, use them in their lots to sustain crops with heavy fruits, such as tomatoes and green calabash, as a cheaper alternative to wires and sticks. Lastly, contrary to the image of powerless farmers trafficking in nostalgia, farmers have actively challenged their marginalisation and affirmed the values I discuss here. During the last decades, they organised through state cooperatives to increase their political relevance, although these efforts were stymied by red tape and the overarching unfavourable political disposition towards agriculture on the islands. More recently, farmers have formed networks of peer support, establishing seed banks and opportunities to share their knowledge about navigating ecological and social challenges alike.

   Conclusion: Arraigo and its Importance for Convivial Conservation Top

After decades of exclusion from conservation planning, and with the majority of the population working in extractive industries (tourism and fishery), society on the Galápagos has long been regarded as lacking a rooted sense of place and of not having a unifying culture (Ospina 2003). To the contrary, by voicing their pride in feeding a local community, farmers produce not only a new sense of belonging to the islands, but also of a community itself. Agriculture, then, can be a vehicle for culture (Bocci 2019a). Farmers' practices can practically orient the whole society away from fast growth and the premise of no culture towards values of arraigo and long-term commitment.

Farmers think of the Galápagos as a place to live and relate to, and not to consume with short visits. Protectionist conservation, in both its old and new form as resilient SES has instead treated the archipelagos' inhospitable conditions as characteristics to preserve, although this model has opened the doors to mass tourism. Farmers curb the spread of present weeds and slow the introduction of new ones. As farmers tend to the crops, engage in mundane observation (unlike the tourists' search for the spectacular), and care for the landscape, they effectively articulate a convivial conservation paradigm for the islands as a whole. They have not only revealed the problems with current conservation approaches, but also showed a way out: their reclamation of infested terrain works not only as a metaphor, but as an actual guide to improve the ecological conditions and biodiversity on the he islands. They have also shown how tourism is no less an invasive process than the alien species targeted by conservation agencies and scientists. This vision might sound foreign and even blasphemous on the Galápagos, as a sign of the advancement of the human frontier on a natural sanctuary. However, it draws on a history that is a century older than conservation on the islands, one that offers indications of how to reconfigure the islands after tourist conservation.

Convivial conservation must affirm the cultural and political valence of local participation beyond resilience, towards building a viable alternative to the SES paradigm. This paradigm shift cannot be that of resilient SESs, which I described above as hindering systemic change rather than promoting it. Convivial conservation needs to more explicitly attune to local actors already enacting alternatives to protectionist conservation. On the Galápagos, this attunement would help us position farmers under a new light: not as 'polluters' that conservation must turn into allies, but as actors that have formed a sense of belonging to the islands, which is necessary to moving away from organising the islands as a tourist facility. This proposal rejects the apolitical (in fact neoliberal) posture that places responsibility on the individual. SESs, specifically, promise a holistic understanding of all factors but fall short of including political and also epistemic factors (what knowledge is privileged). Here, instead, I have discussed farmers not for their individual choices, but rather as historical, cultural, and social forces that are carving out socio-ecological relations in dissonance with the current nexus of tourism and conservation. The emphasis on a more profound, qualitatively different role of locals in conservation and environmental issues at large is essential to convivial conservation's goal to transitioning conservation away from a northern, protectionist agenda towards one that that is local and driven by a social-justice agenda.


Many thanks to Judith Krauss and Robert Fletcher for their insightful feedback on my draft.

Declaration of competing/conflicting interests

The author declares no competing interests in the conduct of this research.

Financial disclosures

This research was not funded by any agency.

Research ethics approval

Duke IRB approval #2018-0479.

   Note Top

  1. As a result, humans can reside only in 263 sq. km of land across four islands of the archipelago. This area amounts to 3% of the islands, or 0.2 of the entire archipelago, including its marine reserve. The centrality of the people-less, or rather resident-less, element in conservation has continued despite the fact that the Galápagos have been a province of Ecuador since 1974, and currently 30,000 Ecuadorians live there. As late as 2002, conservation's ultimate goal was indeed to restore the islands to their condition before humans arrived there in 1532 (Bensted-Smith 2002).

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