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Kenyon College

Publication Date

Spring 2015

Program Name

China: Language, Cultures, and Ethnic Minorities


Reflecting on the importance of dynamic agricultural management techniques in addressing climate change and food security, this paper examines the Hani rice terraces of southern Yunnan as a Globally Important Agricultural Heritage System (GIAHS). It identifies local inhabitants’ traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) as a key source of their success, and uses research conducted in Dayutang Village, Yuanyang County from May 4- June 2, 2015 through participative observation and guided conversation to explore the role of Hani TEK in sustainable food sourcing around the village. The TEK used in food sourcing in Dayutang is shown not only to provide villagers with stable and diverse diets, but also to connect various ecological niches into a resilient whole. This paper then elaborates upon the impact of modern changes upon this food sourcing system, and identifies the emergence of a new ‘hybrid’ form of TEK. Discussing TEK as a complex, adaptive knowledge system, it recognizes some key methodological difficulties of approaching it through the reductionist research paradigm. Finally, it concludes by considering the implications of the complexity and epistemological foundation of TEK on future research methodologies, and suggests ‘critical awareness’ as an alternative to reductionist approaches.


Agricultural and Resource Economics | Asian Studies | Community-Based Research | Demography, Population, and Ecology | Environmental Studies | Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy | Sociology of Culture | Sustainability


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