Conservation groups often write about community wisdom:
It seems to refer to the idea that rural communities know much better than others how to sustainably manage their environments and natural resources. Reading some of the NGO texts, all we need to do is to let environmental decision-making be guided by these community folks, and all will be fine. What a total crackpot idea!
I think community wisdom is a complete fallacy. More importantly, I worry that this bad joke is undermining the effectiveness of conservation efforts.
On exactly what information is the assumption based that local communities have the traditional wisdom, practices and altruistic interests to forego individual gain for greater communal benefit? As far as I am aware evidence points in exactly the opposite direction — communities are as unable to manage their environments sustainably as anyone else (urban folk, government institutions, industries etc.).
It doesn’t take much digging in the literature about community resource use in Indonesia to find evidence of communities locally exterminating species (like tigers or warty pigs on Java, or rhinos, orangutans, crocodiles or expensive song birds in Kalimantan and Sumatra), or natural resources like Ramin wood, which had been virtually wiped out in the lower Barito region in Kalimantan by 1840, about 120 years before industrial-scale logging started. Similarly, unsustainable slash-and-burn agriculture had already turned large parts of the Kapuas and Barito basins into grasslands by the start of the 20th century.
Of course, the scale of environmental destruction significantly increased after the 1960s when the technological and financial means became available to exploit the natural resources in vast parts of Indonesia. This represents a scale difference though and not an essential difference between local communities and all the other people, businesses and institutions.
Community wisdom may exist, but it doesn’t transfer to new conditions. If the old ways weren’t sustainable, they died out. And sustainable doesn’t mean awesome:
Most anthropological and social research in Indonesia shows that the forest people of Kalimantan and Sumatra cannot wait to get out of the forest, get their kids to decent schools, access to good hospitals, and comfortable roads to drive bikes and cars on. If they are stuck in their environment, it is more often than not because they do not actually have the means to get out. As soon as someone strikes gold (literally, or maybe a village-head selling some land to mining or oil palm) these forest-loving people in harmony with nature are off into the provincial cities on the next boat, bus or plane.