After two years of preparation, the 14th edition of the International Society of Ethnobiology (ISE) congress was held in the marvellous country of Bhutan, with the help of the host organisation Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment (UWICE). The theme of the congress was ‘regenerating biocultural ecosystem resilience and traditional knowledge’, and it featured a great variety of lectures, workshops, storytelling, documentaries and performances. A very tight agenda covered a wide range of topics regarding ethnobiology, community-led initiatives, governance policies, ethics and well-being. The focus was not only on indigenous peoples’ knowledge, but many conferences were dedicated to traditional knowledge in western countries and biocultural issues of developed countries.
The congress enabled the cross-cultural exchange of information and worldviews between renowned ethnobiologists, anthropologists, biologists, policy makers and indigenous representatives from all over the world and in addition to local students and organisations. The various discussions and informal side talks created the space to assemble ideas, and share knowledge, stories and connections.
The location of the congress, in Lamai Gompa, Bumthang, Bhutan, provided a perfect opportunity to get a glance into Bhutan and the Bhutanese lifestyle. As everybody knows, the beauty of the country is immense; the variety of landscapes - from tropical to blue pine forests - temples, traditional architecture and animal diversity all come together to provide breathtaking scenes. However, what makes Bhutan especially unique is its people and their mentality and culture. In the heart of East Asia, Bhutan has little to do with its neighbouring countries. For instance, education and health care are free for every citizen and no Bhutanese is landless by law, and Bhutanese are ensured of having their basic needs covered. Families have few children and can afford providing them with higher education. Many Bhutanese go to University either in the country or abroad. Respect for the environment is a priority in the political agenda and the country strives to become the first 100% organic country. Of course not everything is ideal and there is still room for improvement. Much of the food consumed in Bhutan is imported from India, and this is not organically grown, and since Bhutanese are not allowed to kill any animals the meat is also imported.
On the whole, the congress was a great success and the organisation was excellent. I felt immensely privileged to be part of this global gathering of people that care for the living and physical components of the environment. I was inspired by the conference and I got the feeling that science is changing, new more holistic approaches and ethics are being introduced and adopted and that all together we can make a difference.