Traditional Knowledge in Policy and Practice

Traditional Knowledge in Policy and Practice

Approaches to Development and Human Well-Being You do not have access to this content

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24 Oct 2013
9789210563338 (PDF)

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Traditional knowledge (TK) has contributed immensely to shaping development and human well-being. Its influence spans a variety of sectors, including agriculture, health, education and governance. However, in today’s world, TK is increasingly underrepresented or under-utilized. Further, while the applicability of TK to human and environmental welfare is well-recognized, collated information on how TK contributes to different sectors is not easily accessible. This book focuses on the relevance of TK to key environment- and development-related sectors, discusses the current debates within each of these sectors and presents suggestions as to how TK can be effectively integrated with conventional science and policy. A valuable resource to researchers, academics and policymakers, Traditional knowledge in policy and practice provides a comprehensive overview of TK, and its links and contributions to social, economic, environmental, ethical and political issues.

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  • Acknowledgements

    The authors are grateful to a range of community stakeholders who worked with them in defining the details of the contents in this publication.

  • Foreword

    This volume comes at a critical moment in the fight for a sustainable future. In 2002, the heads of state attending the Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development agreed to substantially reduce the rate of biodiversity loss worldwide by 2010 – the so-called 2010 Biodiversity Target. However, today biodiversity is being lost more quickly than ever, with the current rate of extinction estimated to be up to 1,000 times higher than the natural background rate. This rapid and unprecedented loss of our biological resources poses a serious threat to humanity’s longterm health, well-being and prosperity.

  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction

    The ingenuity of humankind to constantly innovate and adapt over the millennia has put all contemporary thinkers on development into cycles of dismay and disbelief when they consider the manner in which humans in their own times have survived. In our journey through history, starting from discovering the utilities of different resources, modifying them to suit our requirements to technological refinements to our innovation processes, we have witnessed several changes, especially related to how we use, manage and govern resources, territories and the values we attach to production, consumption and exchange processes. As a consequence, today we find ourselves with two sets of divergent worldviews: (1) the mainstream, dominant Cartesian worldview (also commonly referred to as the western/ European) and (2) other worldviews, commonly referred to as traditional knowledge (TK), which are different from the mainstream and include those from non-western cultures.

  • Diversities of knowledge communities, their worldviews and sciences: On the challenges of their co-evolution

    Human knowledge covers all aspects of human life such as: the notions on the origin of the cosmos, characteristics of territories, ancestral relations, food and health system, its institutions, skills and resources, its experiences and history, how to react to disaster and changing conditions, in all their dimensions, social, natural and spiritual, and at all levels: individual, family, community, society, world and cosmos. Only part of our knowledge is conscious, directly accessible and expressible in language. The other part is subconscious and intuitive, linked to our deepest source of knowledge and centre of life.

  • Indigenous knowledge and indigenous peoples’ education

    Lifelong learning, rather than education, has been the heart and spirit of traditional knowledge (TK) in indigenous societies and civilizations. Traditional knowledge is systemic and holistic, covering both what can be observed and what can be thought; it is tangible and intangible, material and cognitive. It is a complete knowledge system with its own concepts of epistemology, philosophy, and scientific and logical validity, not a collection of stories, ceremonies and objects (Daes, 1994: para. 8).

  • Indigenous institutions and contemporary development in Ghana: Potentials and challenges

    Development has been variously defined by different actors to mean different things to different people. While western economists define development in terms of economic growth and income per capita, the politician may define the same as the provision of roads, hospitals, schools and so forth. In the context of a Ghanaian community, development is usually described in terms of the well-being of the individual and the community or opportunities for improving livelihoods. Whatever the differences may be among these definitions, the underlying fact is the need for effective leadership and organizational cohesion, be it at national or community level, to be able to initiate and sustain the processes that lead to development.

  • Gender and traditional knowledge: Seeing blind spots, redressing inequities for women

    The house was circular, with a big round meeting room in the middle and a wide veranda circling it. The conversations going on in the meeting room could be heard from the veranda because the sawali partition is very low, topped by wide open spaces. The architecture of the house created a feeling of openness and inclusiveness. The leaders were sitting in a circle on the bamboo floor in the meeting room; other community members and the women were on the veranda.

  • Traditional knowledge, indigenous communities and ethical values

    Human interaction is dominated by rules, customs, practices, values and regulations. A taxi driver who can find his way around Berlin with ease is likely to be lost in the frenzy of New Delhi, not because of the different geography, but because of different practices. He would have to learn that right of way needs to be claimed by frantic hooting, that overtaking is standard on all lanes, that elephants can be dangerous to cars, that one needs to be careful around auto-rickshaws, donkey carts, overloaded motorcycles and so on. The rules and practices learned in Berlin would have to be set aside. Often, the encounter of cultures is exciting and mutual learning takes place, which is beneficial to both. However, this is not the case when benefits are reaped solely by one party, whilst the other is being exploited.

  • Making space for grandma: The emancipation of traditional knowledge and the dominance of western-style intellectual property rights regimes

    One of the most dramatic changes in intellectual property rights (IPRs) circles between the 1970s and 1990s was the emancipation of traditional knowledge (TK) systems from the recesses of scorn and neglect. For more than six centuries, the knowledge systems of colonized and dispossessed peoples across the world have languished as the western-styled IPRs system gained prominence, acceptance and legitimacy, regardless of cultural differences. Yet, in the past quarter of a century, TK systems have witnessed some degree of positive review, especially in policy instruments of international intellectual property organizations (WIPO, 1998–1999: 28) and in international agreements.

  • Characteristics, current relevance and retention of traditional knowledge in agriculture

    Modern technological interventions have increased food production and created both negative and positive impact, especially on natural resources and their management. They are input intensive and have inevitably altered the ecological services of agro-ecosystems. It has been reported that 60 per cent of ecosystem services are now degraded, contributing to a reversal in productivity gains (MA, 2005) that increases the vulnerability of farmers and farming systems. Studies indicate that scientific methods of intensive farming have reached only 30 per cent of resource-rich farmers, whereas the needs and priorities of nearly 70 per cent of the world’s resource-poor farming communities were not adequately addressed (Nene, 2006).

  • Traditional knowledge and health

    The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that the majority of the population of most non-industrial countries still relies on traditional forms of medicine for their everyday health care. In many countries, up to 80–90 per cent of the population is in this category.

  • Traditional knowledge: From environmental management to territorial development

    Since the advent of the global economy, local forms of knowledge and practices related to the utilization of natural resources have tended towards an increased homogenization, which in turn has determined a reduction of both the biological and cultural diversity associated with that knowledge and those practices. There is a growing recognition that, on one side, the full body of knowledge embedded in traditional practices associated with natural resource management constitutes a vital heritage that should be preserved and enhanced; and, on the other side, that reduced diversity (biological and cultural) makes the world and its inhabitants increasingly vulnerable to natural and human-induced changes. The past decades have therefore seen a rise of interest in the biological and cultural dimensions of diversity, the interactions between them and their connection to social and economic development (Persic and Martin, 2008). This has resulted in an increased awareness of the crucial role that traditional knowledge plays in sustainable development. In this context, national and international policy processes for the protection of traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local communities are under way in various fora. At the international level, these include, inter alia, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the World Intellectual Property Organization, the World Trade Organization, the Convention on the Protection of Intangible Cultural Heritage under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture under the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

  • Traditional knowledge and biodiversity: Can the co-evolution of natural and social systems continue?

    Biological diversity (biodiversity) encompasses “the variability among living organisms from all sources including, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems” (CBD, 1992, Article 2). It is obvious that humans, as do other living beings, owe their survival and well-being to this diversity. Every production activity that we are involved in requires some “natural good or service”, be it in terms of food and beverage production systems, medicine, construction or manufacturing, marking the significance of biological diversity to our economies.

  • Bridging formal and informal governance regimes for effective water management: The role of traditional knowledge

    Water is undeniably one of the fundamental elements essential for human survival, biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Regrettably, water in a state capable of sustaining life on earth is denied to many people (Harte et al., 1991). The denial of this fundamental life-supporting component of the environment is brought about by its scarcity, first, due to the physical and geographical locations of place; and second, due to overexploitation, excessive extraction and pollution. However, drivers of change to water quality have always existed; especially, pollution is not strictly a modern phenomenon. It dates back to early human history and more than likely before the first recorded incidents. The noted difference compared with the past and nowadays is that the earliest forms of water pollution primarily occurred due to natural cycles or phenomena, such as volcanoes, algae blooms, storms and run-offs, which can alter the quality of water or the ecological status of water. Yet in recent times, water pollution caused by human activities has been occurring at a rate which has exceeded pollution caused by natural phenomena, and imposes considerable stress on natural systems and adds to the scarcity issue. Other conventional drivers of change include population pressure, urbanization and over-extraction. Furthermore, new threats such as climate change aggravate the already complex water crisis (Bates et al., 2008). It is clear that human-induced factors contribute extensively to the current water crisis facing the world. This can be confirmed by the fact that approximately 1.1 billion poor people already lack access to safe water supply and 2.6 billion people lack appropriate sanitation. The seriousness of the water crisis is predicted to worsen in the next fifty years, especially with new threats like climate change, if a business-as-usual situation persists. Moreover, if the drivers of change are not addressed now the water crisis will fall heavily on the world’s poor people. This can easily jeopardize the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and subsequently take a toll on human well-being.

  • Integrating traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation

    All peoples have traditional knowledge and much of this knowledge will be of value in dealing with climate change. In this chapter we will discuss examples of traditional knowledge from a diversity of origins that has potential applications in mitigation or adaptation to climate change. However, much of the recent literature on traditional knowledge and climate change and my own research focuses on the knowledge of peoples who are considered to be indigenous. Below I have therefore given indigenous peoples and their knowledge special attention. Nonetheless, where information is available, I have drawn upon traditional knowledge from more mainstream sectors of society. People have adapted to climate change in the past. The emergence of agriculture and many fundamental attributes of human societies were driven by the episodes of climate change in the Holocene. However, none of these periods of climate change were as rapid as those as we are now experiencing and it is doubtful if they have much to teach us about the problems that we face today.

  • Traditional knowledge and economic development: The biocultural dimension

    The idea that traditional knowledge (TK) can be used as a driver for the economic development of indigenous peoples and local communities (ILCs) has gained international currency since the coming into force of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The genealogy of the linkage between TK and economic development begins with Article 8( j) of the CBD; the most significant attempt to make Article 8( j) operational is within the ongoing negotiations of the Working Group (WG) on Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) towards the development of an International Regime on Access and Benefit Sharing (IRABS).

  • A practical approach to traditional knowledge and indigenous heritage management: A case study of Moriori heritage management practice

    This chapter weaves together three authorial recollections of problems in local heritage management with the experience of a contemporary case study on Rekohu (the Moriori name for the Chatham Islands).1 The three individual voices set the tone for this chapter, which describes the background to the struggle for Moriori to retain and control their traditional knowledge and the solutions they have developed, against the wider challenges presented by cultural misappropriation.

  • Conclusion

    The chapters compiled and presented in this book amply bring out the contemporary relevance of traditional knowledge in addressing concerns across various sectors. These extend from management of basic necessities such as food and health care, the use and governance of natural resources, to development of methods to refine human skills and capacities.

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