Integrating indigenous knowledge on natural resources

Compiling information on indigenous knowledge for sustainable resource development
Conducting programmes to collect indigenous knowledge on natural resources
Studying effective methods of traditional resource management
Utilising traditional forest-related knowledge systems for biodiversity conservation
Relying on traditional ecological knowledge

Appropriate indigenous capacity and local knowledge regarding the conservation and sustainable development of forests should, through institutional and financial support and in collaboration with the people in the local communities concerned, be recognized, respected, recorded, developed and, as appropriate, introduced in the implementation of programmes. Benefits arising from the utilization of indigenous knowledge should therefore be equitably shared with such people.


Traditional forest-related knowledge (TFRK) is a sub-set of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), which is in turn a sub-set of traditional knowledge (TK), all these terms being commonly used. Knowledge is the information held in human memories that is accessible, by recall and the practice of learned skills, in a useful way in daily life. In the context of TK it is often used to mean wisdom, which implies a blend of knowledge and experience integrated with a coherent world view and value system. Traditional means handed down from one generation to another, and in the case of TK usually means knowledge that has been accumulated by societies in the course of long experience in a particular place, landscape or ecosystem. It can be contrasted with cosmopolitan knowledge, which is drawn from global experience and combines 'western' scientific discoveries, economic preferences and philosophies with those of other widespread cultures.


This strategy features in the framework of Agenda 21 as formulated at UNCED (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), now coordinated by the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development and implemented through national and local authorities. Agenda 21 recommends that when adopting integrated management systems, particularly for the management of natural resources, traditional or indigenous methods should be studied and considered wherever they have proved effective. Additionally it recommends: (1) integrating indigenous knowledge related to forests, forest lands, rangeland and natural vegetation into research activities on desertification and drought; (2) compiling, analysing and publishing information on indigenous environmental and developmental knowledge and assisting communities that possess such knowledge to benefit from it; and (3) initiating and maintaining on-farm and off-farm programmes to collect and record indigenous knowledge.

The Canadian International Development Agency, reviewed and synthesized wide ranging literature on 'alternative' systems of African indigenous peoples' traditional ecological knowledge (TEK), as revealed by indigenous land-use and renewable resource management practices. International involvement in this area by the UN, the World Bank, and various NGOs (IUCN, IIED [etc]), was also investigated to help identify the present scope or practical interest of TEK and possible future directions. Main traditional livelihoods and land-use practices which sustainably exploit the ecosystem include sedentary and shifting agriculture, nomadic pastoralism, hunting, fishing, food gathering, rainforest use and limited agro-forestry for food, materials and medicines, etc. Case-studies were made of the following regions of African tribal groups: Kenya - Maasai; Tanzania - Pare; Zaramo, Luguru; Niger - Fulani; and the San of the Kalahari. The study also investigated the nature or ambiguity between indigenous and post-colonial 'traditional' practices of rural Africa and the constraints or challenges this poses to the current transmission and respect for TEK among indigenous Africans and development planners alike.

Tokyo-based United Nations University is developing a worldwide Archive of Traditional Knowledge using optical disc technology for print and image recording. Medicine, health, protection and child care, culture, civilization, and applications of botanical knowledge to medicine and birth control are on the list as future resources to be available through this project. A similar UNU funded archive in Jamaica -- the Jamaican Memory Bank -- has been in use since 1981 and contributes greatly to the national development and the tourist industry in Jamaica.

FISHBASE is a worldwide computerized repository of ethno-ichthyology or indigenous knowledge on fishes of the world, presently developed at the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management (ICLARM), in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and numerous other institution throughout the world. It is shown that the flexible structure of FISHBASE can accommodate both recent and ancient ethno-ichthyological information, [ie] 'indigenous knowledge', not generally considered part of ichthyology.

In many fisheries, resource management is largely informed by professional marine biologists and public officials. Such management often assumes that the extensive knowledge that fisherfolk have achieved, after years of practical experience, is of relatively little use indeed, in many cases there is very little attempt to utilize such knowledge in ecological research and in the process of decision-making. At the same time, much recent research indicates that, given the uncertain (if not chaotic) nature of marine ecosystems, practitioners' knowledge -- knowledge gained on the spot, in the course of production -- is of key importance. Studies are being undertaken by the Beijer International Institute of Ecological Economics to explore, with particular reference to Icelandic fishing, how indigenous producers acquire knowledge about the ecosystem within which they operate, how their knowledge about the ecosystem within which they operate, how their knowledge differs from that of professional biologists, and to what extent the former could be brought more systematically into the process of resource management for the purpose of ensuring sustainability.

For many centuries, conservation has been practiced by the peoples of South Africa, evidence suggesting the application of elaborate natural resource management systems by indigenous African people such as the San, Khoi and Nguni prior to the country's colonisation. Because most traditional African societies were for the most part dependent upon natural resources, including the wildlife that surrounded them, political systems generally included a set of rules and procedures designed to regulate the use of natural resources. Examples include the setting aside of hunting preserves for Zulu royalty, soil conservation methods of the BaTswana people, and totemic protection among people such as the BaSotho. A rich folklore reflected the close relationship between traditional societies and nature, and linked people to the environment through an ethic which was strongly spiritual and cultural.

Existing declarations by indigenous and local communities to the extent they relate to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, include: the [Kari Oca Declaration], the [Mataatua Declaration], the [Santa Cruz Declaration], the [Leticia Declaration and Plan of Action], the [Treaty for Life Forms Patent Free Pacific], the [Ukupseni Kuna Yala Declaration], the [Heart of the Peoples Declaration on Biodiversity and Biological Ethics], the [Jovel Declaration on Indigenous Communities], [Indigenous Knowledge and Biodiversity], and the [Chiapas Declaration]. Other relevant declarations include [Convention 169] of the International Labour Organization and Agenda 21.


1. In Peru we spent the first three or four months watching and working with them, (trying to clarify) what they intended to do. For centuries the people have been living there, with the resources they have. We must learn from them, for example on how the agriculture was developed in the area. They have domesticated more than 60 different species in the highlands group, like potatoes for example.

2. Many South Pacific islanders possessed and continue to possess a wealth of environmental knowledge, including traditional systems of resource management. Taboos, bans, seasons, wildlife preserves, marine preserves, land and lagoon tenure systems, systems of time reckoning, social stratification, religion, and population control (overseas voyaging, suicidal voyages, celibacy, prevention of conception, abortion, and infanticide) undoubtedly function in conserving island resources. Several of these inadvertent or recognized conservation practices were distinctly effective in terms of conserving resources, and, if those appropriate were supported or adapted to modern conditions, they could continue to be so. Yet, little time remains to identify, record, and possibly preserve some of these traditional systems of conservation management.

Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 1: No PovertyGOAL 2: Zero HungerGOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 5: Gender EqualityGOAL 6: Clean Water and SanitationGOAL 7: Affordable and Clean EnergyGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and InfrastructureGOAL 10: Reduced InequalityGOAL 11: Sustainable Cities and CommunitiesGOAL 12: Responsible Consumption and ProductionGOAL 13: Climate ActionGOAL 14: Life Below WaterGOAL 15: Life on LandGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong InstitutionsGOAL 17: Partnerships to achieve the Goal