Linking established science with indigenous knowledge

Integrating scientific and non-scientific knowledge
Recognizing traditional scientific knowledge
Indigenous peoples with a historical continuity of resource-use practices often possess a broad knowledge base of the behaviour of complex ecological systems in their own localities. This knowledge has accumulated through a long series of observations transmitted from generation to generation. Such 'diachronic' observations can be of great value and complement the 'synchronic' observations on which western science is based. Where indigenous people have depended, for long periods of time, on local environments for the provision of a variety of resources, they have developed a stake in conserving, and in some cases, enhancing, biodiversity. They are aware that biological diversity is a crucial factor in generating the ecological services and natural resources on which they depend. Some indigenous groups manipulate the local landscape to augment its heterogeneity, and some have been found to be motivated to restore biodiversity in degraded landscapes. Their practices for the conservation of biodiversity were grounded in a series of rules of thumb which are apparently arrived at through a trial and error process over a long historical time period. This implies that their knowledge base is indefinite and their implementation involves an intimate relationship with the belief system. Such knowledge is difficult for western science to understand. It is vital, however, that the value of the knowledge-practice-belief complex of indigenous people relating to conservation of biodiversity is fully recognized if ecosystems and biodiversity are to be managed sustainably. Conserving this knowledge would be most appropriately accomplished through promoting the community-based resource-management systems of indigenous peoples.

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 supporting new scientific research programmes, including their socio-economic and human aspects, at the community, national, subregional, regional and global levels, to complement and encourage synergies between traditional and conventional scientific knowledge and practices; and strengthening interdisciplinary research related to environmental degradation and rehabilitation.

An indigenous agroforest management system is centreed around shamu, the Chinese fir [Cunninghamia lanceolata] in Fujian Province, China. A major component of the management system is agricultural intercropping with a variety of vegetable, cereal, and oil-producing crops. Intercropping is practised in the initial phases of afforestation; is an integral aspect of site preparation and the tending of the young stand; and contributes to tree establishment, growth, and survival. Local peasant knowledge of the effects of burning, site preparation, crop selection, crop tending, and intercropping duration on soil quality and the growth and survival of Chinese fir is strongly analogous to that derived from systematic scientific research. Three particular cases were examined in detail: the effect of intercrops on the growth of shamu; the relative merits of seedlings and root collar sprout cuttings for forest regeneration; and the effects of repeated plantings of shamu on soil chemistry. All three cases provide strong support for the hypothesis that indigenous knowledge and scientific knowledge are aligned and suggest that, even in the absence of a formalized scientific method, humans exercise mental processes typical of scientific method, humans exercise mental processes typical of scientific thinking. The researcher calls this phenomenon proto-science.

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 NGO's (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 included the following regions of African tribal groups: Kenya - Maasai; Tanzania - Pare; Zaramo, Luguru; Niger - Fulani; and the San of the Kalahari. The report 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.

A vast area of marshland was reclaimed through the combination of indigenous knowledge, and initiative with scientific technical knowledge, by a community of fishermen in Mudialy, a rural community near Calcutta, India. Sewage and organic waste from the vast population of urban Calcutta is transformed into a nutrient source which is then fed into the marshes for fish farming and vegetable production. The case study illustrates how indigenous knowledge systems and technical knowledge could be integrated to achieve environmentally sustainable and at the same time economically viable development projects building on community participation.

****** FROM DUPLICATE Context ****** Agenda 21 recommends developing methods to link the findings of established sciences with indigenous knowledge of different cultures. The methods should be tested using pilot studies. They should be developed at the local level and should concentrate on the links between the traditional knowledge of indigenous groups and corresponding, current "advanced science", with particular focus on disseminating and applying the results to environmental protection and sustainable development.

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.
The Western view of humans as entitled to dominate and utilize nature at will, elaborated during the age of European expansion, recognized no limits to the exploitation and modification of ecosystems. This view has gradually changed since the mid-nineteenth century. Nevertheless, the science-based techniques of resource management that have since been developed are applicable almost entirely to single species populations in highly simplified ecosystems. On the other hand, a diversity of traditional cultures have elaborated management systems more consistent with the ecosystem view and current ecological theory.
Minority, indigenous groups
Folk traditions
Type Classification:
E: Emanations of other strategies