Knowledge for Development

Feature articles

Indigenous peoples’ food systems: the many dimensions of culture, diversity and environment for nutrition and health

Food systems of indigenous peoples who retain connection to long-evolved cultures and patterns of living in local ecosystems present a treasure of knowledge that contributes to well-being and health, and can benefit all humankind. This book seeks to define and describe the diversity in food system use, nutrition and health in 12 rural case studies of indigenous peoples in different parts of the world as a window to global indigenous peoples’ circumstances. A procedure for documenting indigenous peoples’ food systems was developed by researchers working with the Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE) at McGill University, Canada, and the FAO. The procedure was adapted and applied in case studies located in Canada, Japan, Peru, India, Nigeria, Colombia, Thailand, Kenya, and the Federated States of Micronesia. The collective intent of this documentation is to show the inherent strengths of the local traditional food systems, how people think about and use these foods, the influx of industrial and purchased food, and the circumstances of the nutrition transition in indigenous communities. This research was completed with both qualitative and quantitative methods by indigenous peoples and their academic partners in the context of the second International Decade of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, and the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples adopted in 2007 by the General Assembly of the UN.Authors: H.V. Kuhnlein, B. Erasmus & D. Spigelski, FAO, Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, 2009


Imagining a traditional knowledge commons: a community approach to sharing traditional knowledge for non-commercial research

The authors of this article examine the concept of TK Commons. Noting that the TK Commons does not preclude the rights of communities to enter into commercial ABS agreements for the use of their TK, they argue that it offers a further possibility for indigenous and local communities to move beyond the dominant “sale of TK leads to conservation” interpretations of CBD Article 8(j), and share their traditional knowledge whilst being able to equally define and control its use. TK Commons, they conclude, ultimately seeks to view the knowledge of indigenous and local communities as a total social phenomenon that moves beyond understanding TK as a purely tradable commodity to promoting its cultural and spiritual dimensions.Authors: E. Abrel et. al., International Development Law Organization, Natural Justice, October 2009


Enhancing innovation between scientific and indigenous knowledge: pioneer NGOs in India

Until recently, little attention has been paid to local innovation capacity as well as management practices and institutions developed by communities and other local actors based on their traditional knowledge. This paper doesn't focus on the results of scientific research into innovation systems, but rather on how local communities, in a network of supportive partnerships, draw knowledge for others, combine it with their own knowledge and then innovate in their local practices. Innovation, as discussed in this article, is the capacity of local stakeholders to play an active role in innovative knowledge creation in order to enhance local health practices and further environmental conservation. In this article, the innovative processes through which this capacity is created and reinforced will be defined as a process of "ethnomedicine capacity". The case study analyzed highlights examples of innovation systems in a developmental context. They demonstrate that networks comprised of several actors from different levels can synergistically forge linkages between local knowledge and formal sciences and generate positive and negative impacts. The positive impact is the revitalization of perceived traditions while the negative impacts pertain to the transformation of these traditions into health commodities controlled by new elites, due to unequal power relations.Authors: M.-C. Torri & J. Laplante, Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine October 2009, 5:29


Report of the indigenous peoples’ global summit on climate change

This report contains the proceedings of an Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change - hosted by the Inuit Circumpolar Council in collaboration with the UN University - Institute of Advanced Studies Traditional Knowledge Initiative (UNU-IAS TKI) and other partners. The Indigenous Peoples' Global Summit on Climate Change was held in Anchorage, Alaska, from 20 – 24 April 2009. The Summit enabled indigenous peoples from all regions of the globe to exchange their knowledge and experience in adapting to the impacts of climate change, and to develop key messages and recommendations to assist Indigenous Peoples in their global negotiations on climate change.Authors: UNU-IAS, Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change, December 2009


Biopiracy, the intellectual property regime and livelihoods in Africa

Oduor Ong’wen, the Kenya country director for the Southern and Eastern African Trade Information and Negotiations Institute (SEATINI), explains how Africa has lagged in the advancement and implementation of IP rights, with dire consequence for many communities that could have benefitted immensely from indigenous crops and plants and derived products from natural resources and traditional recipes, if well protected by law. He concludes in his detailed review on the IP regime in Africa: “Genetic technologies move knowledge from the public to the private domain. Therefore, increasing amounts of know-how, which would have been available freely for further innovation and product development, is either unavailable, if exclusive licenses were granted, or must be purchased. While research and development in all countries is affected by these changes, African countries suffer most, for four reasons. First, located in the periphery of research and development networks, their chance to obtain exclusive licenses first is very low. Second, transnational corporation have long entered the so-called ‘knowledge economy’ by creating huge patent portfolios for the sale and exchange of licenses and by creating knowledge monopolies and cross-licensing networks in which emerging industries in Africa can hardly participate. Third, while identifying and purchasing the necessary licenses is difficult and costly for any industry, African countries are particularly handicapped because they frequently have not the same informational and financial resources. Lastly, the increasing costs of patent filings and litigations required for new product developments pose a growing barrier to any research and development efforts in poor countries.” (Source: Pambazuka News, November 2010)


Farmers as Innovators in Building Indigenous Knowledge Systems

Valuing the Involvement of Civil Society in Enhancing the S&T Dialogue The innovations developed by some farmers involved in sweet potato farming, goat production, layer poultry production and dry land vegetable and fruit farming were ascertained and documented based on close and long-time association of the author and his colleagues with the farmers or visits, for the purpose, with a member of the Champion Farmer Selection Sub-committee of the Organising Committee of the Denbigh Agricultural and Industrial Show. Discussions with the farmers showed that the innovations introduced were based on indigenous knowledge, desire for greater efficiency, accumulated acquired knowledge or desire to improvise and/or improve upon adopted technology. The innovation of the sweet potato farmers in partnership with CARDI was the design of a pheromone trap for the sweet potato weevil from recyclable 2- and 4-litre plastic bottles. Mr Alexander Archer, a goat farmer, uses a solar-powered electric fence mechanism and movable shelters constructed of iron mesh and aluminium sheeting or heavy-duty plastic to ration segments of the range, in rotation, for his extensively managed breeding herd. Another innovation of his is a uniquely designed hay/forage rack that ensures very minimum feed wastage. In St Mary, Jamaica, Mr Hansel Williams, a layer poultry farmer, has designed and constructed his own conventional nest boxes, as well as a trade-mark brood management system. The innovative traditional dry land farming using Guinea grass ( Panicum maximum) mulch and spot watering with water stored in barrels is practised by the farmers of south StElizabeth. This special water management system has been enhanced further with water harvesting (using concrete catchment) and storage (Mr Errol Davidson) or by marriage with the modern technology of drip irrigation (Mr Denny Millington).


Remodeling traditional & indigenous knowledge

Figure 1: The cunani plant Knowledge, in all its forms, is a means to the attainment of economic self-determination and self-reliance. Every aspect of human activity in terms of the use of knowledge is becoming a vital component of socio-economic and political interaction. This has prompted many a commentator to proclaim that we have entered the 'Information Age'. Information is power, so the cliché goes. However, not all knowledge is perceived to be power generating; not all knowledge is perceived to be providing a competitive edge. Such is the case with traditional knowledge (TK). For a considerable period, TK has been considered little more than a nostalgic remembrance of our varying pasts, being preserved only as superstitious folklore best relegated to museums. Thankfully this is changing as TK has recently assumed a major significance globally especially with regard to knowledge of genetic resources and their contribution to pharmaceutical and agricultural industries.


Indigenous Knowledge and Agricultural Innovation

New innovations in agriculture, as is the case in other industrial sectors, go hand in hand with privatisation and decentralisation and globalization. This trend is being observed in the ACP region. During the colonial era, innovation was managed by public institutions or public-private partnerships in response to the needs of the private sector. Information and financial flows were channelled along commercial commodity lines, involving a select group of scientists, planters and representatives of multinational organizations. At that time, food production and subsistence agriculture for home consumption or sale on the domestic marketwere not taken into consideration. Little use was made of indigenous knowledge. After independence, new approaches were developed to achieve developmentalgoals such as enhancing food production and reducing reliance on imported food. It gradually evolved that technical innovations which were developed at research stations did not meet the diversity of conditions local farmers had to cope with (see endnote 1).