Place for Advertisement

Please Contact:

What is Indigenous Knowledge?

The increasing attention indigenous knowledge is receiving by academia and the development institutions has not yet led to a unanimous perception of the concept of indigenous knowledge. None of the definitions is essentially contradictory; they overlap in many aspects. Warren (1991) and Flavier (1995) present typical definitions by suggesting:
Indigenous knowledge (IK) is the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. IK contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. It is the basis for local-level decision making in agriculture, health care, food preparation, education, natural-resource management, and a host of other activities in rural communities. (Warren 1991)
Indigenous Knowledge is (…) the information base for a society, which facilitates communication and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and experimentation as well as by contact with external systems. (Flavier et al. 1995: 479)
While using similar definitions, the conclusions drawn by the various authors are, controversial in a number of aspects. The implications of this will be discussed in the section "Public debate on indigenous knowledge". Most authors explain their perception of indigenous knowledge, covering only some aspects of it. In contrast, Ellen and Harris (1996)provide ten characteristics of indigenous knowledge that are comprehensive and conclusive.
In the emerging global knowledge economy a country’s ability to build and mobilize knowledge capital, is equally essential for sustainable development as the availability of physical and financial capital. (World Bank, 1997) The basic component of any country’s knowledge system is its indigenous knowledge. It encompasses the skills, experiences and insights of people, applied to maintain or improve their livelihood.

Significant contributions to global knowledge have originated from indigenous people, for instance in medicine and veterinary medicine with their intimate understanding of their environments. Indigenous knowledge is developed and adapted continuously to gradually changing environments and passed down from generation to generation and closely interwoven with people’s cultural values. Indigenous knowledge is also the social capital of the poor, their main asset to invest in the struggle for survival, to produce food, to provide for shelter or to achieve control of their own lives.
To name but a few:
· Medicinal properties of the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which, among others, IDRC is researching
· Traditional pastoralists as guardians of biological diversity.
· Egyptian architecture for urban areas.
For more examples see our database of indigenous knowledge practices.

Today, many indigenous knowledge systems are at risk of becoming extinct because of rapidly changing natural environments and fast pacing economic, political, and cultural changes on a global scale. Practices vanish, as they become inappropriate for new challenges or because they adapt too slowly. However, many practices disappear only because of the intrusion of foreign technologies or development concepts that promise short-term gains or solutions to problems without being capable of sustaining them. The tragedy of the impending disappearance of indigenous knowledge is most obvious to those who have developed it and make a living through it. But the implication for others can be detrimental as well, when skills, technologies, artifacts, problem solving strategies and expertise are lost.

Indigenous knowledge is part of the lives of the rural poor; their livelihood depends almost entirely on specific skills and knowledge essential for their survival. Accordingly, for the development process, indigenous knowledge is of particular relevance for the following sectors and strategies:
· Agriculture
· Animal husbandry and ethnic veterinary medicine
· Use and management of natural resources
· Primary health care (PHC), preventive medicine and psychosocial care
· Saving and lending
· Community development
· Poverty alleviation

Indigenous knowledge is not yet fully utilized in the development process. Conventional approaches imply that development processes always require technology transfers from locations that are perceived as more advanced. This has led often to overlooking the potential in local experiences and practices. The following experience from Ethiopia food security program may illustrate the consequences if local knowledge is not considered adequately.
Higher yielding sorghum varieties were introduced in Ethiopia to increase food security and income for farmers and rural communities. When weather and other conditions were favorable, the modern varieties proved a success. However, in some areas complete crop failures were observed, whereas local varieties, with a higher variance of traits, were less susceptible to the frequent droughts. The loss of an entire crop was considered by the farming community as more than offset by the lower, average yields of the local variety that performed also under more extreme conditions. (Oduol, W. 1992) An approach, that had included the local experience of farmers, might have resulted in a balanced mix of local and introduced varieties, to reduce the risk for the producers.
Introduced varieties and commercially marketed seeds are replacing local varieties – along with them, the concomitant local knowledge disappears. For many years, the international community is establishing - with considerable effort - gene banks to preserve the genetic information of local varieties or indigenous species. However, the seeds and clones do not carry the instructions how to grow them. This knowledge needs to be captured, preserved and transferred as well.

Indigenous knowledge is relevanton three levels for the development process.
· It is, obviously, most important for the local community in which the bearers of such knowledge live and produce.
· Development agents (CBOs, NGOs, governments, donors, local leaders, and private sector initiatives) need to recognize it, value it and appreciateit in their interaction with the local communities. Before incorporating it in their approaches, they need to understand it – and critically validate it against the usefulness for their intended objectives.
· Lastly, indigenous knowledge forms part of the global knowledge. In this context, it has a value and relevance in itself. Indigenous knowledge can be preserved, transferred, or adopted and adapted elsewhere.
The development process interacts with indigenous knowledge. When designing or implementing development programs or projects, three scenarios can be observed:
The development strategy either
· relies entirely or substantially on indigenous knowledge,
· overrides indigenous knowledge or,
· incorporates indigenous knowledge.
Planners and implementers need to decide which path to follow. Rational conclusions are based on determining whether indigenous knowledge would contribute to solve existing problems and achieving the intended objectives. In most cases, a careful amalgamation of indigenous and foreign knowledge would be most promising, leaving the choice, the rate and the degree of adoption and adaptation to the clients. Foreign knowledge does not necessarily mean modern technology, it includes also indigenous practices developed and applied under similar conditions elsewhere. These techniques are then likely to be adopted faster and applied more successfully. To foster such a transfer a sound understanding of indigenous knowledge is needed. This requires means for the capture and validation, as well as for the eventual exchange, transfer and dissemination of indigenous knowledge.
ECHO (Educational Concerns for Hunger Organization) development notes (EDN), Newsletter for agricultural practices under difficult conditions, published by a non-profit, Christian organization, dedicated to the fight against world hunger
GATE – German Appropriate Technology Exchange, GTZ, Eschborn, a quarterly newsletter, with changing topical focus themes that include loacal technology contributed by local practitioners and scientists.
Artisans, and Horticulturalists. Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management, Vastrapur, Ahmedabad-380015, India.
IFPP Newsletter. Indigenous Food Plants Programme, P.O. Box 48108, Nairobi, Kenya.
ILEIA Newsletter. Information Centre for Low-External-Input Agriculture, P.O. Box 64, 3830 AB Leusden, The Netherlands.
International Traditional Medicine Newsletter. Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Illinois, P.O. Box 6998, Chicago, Illinois 60680-6998 USA.
La Voix du Paysan, Yaounde, Cameroun
Le Grenier, Service Inter Africaine de Technologiees Appropriees (SIATA), 01 B.P. 1485 Ouagadougou 01, Burkina Faso,
Seedling. Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN), Apartado 23398, E-08080 Barcelona, Spain.
IWGIA Newsletter. International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, Fiolstraede 10, DK-1171 Copenhagen K, Denmark.
TEK Talk: A Newsletter on Traditional Ecological Knowledge. The Editor, 135 Hawthorne Ave., Ottawa, Ontario, Canada KlS OB2.

The Bibliography is not commented, the mentioned sources are referenced works and literature that were used or referred to during our research on the subject. They do not include any judgement on the side of The World Bank.

Altieri, M.A. and L.C. Merrick (1987a) "In situ conservation of crop genetic resources through maintenance of traditional farming systems", Economic Botany41(1):86-96.

Altieri, M.A.(1987) "The significance of diversity in the maintenance of the sustainability of traditional agroecosystems", ILEIA Newsletter3(2):3-7.

Altieri, M.A., M.K. Anderson and L.C. Merrick (1987b) "Peasant agriculture and the conservation of crop and wild plant resources", Conservation Biology1(1):49-58.

Ashby, J.A., T. Gracia, M. del P. Guerrero, C.A. Quirós, I.J. Roa and J.A. Beltrán (1995) "Organizing experimenting farmers for participation in agricultural research and technology development". Paper presented at the Workshop entitled "Traditional and modern systems of natural resource management in Latin America". Washington D.C.: World Bank.

Atran, S. (1990) Cognitive foundations of natural history: towards an anthropology of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Babu, S. C. and B. Rajasekaran 1991. "Agroforestry, Attitudes Towards Risk and Nutritional Availability: A Case Study of South Indian Farming Systems." Agroforestry Systems15 (1): 1-16.

Babu, S. C., D. M. Warren and B. Rajasekaran. 1994. "Expert Systems for Utilizing Indigenous Technical Knowledge in Farming Systems Research: The Case of Crop Varietal Selection." In D. M. Warren, L. J. Slikkerveer, and D. Brokensha (eds.) The Cultural Dimension of Development: Indigenous Knowledge Systems, London : Intermediate Technology Publications (in press).

Badri, B. and A. Badri (1994) "Women and biodiversity", Development, Journal of SID1:67-71.
Bell, M. (1979) "The exploitation of indigenous knowledge or the indigenous exploitation of knowledge. Whose use of what for what?", Institute of Development Studies, 10 (2): 44-50

Bellon, M.R. and S.B. Brush (1994) "Keepers of maize in Chiapas, Mexico", Economic Botany48(2):196-209.

Benzing, A. (1989) "Andean Potato peasants are "seed bankers",ILEIA Newsletter5(4):12-13.

Berkes, F. and C. Folke (1994) "Linking social and ecological systems for resilience and sustainability". Paper presented at the Workshop on property rights and the performance of natural resource systems. Stockholm: The Badger International Institute of Ecological Economics, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.

Berlin, B. (1992) Ethnobiological classification: principles of categorization of plants and animals in traditional societies. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Brokensha, D., Warren, D.M., Werner, O. (1980)"Indigenous knowledge systems and development", University Press of America, Washington, D.C.

Bunyard, P.(1994) "Bringing back the balance: Alternative economics for the Colombian Amazon", ILEIA Newsletter 10(2):10-11.

Cashman, K. "Indigenous Knowledge and International Agricultural Research; Where Do We Go From Here?" pp. 10-20, In D. M. Warren, L. J. Slikkerveer, and S. O. Titilola (eds.), Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Implications for Agriculture and International Development. Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 11. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.

Chambers, R., A. Pacey, and L.A. Thrupp (eds) (1989) Farmer First: Farmer innovation and agricultural research. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Chapin, M.(1988) "The seduction of models: Chinampa agriculture in Mexico", Grassroots Development12(1):8-17.

Easton, P. (editor, unpublished, 1998) "Decentralization, self Governance and local capacity building in the Sahel: Results of the PADLOS-Education Study", Club du Sahel, OECD and CILSS

Ellen, R. and Harris, H (1996). "Concepts of indigenous environmental knowledge in scientific and development studies literature - A critical assessment"; draft paper East-West Environmental Linkages Network Workshop 3, Canterbury

Erickson, C.L. (1994) "Raised fields as a sustainable Agricultural System from Amazonia". Paper presented in the Symposium entitled "Recovery of indigenous technology and resources in Bolivia". Atlanta: XVIII International Congress of the Latin American Studies Association.

FAO (1993a) "From forum to the field: NGO perspectives and concern"", Deep, Development Education Exchange Papers 11-13.

FAO (1993b) "Ciencia Indígena y biodiversidad", pp. 4-6 in La diversidad de la naturaleza: Un patrimonio valisio.

Flavier, J.M. et al. (1995)""The regional program for the promotion of indigenous knowledge in Asia", pp. 479-487 in Warren, D.M., L.J. Slikkerveer and D. Brokensha (eds) The cultural dimension of development: Indigenous knowledge systems. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Grenier, L. (1998) Working with Indigenous Knowledge - A Guide for Researchers, IDRC, Ottawa
Hambly, H.; Onweng, A. T., ed. (1996) Grassroots indicators for desertification(online): Experience and perspectives from eastern and southern Africa IDRC Ottawa

Haverkort, B., W. Hiemstra, C. Reijntjes and S. Essers (1988) "Strengthening farmers" capacity for technology development", ILEIA Newsletter4(3):3-7.

Hecht, S.B. and D.A. Posey (1989) "Preliminary results of soil management techniques of the Kayap" Indians"; Advances in Economic Botany(7):174-188.

Hobart, M. (ed.) (1993) "Introduction: the growth of ignorance? An anthropological critique of development"; London: Routledge, pp. 1-30.

Hobsbawm, E. and Ranger, T. (eds.) (1983) The invention of tradition; Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Hunn, E. (1993) "What is traditional ecological knowledge?" Traditional ecological knowledge: wisdom for sustainable development. N. Williams and G. Baines (eds.) Canberra: Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, ANU, pp. 13-15
Johnson, A.W. (1972)""Individuality and experimentation in traditional agriculture", Human Ecology 1(2):149-159.
Larson, J. (1998) "Perspectives on indigenous knowledge systems in Southern Africa" Washington D.C. World Bank Discussion paper No.3

 Lawas, C. M., Luning H. A. (1996) "Farmers" Knowledge and GIS",  Indigenous Knowledge Monitor Vol. 4, (1) April 1996

Mathias, E. (1995) "Framework for enhancing the use of indigenous knowledge", Indigenous Knowledge Monitor Vol. 3, (2) August 199 5

Mathias-Mundy, E. (1989) "Of Herbs and healers", ILEIA Newsletter 4(3):20-22.
Mathias-Mundy, E. and C. McCorkle. 1989. "Ethnoveterinary Medicine: An Annotated Bibliography". Bibliographies in Technology and Social Change,   No. 6. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.

Mathias-Mundy, E., O. Muchena., G. McKiernan, and P. Mundy. 1992. "Indigenous Technical Knowledge of Private Tree Management: A Bibliographic Report". Bibliographies inTechnology and Social Change No. 7. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.
McConnel, P., ed (1995) "Making a Difference: Measuring the Impact of Information on Development Workshop Proceedings", Ottawa, Canada, 1995; IDRC, in: Making a Difference: Measuring the Impact of Information on Development, edited by McConnel, P.

McCorkle, C. (1994) "Farmer innovation in Niger". Studies in Technology and Social Change Series No 21. Ames: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.

Morin-Labatut, G.M. and S. Akhtar (1992) "Traditional environmental knowledge: A resource to manage and share", Development Journal of the Society for International Development 4:24-29.

Mundy, P. and L. Compton. 1991. "Indigenous Communication and Indigenous Knowledge". Development Communication Report 74 (3): 1-3.

Oduol, W. (1995) "Adaptive Responses to Modern Technology: Kitui Farmers in the Semiarid Regions of Eastern Kenya in Technology Policy and Practice in Africa edited by O. M. Ogbu, B. O. 

Oyeyinka, and H. M. Mlawa, IDRC, Ottawa 1995
Pawluk, Roman, J. A. Sandor, and J. A. Tabor. 1992. "The Role of Indigenous Soil Knowledge in Agricultural Development." Journal of Soil and Water Conservation47 (4): 298-302.

Pérezgrovas, R., P. Pedraza and M. Peralta (1992) "Plants and prayers: Animal healthcare by Indian shepherdesses", ILEIA Newsletter 8(3):22-23.
Posey, D.A. (1991) "Kayap Indians: Experts in synergy", ILEIA Newsletter7(4):3-5.
Posey, D.A.(1982) "The keepers of the forest", Garden 6(1):18-24.

Posey, D.A.(1985) "Indigenous management of tropical forest ecosystems: the case of the Kayap" indians of the Brazilian Amazon", Agroforestry Systems(3)139-158.

Posey, D.A., J. Frechione, J. Eddins, L.F. Da Silva, D. Myers, D.Case and P. Macbeth (1984) "Ethnoecology as applied anthropology in Amazonian development", Human Organization 43(2):95-107.
Quiroz, C. (1996) "Farmer Experimentation in a Venezuelan Andean Region" in D.M. Warren, S. Fujisaka and G. Prain (eds) Indigenous experimentation and cultural diversity. London: IT Publications.

Rajasekaran, B. 1990. "Economics of Irrigated Rice Production in Mali." A Study Report, Sahelian Agriculture Division, Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Rajasekaran, B. and D. M. Warren. 1990. "The Role of Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Drought Relief Activities." Report: Drought Disaster Workshop, United States Agency for International Development, USAID, Washington, D.C. May 1990.
Rajasekaran, B. and D. M. Warren. 1994. "Indigenous Rice Taxonomies and Farmers" Rice Production Decision-Making Systems in South India." In D. M. Warren, L. J. Slikkerveer, and D. Brokensha (eds.) The Cultural Dimension of Development: Indigenous Knowledge Systems, London : Intermediate Technology Publications (in press).

Rajasekaran, B. and M. B. Whiteford 1992. "Rice-Crab Production in South India: The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Designing Food Security Policies." Food Policy 18 (3): 237-247.

Rajasekaran, B., D. M. Warren and S. C. Babu 1991. "Indigenous Natural Resource Management Systems for Sustainable Agricultural Development - A Global Perspective." Journal of International Development 3 (4): 387-402.

Reijntjes, C. (ed) (1991) "Raised fields for lowland farming", ILEIA Newsletter 7(4):6-8.
Reijntjes, C. and W. Hiemstra (1989) "Farmer experimentation and communication", ILEIA Newsletter 5(1):3-6.

Rengifo-Vásquez, R. (1989) Experimentacion campesina. Documento de Estudio No. 16. Lima: PRATEC.

Rhoades, R. and A. Bebbington (1996) "Farmers who experiment: An untapped resource for agricultural research and development" in D.M. Warren, S. Fujisaka and G. Prain (eds) Indigenous Experimentation and cultural diversity. London: IT Publications.
Salas, M.A. (1994) "The technicians only believe in science and cannot read the sky: The cultural dimension of knowledge conflict in the Andes", pp. 57-69 in Scoones and J. Thompson (eds) Beyond farmer first: Rural people"s knowledge, agricultural research and extension practice. London: IT Publications.
Schafer, J. 1989. "Utilizing Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge in the Planning of Agricultural Research Projects Designed to Aid Small-scale Farmers." pp. 116-120, In D. M. Warren, L. J. Slikkerveer, and S. O. Titilola (eds.),Indigenous Knowledge Systems: Implications for Agriculture and International Development. Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 11. Ames, Iowa: 

Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.
Scoones, I. and J. Thompson (1994) (eds.) Beyond Farmer First, London: Intermediate Technology Publications.

Slaybaugh-Mitchell, T. 1994. "Indigenous Livestock Production and Husbandry: An Annotated Bibliography". Bibliographies in Technology and Social Change No. 8. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University
Srivastava, J.; Smith, N. J. H.; Forno, D. (1996) "Biodiversity and agriculture : implications for conservation and development", World Bank Technical Paper WTP321
Stearman, A.M. (1994) "Revisiting the myth of the ecologically noble savage in Amazonia: Implications for indigenous land rights", Culture and Agriculture(49):2-6.

Tabor, J. A., Hutchinson, C. F. (1994) "Using Indigenous Knowledge, Remote Sensing and GIS for Sustainable Development"; Indigenous Knowledge Monitor Vol. 2, (1) April 1994

Thurston, H.D. and J.M. Parker (1995) "Raised beds and plant disease management", in D.M. Warren, S. Fujisaka and G. Prain (eds) Indigenous Experimentation and cultural diversity. London: IT Publications.
Titilola, S. O. 1990. "The Economics of Incorporating Indigenous Knowledge Systems into Agricultural Development: A Model and Analytical Framework". Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 17. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.
Warren, D. M. 1989. "Linking Scientific and Indigenous Agricultural Systems." pp. 153-170, In J. L. Compton, (ed.), The Transformation of International Agricultural Research and Development. Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers.
Warren, D. M. 1990. "Indigenous Knowledge Systems and Development." Background paper for Seminar Series on Sociology and Natural Resource Management. The World Bank, Washington, D.C. December 3, 1990.
Warren, D. M. 1990. "Indigenous Knowledge Systems for Sustainable Agriculture in Africa." Keynote Address, International Conference on Sustainable Agriculture in Africa. Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University, Center for African Studies.

Warren, D. M. 1991 "Using Indigenous Knowledge in Agricultural Development"; World Bank Discussion Paper No.127. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank.

Warren, D. M. 1991."The Role of Indigenous Knowledge in Facilitating the Agricultural Extension Process". Paper presented at International Workshop on Agricultural Knowledge Systems and the Role of Extension. Bad Boll, Germany, May 21-24, 1991.
Warren, D. M. 1992. "Indigenous knowledge, Biodiversity Conservation and Development." Keynote Address atInternational Conference on Conservation of Biodiversity in Africa: Local Initiatives and Institutional Roles. Nairobi, Kenya August 30 - September 3, 1992.

Warren, D. M. 1992. "Using Indigenous Knowledge for Agriculture and Rural Development." A Concept Paper for Exploring the Potential Utility of The Global Network of Indigenous Knowledge Resource Centers for International and National Agricultural Research Centers. Ames, Iowa: CIKARD, Iowa State University.

Warren, D. M. 1992c. "Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development: A Review of Critical Research Areas and Policy Issues." International Symposium on Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development. Silang, Cavite, Philippines, September 20-26, 1992.

Warren, D. M. 1992d. "Strengthening Indigenous Nigerian Organizations and Associations for Rural Development: The Case of Ara Community". Occasional Paper No. 1. Ibadan: African Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge.

Warren, D. M. 1992e. "A Preliminary Analysis of Indigenous Soil Classification and Management Systems in Four Ecozones of Nigeria". Discussion Paper RCMD 92/1. Ibadan, Nigeria: Resources and Crop Management Division (RCMD), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture.

Warren, D. M., L. J. Slikkerveer and S. O. Titilola. (Eds). 1989.:"Indigenous Knowledge Systems; Implications for Agriculture and International Development". Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 11. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.

Warren, D.M., L.J. Slikkerveer and D. Brokensha (eds) (1995) "The cultural dimension of development: Indigenous knowledge systems". London: Intermediate Technology Publications

World Bank, (1997) "Knowledge and Skills for the Information Age, The First Meeting of the Mediterranean Development Forum"; Mediterranean Development Forum, URL:
Yoder, R. 1990. "Amish Agriculture in Iowa: Indigenous Knowledge for Sustainable Small-Farm Systems." Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 15. Ames, Iowa: Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University.


Share on Google Plus

About Tudu Marandy and all


Post a Comment