By Venter Mwongera
Traditional knowledge, passed down through generations, is a crucial tool for conserving biodiversity and sustaining food systems.
Traditional knowledge systems are the collective wisdom and experience of communities that have developed over centuries of living in harmony with their environments.
They offer insights into sustainable agricultural practices, medicinal plants, and the conservation of natural resources. In a world facing environmental challenges such as climate change, the value of traditional knowledge has become more critical than ever.
Traditional knowledge has played a significant role in biodiversity conservation. Indigenous and local communities have long recognized the importance of biodiversity for their livelihoods and have developed sophisticated knowledge systems to manage natural resources sustainably.
For example, in the Amazon rainforest, indigenous communities have used traditional knowledge to cultivate a diverse range of crops in agroforestry systems, which have been shown to enhance ecosystem services and support biodiversity (Lele et al., 2013).
It has also been critical in the conservation of wild species, such as the African elephant, where indigenous knowledge has helped to promote coexistence between people and elephants (Mbaiwa, 2017).
Traditional knowledge has also played an essential role in sustainable food systems
Local knowledge systems have developed unique food practices, such as seed-saving and preservation techniques, which have allowed communities to adapt to changing environmental conditions and ensure food security.
For example, in the Andes, traditional knowledge has led to the development of thousands of potato varieties that are adapted to local conditions and have a high nutritional value (Plaza-Wüthrich et al., 2016). Traditional knowledge has also contributed to the development of traditional medicine, which provides a significant source of healthcare for many communities around the world (WHO, 2019).
Despite the value of traditional knowledge, it is often undervalued and threatened. The globalisation of agriculture, the erosion of cultural practices, and the loss of traditional territories have put traditional knowledge systems at risk. In many cases, traditional knowledge is not recognised by mainstream scientific systems and is excluded from policy and decision-making processes.
Support conservation and transmission of traditional knowledge
It is crucial to recognise the value of traditional knowledge and to support its conservation and transmission. Traditional knowledge can provide essential insights into sustainable agricultural practices, conservation, and natural resource management.
It can also offer unique perspectives on the relationship between people and the environment and contribute to the development of more equitable and sustainable societies.
The conservation of traditional knowledge requires the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous and local communities.
This includes recognising the right to own, control, and protect their traditional knowledge systems, besides their rights to land and natural resources. It also requires the development of policies and programmes that support the conservation and transmission of traditional knowledge.
The integration of traditional knowledge into policy and decision-making processes is also critical. Traditional knowledge can provide important insights into environmental challenges and contribute to the development of more effective and equitable solutions.
For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) has recognised the value of traditional knowledge in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity (IPBES, 2019).
In conclusion, traditional knowledge is a crucial tool for conserving biodiversity and sustaining food systems. It offers unique insights into sustainable agricultural practices, conservation, and natural resource management.
However, traditional knowledge is often undervalued and threatened, and its conservation requires the recognition and protection of the rights of indigenous and local communities.
The integration of traditional knowledge into policy and decision-making processes is also critical for addressing environmental challenges and promoting more equitable and sustainable societies.
The author is a Communications and Advocacy Specialist at African Biodiversity Network, a mentor at African Women Leaders in Agroecology-Initiative, Chairperson of National and International Engagements at Inter Sectoral Forum on Agrobiodiversity and Agroecology (ISFAA) and Treasurer of the Board at the Association of `media Women in Kenya (AMWIK)