Decentralising Policies: Valuing the Wealth of Indigenous Knowledge

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Decentralising Policies: Valuing the Wealth of Indigenous Knowledge

Developing Interview Intelligence Report: Renowned scientists and environmentalists the world over these days are focussing and laying great stress on protecting and safe guarding the environment and its sustainability by using indigenous and local knowledge.  Two contrasting views have been observed in this issue. Jasdev Singh Rai promotes ‘Plurality of thinking’ than ‘Universality of thinking’, where as Brice Lalonde stated, focus should be on promoting an international system or a platform for making whole planet sustainable, rather than forming laws and actions country or state specific. According to Brice development around the globe should move ahead together with an integrated approach surviving the overall development together. But Rai commented that a localised grass root level framework involving local people, culture, traditions, experience and knowledge would lead facilitation of such policies in organising laws at National level as they are more successful in combating the current environment and sustainability syndromes.  Hence, taking these two comments made by two contrasting individuals on climate change, an interview intelligence report have been prepared, focussing and stating examples from world over on how Indigenous knowledge can create difference in altering the landscape of the regions.

Introduction Notwithstanding its prominence in mainstream society, western-based formal knowledge remains but one knowledge system among many. Knowledge entails as well indigenous (local or traditional) knowledge systems, also referred to as non-formal knowledge, as well as formal ways of knowing. Acknowledging these ‘other ways of knowing’ leads to reconsideration of many fundamental notions about development, environmental conservation, heritage protection, and access to information and education. (Boven and Morohashi, 2000). Indigenous or local knowledge refers to a complete body of knowledge, know-how and practices maintained and developed by peoples, generally in rural areas, who have extended histories of interaction with the natural environment. These sets of understandings, interpretations and meanings are part of a cultural complex that encompasses language, naming and classification systems, practices for using resources, ritual, spirituality and worldview. It provides the basis for local-level decision-making about many fundamental aspects of day-to-day life: for example hunting, fishing, gathering, agriculture and husbandry; food production; water; health; and adaptation to environmental or social change. Non-formal knowledge—in contrast to formal knowledge—is handed over orally, from generation to generation, and is therefore seldom documented.

Indigenous Knowledge (IK) Introduction: Termed in different ways — such as traditional knowledge, indigenous technical knowledge, and local knowledge — indigenous knowledge refers to a repository of technologies, knowhow skills, practices and beliefs accumulated over generations. It contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions, and private firms. It helps a local community to survive in their environment. The survival aspects can include, inter alia, challenges in food production and agriculture, human and animal health, social organisation, irregularities in environment and natural disasters. Illustrations of forms and practices of indigenous knowledge would be found in mythological literature, oral history and local artefacts and institutions in an area or a culture. (Behera, 2012). For these reasons, role of indigenous knowledge in social development is being increasingly appreciated.

Defining IK: The meaning or definition of the term IK differs, depending on the particular case and on the specific aspects to stress. For the people to whom IK is an integral part of daily life, the discussion on how IK is defined is relevant of course but less compelling. They of course have their own words and terms to refer to ancient knowledge, or to particular local practices. It is only when we try to translate these local practices into western terms that we are confronted with the need to choose a certain definition, and we see how difficult it is to give voice to a worldview, which is sometimes completely different from our own. IK can refer to the knowledge belonging to a specific ethnic group, for example: ‘Indigenous knowledge is the local knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. 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.’ Another useful definition is the following: ‘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.’ Or: ‘Indigenous knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community has developed over time, and continues to develop. It is based on experience, often tested over centuries of use, adapted to local culture and environment, dynamic and changing.’ (Behera, 2012) IK may be related to a common practice seen in communities that are indigenous to a specific area. Or the focus might be on the long history of the practice, in which case it is often called ‘traditional knowledge’. The following definition is a combination of these different aspects: ‘Indigenous knowledge also referred to as traditional or local knowledge refers to the large body of knowledge and skills that has been developed outside the formal educational system. IK is embedded in culture and is unique to a given location or society. IK is an important part of the lives of the poor. It is the basis for decision-making of communities in food security, human and animal health, and education and natural resource management.’ (Behera, 2012)Analysis of this selection of definitions reveals that several interrelated aspects appear to be more or less specific to IK. Indigenous Knowledge is:

- Locally bound, indigenous to a specific area
- Culture- and context-specific
- Non-formal knowledge
- Orally transmitted, and generally not documented
- Dynamic and adaptive
- Holistic in nature
- Closely related to survival and subsistence for many people worldwide

Conceptualising IK: Robinson (1971) explains the concept of knowledge. He describes four kinds of knowledge: factual knowledge, capacity knowledge, acquaintance, and intentional knowledge (Robinson, 1971). Some of these could be discussed in the context of indigenous knowledge later. In a somewhat social construction perspective of knowledge, Barnes (1995) discusses:

… Crucially, the claim that the world does not classify itself, that it must actively be ordered and organized and the particulars encountered in it actively grouped together, is accepted. This leads to the thought that many different ways of ordering particulars exist, that all are acceptable to the world “itself”, and that different ways may be found in different contexts, adapted to different pragmatic concerns. Furthermore, since different classifications are “equally good” as far as the world is concerned, it is possible to cite the authority of the collective to explain why its members typically proceed on the basis of just one classification, one cosmology. …’ (Barnes, 1995, p. 96)

Indigenous knowledge represents ‘factual knowledge, skills, and capabilities, most of which have some empirical grounding. It is culturally situated and is best understood as a “social product” (Antweiler, 1998, p. 469). These can be complex set of technologies developed and sustained by indigenous or local people which is ‘crucial for the survival of society’ (Dei, 2000, p. 114). Often, this knowledge is oral or symbolic in nature and embedded in the culture of its practice, rarely in written form. Its transmission from one generation to the next takes place through modelling, practice, and animation in local languages (Battiste, 2002). In recent times, International Council for Science has articulated meaning and importance of indigenous knowledge as: ‘…

a cumulative body of knowledge, know-how, practices and representations maintained and developed by peoples with extended histories of interaction with the natural environment. These sophisticated sets of understandings, interpretations and meanings are part and parcel of a cultural complex that encompasses language, naming and classification systems, resource use practices, ritual, spirituality and worldview. …’ (ICSU, 2002, p. 3).

In the context of indigenous knowledge, the four types of knowledge, as given by Robinson (1971) above, can be briefly elaborated and illustrated. Factual knowledge is about ‘knowledge that’, takes that-clauses as objects, state of minds. These could be indigenous beliefs and intuitive knowledge’s prevalent in a community. Capacity knowledge implies ‘knowing how’. These can be socio-economic and agro-ecological skills, practices and processes in a community. Acquaintance is referred to by nouns and nominal phrases as objects of the verb. In case of indigenous knowledge, these can be traditional world outlook, local ecological knowledge, local taxonomies and classifications. And lastly, intentional knowledge implies some intended predefined works. For example, knowing what to do? In a community setting, these can be indigenous values, norms and other institutional issues. Indigenous knowledge is understood as a ‘location and a historical and contemporary experience with colonialism as the category of common experience’ (Kapoor & Shizha, 2010, p. 2). Limits, circumstantialities, particularity are special attributes of indigenous knowledge (Geertz, 1992). In a way, indigenous knowledge is individualised knowledge. This can be elaborated as: ‘this observer, in this time, at that place’ (Geertz, 1992, p. 132). For example, a successfully evolved agricultural practice of a farmer, in a season, in a parcel of land in an ecological system is unique and is indigenous knowledge. This positioned stance should guide us in our pursuit in the field of knowledge and research. Against the claims of universality and authority, indigenous knowledge ‘emerges from historical point(s) in time or … geographical point(s) in space, and is substantive, somebody’s, and will do for the moment’ (Geertz, 1992, p. 135). Turnbull (1997) elaborates how production of knowledge is mainly a local process. The following excerpt is quite illuminating: ‘… Knowledge production is an essentially local process. Knowledge claims are not adjudicated by absolute standards; rather their authority is established through the workings of local negotiations and judgments in particular contexts. This focus on the localness of knowledge production provides the condition for the possibility for a fully fledged comparison between the ways in which understandings of the natural world have been produced by different cultures and at different times. …’  (Turnbull, 1997, p. 485) As many as 23 or more different or overlapping terms similar or close to the concept of indigenous knowledge are in use (Antweiler, 1998, p. 471). These are: indigenous knowledge, endogenous knowledge, native knowledge/expertise, local knowledge, sustainable knowledge, traditional knowledge, autochthonous knowledge, people’s knowledge, folk knowledge (including folk science, folk competence), little tradition, community knowledge, cultural knowledge, cognition (in the restricted sense), ethnic knowledge, culturally specific knowledge, ethno-science, (cultural) knowledge system, (cultural) belief system, everyday knowledge (including practical knowledge, mundane cognition, vernacular, common sense, generalist), science of the concrete, experiential knowledge, experimental knowledge, farmers’ knowledge, and peasant knowledge.

Characteristics, Feature and Importance of IK:  The importance of indigenous knowledge has been acknowledged by many practitioners and social theorists. Some of them are Atchoarena & Sedel (2003); Atran (1999); Bokova (2012); Hunn (2003); Hunn, Johnson, Russell, and Thornton (2003); Srikantaiah (2008); UNESCO (2009); and United Nations (2012). They elaborate the role of indigenous knowledge in practical terms from the community members’ point of view. The use of this knowledge system is generally observed while making a livelihood, coping with adversities, and environmental sustainability. People’s acquaintance and understanding about their local environment is a ‘necessary though clearly not sufficient foundation for conserving the balance between the needs of the community and the recuperative powers of the ecosystem that sustains it’ (Hunn, Johnson, Russell, & Thornton, 2003, p. S92). The government, as in India, also recognizes indigenous knowledge and makes efforts to protect from market forces (Krishnakumar, 2002). Mkapa (2004) quite precisely elaborates the importance of indigenous knowledge in contemporary situation in the following way: ‘ … that indigenous knowledge … is a resource that can help to solve local problems, a resource to help grow more and better food, to maintain healthy lives, to share wealth, to prevent conflict, to manage local affairs, and thus contribute to global solutions. Indigenous knowledge has contributed to building solidarity in communities affected by globalization and shielded them against some of its negative impacts. There is not one of the Millennium Development Goals to whose achievement indigenous knowledge cannot contribute. … (Mkapa, 2004, pp. 1-2)’

Indigenous knowledge and everyday life: Metis, a term coined by Scott (1998), and discussed by Agrawal (2002), refers to practical knowledge of the indigenous communities. In everyday life situations, ‘Context dependent knowledge tells the individual how to do specific things. It does not explain or generalise; it deals with particulars’ (Young, 2009, p. 15). Anthropologists also treat knowledge as contextual, situated practices, and focus more on ‘knowing how’ than ‘Knowing that’ (Hobart, 1993); and a ‘local understanding … about a realm of experience’ (Nazarea, 2006, p. 34). Drawing ideas from Giddens and Wittgenstein, Li (2000) says: ‘Everyone has practical, usually tacit knowledge of their social and physical environment, a competence reflected in ‘knowing how to go on’ in the routine activities of everyday life, and the capacity to improvise and innovate when necessary’ (Li, 2000, p. 121). On how we perceive reality or landscape or lifescape and act upon it, Wolf (1984) says:

‘We do not attack reality only with tools and teeth, we also grasp it with the forceps of the mind – and we do so socially, in social interaction and cultural communication with our fellows and our enemies’ (p. 397).

Knowledge, as per the western understanding of the term, involves internalizing abstract information through instruction and reading. The learning so acquired would be applied to real-world contexts. However, in the case of indigenous cultures, learning takes place through ‘the process of observing and doing, and by interacting over long periods of time with knowledgeable elders and the natural environment’ and is inseparable from its context (Bates & Nakashima, 2009, p. 6).

Case Studies


Conjunctive use of water resources in Deccan Trap

Introducing the Practice: This practice was carried out in and near the villages of Ambevangan, Manhere and Titvi, in Akole Taluka, Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra State, India. The community is made up of the tribal and rural people of three villages and outlying areas. They are on the lowest rung of the social ladder, with limited access to education, health and other social services. The people live in extreme poverty. Subsistence agriculture is the main form of livelihood. The main crop in the kharif growing season (June to September) is rice. Cereals are the main crop of the rabi growing season (October to January). However, the quality of the second crop in the past depended very much on the availability of soil moisture. The terrain is rugged in the north and west and undulating to the east and south. The overall slope of the land is to the south. Numerous streams and their tributaries drain the area, flowing into the Pravara River. Many of the streams are ephemeral. Water was very scarce before the projects initiation by various agencies. Rainfall varies from 2,000 mm in the west to 600 mm in the east. It occurs almost entirely during the monsoon period (June to September). There is little or no rain during the rest of the year. The driest months are April and May, when temperatures climb into the 40o C. The monsoon rains used to flow as surface runoff to lower elevations. The waters were laden with soil, eroded from the hillsides. These events provided continuity in a pattern of land degradation that began in the middle of the 19th century with the destruction of forest in the area by outsiders. The water-related hardships of daily life were borne by women and older children. The people had health problems, such as dermatitis and gastrointestinal conditions, arising from the shortage of water. The tribal and rural people of the partner villages adopted technologies for water harvesting and spreading during the period 1992-96. The technologies are in use all year round. The practice employs a wide range of approaches to water conservation and utilization in demonstration sites. Various barriers (contour bunds, nalla bunds, check dams, gabions) and shallow excavations (contour trenches, farm ponds, reservoirs in bedrock), at right angles to the slope, arrest the flow of surface runoff. Contour hedging and the replanting of non agricultural land were introduced. These measures complement the terracing of hill slopes for agricultural purposes. Shallow excavations improve the infiltration of water (recharge pits and trenches). Masonry tanks contain the water from springs and seepages. Wells that have been dug are deepened; other wells are re-bored, thus making better use of the aquifer. Water is also collected from the roofs of dwellings. Domestic wastewater is used to irrigate the small kitchen gardens adjacent to dwellings. The technologies are sustainable and remain in use today. They are small-scale, relatively cheap to implement and easily replicated. For the most part, they take indigenous knowledge as a starting point and are compatible with local approaches to land use. Maintenance has not presented serious problems for the people. The technologies for conjunctive use of water resources come from a comprehensive survey of ancient and modern approaches to water-resource management in other dry land regions of India and worldwide. They have undergone modification to fit local circumstances, especially with regard to water, soils, bedrock and topography.

Contents and approach: The aim of the region was to improve the management of water resources by the tribal and rural people of Akole Taluka. This involved explaining the shortage of water in the area and providing a strategy for a year-round water supply. Activities in support of these objectives included hydrologic and hydrogeologic research and the design and construction of demonstration sites for water harvesting and spreading. The practice originated from research collaboration between the nongovernmental organization BAIF Development Research Foundation (Pune, Maharashtra, India) and University of Windsor Earth Sciences (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), who worked in partnership with the tribal and rural people of Akole Taluka. The beneficiaries are the people of the villages Ambevangan, Manhere and Titvi and outlying areas. At the start of the project, the population of the partner villages totalled 3,329. All age groups and both genders were and continue to be involved. Participatory management was an essential factor in the project. BAIF field personnel carried out the early dialogues with the tribal and rural people at the level of the family. The needs assessment for the project was based on these interactions and on a rapid rural appraisal (RRA) carried out by a multidisciplinary team. The RRA concentrated on public health and water supply. The people were unaccustomed to long-term planning. Their decision making was mainly geared towards short-term survival. Early interaction with them focussed on generating ideas. For example, interested individuals were taken on visits to show them other communities which had benefited from projects involving water conservation. The people decided that they wanted to carry out agriculture more effectively. Initially, they placed the highest priority on achieving a year-round domestic water supply. Any excess water was to be used in irrigation. Hydrological and hydrogeological research found possible solutions to the problem of water shortages. The research findings and possible technological solutions were communicated to the people at public meetings that observed traditional formalities. The people decided which solutions were best for them. They took on implementation of the technologies at selected demonstration sites. They also assumed ownership of the technologies and full responsibility for maintenance. In the valleys, a thin veneer of clay and fine silt occurs at the surface and prevents the infiltration of runoff. Contour trenches and infiltration pits were dug to break the continuity of this surface layer and direct the water underground. In addition, terrace-margin ridges (bunds) of soil were constructed to impound the monsoon waters at different levels on the hillsides and to facilitate infiltration. The farmers allowed the water to flow down to lower levels of the hillsides through spillways along the terrace margins. Masonry check dams, gabion structures, and gabion structures with impervious, ferrocement barriers were constructed across the valleys of ephemeral streams at different locations to impound water in reservoirs on the up-slope side. Gabion structures were held together by galvanized iron chain link. Shallow bedrock provided the foundation. An underground stone dam also was constructed to localize the occurrence of ground water, which is accessed through a dug well. Barriers, including some gabions and masonry gully plugs, were constructed at right angles to the slope to reduce runoff velocity and to trap eroded soil. Hedges also were planted at right angles to the slope on selected hillsides. Local vegetation was augmented through additional planting in areas of wasteland. These strategies of re-vegetation also had the effect of reducing soil erosion. Roof water harvesting was introduced into the villages as a partial response to the priority placed by the people on a domestic water supply. The houses in the villages are of stone and mud and have tiled roofs, which form effective catchments. Gutters of galvanized iron were added and connected to ferrocement storage tanks by means of PVC pipe. Infiltration (recharge) pits, in the vicinity of dug wells, had the effect of improving water yields. Existing bore wells were given an extensive work over in order to improve their yields.

The Role of Indigenous Knowledge: Indigenous knowledge, attention to local religious practices, and respect for traditional and folk approaches to communication were indispensable to the success of the region. In addition, earlier practices of land use had given the people a familiarity with the relationships between slope, stream-flow and soil genesis on a local scale. The project technologies provided logical extensions of this knowledge. A watershed committee was formed in each of the villages to facilitate communication with the tribal and rural people. This was done on the basis of a tradition known as the ayojan, which is a village planning committee that takes responsibility for decisions affecting most or all members of the community. Indigenous knowledge made an important contribution to the selection and siting of technologies for water harvesting and spreading. The people contributed detailed knowledge of the relationships between local topography and water sources on a year-round basis. This was especially important during the driest months of the pre-monsoon period (February- May). The people applied traditional practices to the location of ground water. For example, they revere a tree, Ficus glomerata, known locally as umbar. Umbar is one of a number of Ficus species worshipped by the tribal and rural people for various reasons. It is also an indicator of shallow ground water. The presence of umbar marked places where wells were dug to tap springs. The people also provided a soil classification which proved to be a useful basis for categorizing the aquifer properties of local earth materials. The people used to erect stone bunds across the larger streams and their tributaries. Plant material accumulated near the stream banks to form a type of compost known locally as marwa. The people built terrace bunding on the slopes between the streams and smaller tributaries. They recognized differences in soil quality between the ground along the larger streams and that around the tributaries. As a result, the people were able to discuss the merits of alternative water-harvesting and water-spreading techniques that could be introduced during the project. Traditional cultivation of the land involves returning nutrients to the soil in the form of ashes that are left over from burning tree branches and leaves on selected plots. Rice and dry crops are planted as seedlings in the ashes after the first rainfall of the monsoon. Later, the seedlings are transplanted in the fields. This is the rab system of fertilizing, which takes its origin from a once widely employed type of shifting cultivation called dalhi (kumri). The water spreading techniques of the project are compatible with and augment this local practice. Traditional approaches to collective decision-making were important to the formation of self-help groups in Akole Taluka. For example, the women’s groups in the villages reflect the tradition of wavli, followed by the tribal women of Gujarat. This tradition protects the rights of women to have earnings, for example from vegetable cultivation. One women’s group operates a mechanized flourmill to replace the labour-intensive stone grinders that were used in the past. The knowledge behind the practice is widely understood by the people. Interested members of the partner communities were trained to implement technologies of water harvesting and spreading. The people also applied these skills to maintaining the project technologies. They were able to market their knowledge in other villages, as interest in using the same technologies spread across the surrounding area. The people also were given basic training in hygiene and sanitation. At the start, the people said, ‘Give us a water supply. We do not care about the quality. Just find us water.’ The water-supply problem was solved through the introduction of appropriate technologies. The application of technologies for water spreading had the additional effect of improving soil moisture and increasing agricultural production. The people later saw the likely connection between poor water qualities, sickness among family members, lost time in the fields, lowered agricultural productivity, and decreasing financial returns. As a result, they proceeded to take the health message of the other partners to heart. Farmers asked the project teams to train them in how to clean dug wells so as to improve water quality. Village women now routinely strain the water from dug wells through several layers of sari material before carrying the water home. This has the effect of removing suspended particulate matter, including the larger organic impurities. Water is commonly boiled prior to domestic use.

Transformation of Knowledge: Each village has a watershed committee, which facilitated contact with the people. Communication was by means of public meetings and through onsite discussions between the researchers and individual farmers. Villagers, who gained experience of implementing project technologies at the beginning, served as role models for the rest of the communities and for interested parties from the surrounding area. Indeed, these role models hosted exposure visits by groups from other villages in the Taluka. The demonstration sites in the project area provide lasting records of the shared knowledge generated through the partnership.

Achievements and Results: The case involved the sharing of knowledge by all of the partners. In practical terms, this led to the integration of modern science (analysis of images from Earth satellites in orbit, and use of global positioning systems, geographic information systems, and field and laboratory techniques in hydrology and hydrogeology) with ancient Indian hydrology (for example, entries in the ‘Brahat Samhita’ of Varaha Mihira, Sixth Century), local religious beliefs, and indigenous technical knowledge. The project technologies are compatible with local land-use practice. All 494 households of the project area have access to water for domestic and agricultural use. Up to 20% of the households obtain water from six developed springs. About 73,000 cubic metres of water is stored behind 14 masonry check dams and three ferrocement gabions. Water availability has increased by about 750 litres a day per person. A second crop (winter) is being produced on about 75 ha of land, and 300 ha of wasteland have been brought under cultivation as a result of increases to soil moisture. Formerly, the success of a second crop depended very much on the amount of rainfall and, as a result, occurred infrequently. The project made a contribution to the advancement of gender equity in the area. The traditional, water-related hardships of women have been reduced considerably. Nowadays, women work longer in the fields and are seen as full partners on the land by the men. The men no longer have to go to other villages and towns to work as unskilled labourers in order to support their families. Instead, should they choose to work away from home, they can market the skills they have acquired in applying technologies for water harvesting and spreading. Illnesses connected with shortage of water are no longer seen in the partner villages. There is a marked improvement in the morale of the people, evidenced by more outgoing attitudes, increased attention to personal appearance, and better upkeep of houses. There has been a major growth of community spirit. This is seen in people’s eagerness to participate in the activities of watershed committees and self-help groups. The young people, for the most part, are no longer leaving the villages in search of livelihood. In fact, there have been several new housing starts each year in each of the villages since completion of the project term. The technologies for water harvesting and spreading are sustainable. This is also true of the supporting technologies for soil conservation and revegetation. In general, the technologies are small-scale, cheap to implement, and easily replicated. The demonstration sites remain in operation all year round more than five years after the end of the project term. The people have assumed ownership of the demonstration sites. They have the knowledge they need to maintain the technologies effectively. For example, the people routinely repair the terrace-margin bunds, where cave-ins sometimes result from the burrowing activities of large rodents. The villagers also are experimenting with natural pesticides to prevent this problem from occurring. In addition, the people repaired a masonry check dam when its foundations became cracked as a result of the vibrations of an irrigation pump. In this way, local knowledge systems are expanded. Maintenance of the technologies is relatively cheap. The people now are able to sell their surplus agricultural produce at local markets. The people are also experimenting with different kinds of cash crop. Tomatoes have gained widespread popularity in this regard. This has made the people able to bear the minor costs of maintaining the sites. They also possess marketable skills related to operation of the project technologies. They are employed as skilled workers in other villages of Akole Taluka. It is noteworthy that even after two years with extended periods of reduced rainfall (1994-95 and 1995-96) the project technologies still brought beneficial effects to the area. This was mainly due to the increased amount of land under cultivation in the project area.

Strengths and Weaknesses: The technologies of water harvesting and spreading are built upon a foundation of indigenous knowledge. They are compatible with local land use practice. Accordingly, the people readily understood and accepted them. In Akole Taluka, indigenous knowledge related to water and local land-use practice both have a lot in common with the documented records of ancient Indian hydrology. This continuity and also the researchers’ attention to tradition made it easier for the people to adopt technologies that took indigenous knowledge as a starting point. As mentioned above, even under conditions of prolonged low rainfall, the project technologies performed well and brought benefits to the people. All practices in resource management have the potential to generate conflict. In Akole Taluka, this has not been the case, however. Perhaps the simplicity of the technologies and the role of participatory management have been significant contributing factors. 

Possible Improvement: Both further additions of indigenous technical knowledge and expanded applications of modern science will bring improvements to the practice of conjunctive water use. There is inherent flexibility in any strategy of water resource management that employs multiple sources.

Source of Inspiration: The practice is readily transferable across the entire Deccan Trap region, some 500,000 km2 of western India, on the basis of similarities in bedrock geology. Many of the project applications of modern science emphasized the technique of fracture analysis to specify patterns of ground water movement. Combined with indigenous knowledge regarding how to locate shallow ground water, this proved to be a powerful tool. For example, these considerations were the basis for selecting which dug wells would be deepened and at which sites springs would be developed. In general terms, the practice would no doubt be widely applicable in other areas, regardless of climate and geology. It should be emphasized that Akole Taluka initially was viewed as a very unpromising area for the development of water resources. The bedrock in other parts of the Deccan Trap probably lends itself better to the improvement of aquifer properties. It is also likely that other species of bottomland plant will prove to be even better botanical indicators of shallow ground water in these areas.

Additional Remarks and Information: Many of the tribal and rural people were suspicious of the intentions of the researchers at the start of the project. However, they readily agreed to the sharing of knowledge. This seems to point to a role for indigenous knowledge in breaking down barriers between cultures. People with knowledge to share feel like equal partners. It is appropriate to give an example of how the people have improved on a simple technology in order to meet the needs of their particular circumstances. The people were given instructions on how to use the A-frame for the layout of trenches and ridges parallel to contours of elevation. This piece of equipment takes the form of a triangular wooden frame, with a vertical pendulum attached to the apex. When the pendulum coincides with a mark at the middle of the base, the base is level and the two bottom corners can be assumed to be at the same elevation. But the people found that strong winds on the higher slopes prevented the pendulum from coming to rest. So they did away with the pendulum altogether and attached a spirit level to the base of the A-frame. When the bubble is at the midpoint of the level, the two corners are at the same elevation. The project outcomes yielded an abrupt increase in biodiversity in that part of Akole Taluka. Many animals returned to the area. Policies related to water management in dryland rural areas should take into account local customs and land-use practices. Sustainable solutions to problems stemming from land degradation can be developed only through participatory management and the integration—at watershed level—of strategies for water-resource management, soil conservation and the restoration of vegetation cover. These strategies are complementary and each should include an important role for indigenous knowledge. In general, lasting success in tackling any one of them will only come through additional attention to the other two. The coordinated use of multiple sources of water supply offers the versatility needed for addressing the widest possible range of water needs. It is also the logical starting point for the management of water demand. These remarks are equally applicable to governance and to research.


Title: Protection and cultivation of rattan by Hani (Akha) People in Yunnan, Southwest China

Introducing the practice: The method for growing rattan reported here is practised by the indigenous Hani (Akha) communities of Mengsong, Xishuangbanna, in Yunnan province of China. These communities have unique systems for managing natural resources and forests. The communities differentiate forests and forest systems according to their function and products. There are forests that yield building materials or cash crops, forests that enhance the landscape, forests used for graveyards and protected rattan forest. The practice occupies much of the year. The Hani farmers prepare the land in early February, in the middle of the relatively dry season. Rattan seeds are then sown in swidden fields, seedbeds or other protected areas. In March- April, when the seedlings are strong enough and 20-30 cm high, they are transplanted to spots beneath strong trees on which the rattan can climb. Additional planting takes place in July, but at this time cut stems are planted rather than seedlings. The entire process from sowing to harvesting takes about six to ten years. The forest is cleared regularly and managed in order to allow good rattan growth. The importance of this practice and the reason for its selection as Best Practice lies in: The efficient conservation, reasonable utilization and stable output of rattan. Sustainability, since there is no over-exploitation of resources. The selective harvesting of rattan (every three to five years) so as not to destroy the plants’ root systems, thus allowing new shoots to develop. Several possibilities for local production and marketing: rattan as a raw material, rattan furniture, and rattan strings for the annual festival of the Hani. The selective management of rattan and other plants, which protects biodiversity and does not disturb the natural water situation. The practice is still in use because it provides long-term benefits to the Mengsong Hani and has a multiple function within the society. It has an economic value as it provides an income through the manufacture of traditional rattan furniture, such as stools, tables and baskets. The practice has an ecological function as cultivating rattan in swidden-fallow field’s results in improved fallow management and enhanced biodiversity. Finally, rattan cultivation and production has a social and cultural value, through the exchange of rattan handicrafts between communities, the rattan ‘swinging festival’, wedding gifts etc. The government and the forestry office have recognized its value within the society and therefore encourage its continuation.

Origins of the Practice: According to the villagers of Mengsong, the practice related to the local Sangpabawa or protected rattan forest originated about 100 years ago and has been maintained and developed ever since, covering an area of 300 ha in 1950. The chieftain (Tusi) of Mengsong made the decision to establish the rattan forest and to regulate its use due to depletion of wild rattan resources in the other forests. Villagers were allowed to collect a limited number of rattan canes for agricultural tools, for the annual Yeku ‘swinging festival’, and for house construction. Before that time the Hani had collected rattan canes and stems in all forest areas without control and exchanged them for rice with the Dai people in the lowlands. This was an important form of livelihood, particularly for poor families. The diagnosed depletion of rattan in the wild and protection of rattan in the Sangpabawa led to indigenous innovations by some Hani farmers for cultivating rattan in the swidden-fallow fields. While they left swidden fields fallow, they immediately cultivated rattan seeds in them. The rattan growing period was well matched with the 7-13 years of swidden-fallow cycle. Hani people sometimes also cultivate rattan in the margin of forests and streams. After liberation in 1950, the forest was allocated to the community, which continued the practice. In 1981 the state declared the rattan forest a state forest under community management. The community at that time resolved to manage the forest as they had been doing for the last 100 years.

Contents and Approach: The purpose of the practice is to produce rattan for use within the community. It has further benefits, however. The practice results in the development of a protected forest area where the diversity of other plants is also preserved and enhanced. These include plants which the community uses for food or medicine. All villagers take part in the practice and all benefit from it. One villager is in charge of organizing the village labour needed to clear sections of forest, plant stems and seedlings, and harvest the rattan. Experienced men– specialists–collect seeds in the forest, prepare the swidden fields for planting stems and sowing seeds, clear sections of forest for transplanting seedlings, and direct the harvesting process. Experienced men also make the rattan chairs. Women collect the rattan shoots which are consumed as food, and they help the men with sowing and planting. In addition to the cultivation of rattan in the community forest, three years ago the community developed a strategy for converting swidden fields into permanent agro-forestry plots. This was done with the help of the Chinese Centre for Biodiversity and Indigenous Knowledge (CBIK). In the village of Hongqi, 50 Hani (Akha) families cleared an area of 40 ha for growing bamboo, rattan and other crops. Plots were allocated to the families. There they grow mainly sweet bamboo for edible shoots, corn, pland rice, vegetables, herbs, medicinal plants, and fruit trees. In one field the researchers found more than 50 different species of useful plants (for food, the market, fodder and handicrafts). Between the bamboos plants the farmers transplant rattan, which will produce in three to five years. This rattan will help to make up for shortages of rattan in the community forest. The aim is to use the Songpabawa forest only as a source of rattan seeds (five different varieties) and to transform the sloping swidden fields into permanent fields where bamboo and rattan are grown on a permanent basis.

The Role of Indigenous Knowledge: The local people know how to manage a forest in such a way that it remains productive over long periods of time. They know how to select seeds, how to propagate rattan, how to clear the forest and transplant seedlings, and how to obtain products for various purposes, including for food and for generating income. They also know how to protect areas of biodiversity, and how to organize themselves so that the swidden fields are beneficial to all members of the community. The practice is reinforced by the community’s system of values and beliefs. According to the legends of the Hani  in Mengsong, the Gods had condemned the Akha to death by strangulation because when clearing an area of the forest for shifting cultivation they had damaged the plant and animal communities. But the Hani people were wise and used the rattan not to strangle themselves, but to swing on. Each year the Hani organize the Yeku festival (‘swinging festival’), which enables them to survive against the initial will of the Gods. The swinging was to show the plants and animals that the Akha had been punished for the damage to the plant and animal communities during cultivation. The knowledge associated with the cultivation of rattan is mainly in the hands of experienced specialists, but it is not secret. Everyone learns how to maintain the rattan forest. But the specialists go to collect the seeds, they distribute seeds and seedlings to relatives and neighbours, and they prepare seed beds where they develop different varieties and achieve as much diversity as they can. The diversified plots of experienced families provide examples for other community members. This knowledge is transmitted to the community from the village head and the forest specialist and within each household from elder to younger. Transmission was strictly oral until 1990, when ethno-botanists searching for different varieties of rattan and bamboo noticed the practice.

Achievements and Results: Some 15,000 clumps of rattan are growing in the more than 300 ha of forest managed by communities. Each year they produce approximately ten tons of rattan canes. Hani people classify rattan into two large categories dahong and lei. Two-thirds of the clumps are rattan dahong and one-third is rattan lei. From one clump of rattan dahong, the villagers collect one string about ten meters long every three years, and from a clump of rattan lei one such string every five years. By rotating the gathering of strings from the clumps, the village can harvest about ten tons a year. The villagers are clearing more forest in order to add more rattan plants and increase production. The practice is sustainable as no trees are felled and the forest is maintained to provide an ecosystem for rattan growing which is close to a natural forest. The difference is that it is managed by the villagers. By harvesting carefully and replanting rattan, productivity is even higher than that of a natural forest. With the intercropping of upland rice and rattan in the swidden fields, there is a complementary relationship between shifting cultivation and rattan forest. The practice is cost-effective: while the input of labour is not constant, the benefits are year-round. Rattan obtains a high price at both local and regional markets, it provides food, and it generates income by providing raw material for tools, handicrafts and the festival. The practice is locally manageable, as the Hani villagers have shown. They control both the practice and the natural resources themselves, using their own customary forms of village organization. They have also transferred application of the technology from the forests to the swidden fields, transforming 40 ha of swidden field into highly diversified agro-forestry plots. The practice has proven to be a viable way to manage a highly diversified forest so as to derive economic benefit from it, and to transform swidden fields into permanent agro-forestry plots containing more than 50 different plant varieties. The practice depends for its success on the community’s skills in cultivation, joint management and internal organization. At the same time, however, the practice itself improves families’ livelihoods and strengthens the community. In other words, there is a strong relationship between IK and the local community. The practice does pose a danger of overexploitation, however, if the demand for rattan increases and prices go up. External pressure to extract timber could also affect the area of the rattan forest. The practice could be improved through further experimentation and through discussion among the Hani about the improvements. The practice should be disseminated to other areas and villages with similar conditions. Transforming more swidden fields could increase the total area under permanent agro-forestry, with the result that rattan and other tree crops can be harvested after 7-10 years.

Source of Inspiration: The practice could be replicated elsewhere but there would certainly be conditions and prerequisites to consider. Since this is a social practice with cultural meaning and differentiated tasks, requires a strongly organized community. At the same time, it requires the ecological conditions for rattan production.


Title: Women’s innovations in rural livelihood systems in arid areas of Tunisia

Introducing the Practice: In Central and Southern Tunisia, women are involved in almost all activities associated with both rain-fed and irrigated farming. They are also responsible for specific tasks such as collecting firewood, managing the ovens, fetching water, collecting traditional fodder, hoeing, weeding, irrigating, feeding and watering animals, and harvesting grains, fruits and vegetables. Some women have managed to increase production and their own cash incomes by developing innovations based on their experience in these activities. The livelihood systems in Central and Southern Tunisia have changed radically in recent decades. New production systems have replaced the traditional pastoralism, which had been the dominant source of livelihood in this area for centuries. There are also increasingly closer links between the countryside and urban markets, and rural women need more cash to satisfy new needs. Women innovate not only to increase income, but also to decrease their workload. For instance, economizing on the use of water for irrigation reduces the time and energy spent on fetching water. Married women are responsible for taking care of their homesteads and families and are in charge of certain agricultural activities. Rabbits and poultry are their major sources of cash income. Women generally innovate most actively in those areas that concern them directly. One of the women innovators who was interviewed was engaged in crop production and raising sheep and goats. Most of the women also practised some handicrafts. The area of activity in which the largest numbers of women were found to be innovating was in livestock keeping. Other innovations were in cropping, handicrafts, the use of medicinal plants, the efficient use of energy for charcoal-making, and improved stoves and food processing, specifically the processing of milk from sheep and goats.

Content and Approach: Innovations in livestock keeping are mainly related to the feeding of sheep and goats, and the keeping of poultry, bees and rabbits. Mbirika Chokri, for example, is a 70-year-old woman living in Sidi Aich (Gafsa) who practises rain-fed farming and specializes in poultry. Her innovation consists of incubating chicken eggs in dry cattle dung. She puts the eggs with some straw in plastic bags to preserve some humidity. Each bag contains 16-20 eggs. She puts the bags in small holes dug in the manure, covers them with a piece of cardboard to protect them against damage and covers the cardboard with a thin layer of manure. Each day, she opens the bags to check the temperature of the eggs and to turn and aerate them. From day 20 the eggs start to hatch. She puts the chicks into a box to protect them from the cold and feeds them couscous, vegetables and bread. Mbirika began experimenting in 1995 when one of her chickens, whose eggs were about to hatch, suddenly died. She decided to put the eggs into a pile of dried cattle dung. After some days the eggs hatched, to her delight. She decided to use manure again in the same way to hatch eggs. Mbirika has now mastered this technique and produces numerous chicks. Handicrafts include making carpets and other products out of wool, and weaving mats and other household items out of alfa grass. Women innovators in this area are found in all age groups and in all regions. Specific innovations involve producing woollen mats and extracting natural dyes from leaves, roots and bark. The innovations related to crops included fig pollination techniques and the use of plastic bottles for the water-efficient irrigation of melons. For example, Rgaya Zammouri in Zammour village (Médenine), who is over 70 years old, uses 1.5-litre plastic bottles to irrigate watermelons and melons. She buries each bottle in the soil with the cork downwards. In the cork she has made tiny holes with a needle so that water is released immediately beside the plant. She fills the bottles with water from a cistern fed by run-off rainwater. The water infiltrates slowly near the plant roots and thus escapes the evaporation that is so rapid in this region. She started this innovative practice in the 1997-98 growing season. She used to carry the water from the cistern to the field in a bucket, but now the Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation (ISWC) programme has supplied her with a water tap and a rubber hose to facilitate her work.

The Role of Indigenous Knowledge: Several women said that their innovations grew out of their own ideas and creativity, or were a chance discovery. Most innovations by women–such as those involving handicrafts and medicines–are rooted in local knowledge but adapted (in design, materials or use) to the new socio-economic context. Generally, women’s innovations–like the bottles for localized irrigation or for incubating eggs in manure–are simple, practical and low-cost and therefore have good potential for widespread dissemination.

Transfer of Knowledge: At the outset of the second Indigenous Soil and Water Conservation programme (ISWC-2) in central and southern Tunisia, training was given in various regions. This was meant to raise awareness of the innovation taking place among farmers, both men and women, and to place specific innovators in the spotlight. Local cultural norms do not usually permit male researchers and development agents from outside the area to talk with village women. As the ISWC team at the Institut des Régions Arides (IRA) was composed at the time exclusively of men, the help of professional women was enlisted for the identification of women’s innovations. Some of these professionals were from technical agencies and local institutions, but most were teachers and students returning to their villages for the long summer holidays. Some innovations are quickly known to all female members of the community. Others remain known only to specialists. One innovator, Mbirika Chokri, did not share her knowledge and experience with her neighbours, but she did agree to ISWC-Tunisia’s request that she present her innovation on the radio (in a regional programme called ‘Agriculture and Innovation’) and later also on television.

Achievements and Results: The innovations described here are examples of how women innovate in their own specific areas of activity. Some women have managed with their innovations to increase production and their own cash incomes, and to decrease their own workload. More and more Tunisian researchers and development agents, as well as policy-makers at regional and national level, are coming to recognize the innovative capacities of rural women. In 1999 and 2000, researchers and several women began collaborating on experiments to develop their innovations further. The challenge is to improve and expand this approach within Tunisia and beyond. Already, some of the innovations have been replicated in Tunisia.

Source of Inspiration: The experiences of these women could be an example for other women in Tunisia and beyond. Because women’s innovations are generally simple, practical and low-cost, they have good potential for spreading.

Additional Remarks and Information: Women’s innovations have been documented in the Agriculture and Innovation programme of Gafsa regional radio and also on television.


Title: Pits for trees: how farmers in semi-arid Burkina Faso increase and diversify plant biomass

Introducing the Practice: In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of trees growing on farmers’ fields in certain villages in the Yatenga region of Burkina Faso. This is due in part to the systematic protection of natural regeneration by individual farmers and to the use of improved traditional planting pits, or zaï, for growing trees. Through this method farmers have rehabilitated degraded land and increased the diversity of trees. In Burkina Faso, the fight against desertification is a constant preoccupation of farmers, government agencies, NGOs and development-project planners. The reduction in vegetative cover has reached alarming proportions in the north of the country, leaving the soils exposed to erosion by wind and water. The farmers described in this best practice live in the provinces of Yatenga, Zondoma and Lorum in northwest Burkina Faso. Rainfall in the region is highly variable. The long-term average for the regional capital, Ouahigouya, was 560 mm between 1950 and 1987. Ouahigouya received 590 mm rainfall in 1997, but it was poorly distributed over the season and the harvests failed. In 1998 rainfall was an exceptional 969 mm, which led to a good harvest except in low-lying areas. The average population density in this region is 55 persons/km2. The grazing pressure on the natural vegetation is high; according to the 1992 national livestock census, the Yatenga region had 140,500 head of cattle, 591,500 sheep and 708,100 goats (INERA 1994). During the dry season, the animals owned by the local farmers depend to a large extent on crop residues for fodder. The traditional practice of fallowing to regenerate soil fertility has disappeared and the possibilities for expanding cultivation to new areas are extremely limited. Rehabilitation of degraded land is the only option left to farmers who want to increase production by expanding their farming area. During the last 30 years, substantial tree-planting operations have been carried out. Village woodlots have been planted and there have been several national schemes, including the National Village Forestry Programme and, more recently, the campaign entitled ‘8000 Villages, 8000 Forests’. Millions of seedlings have been planted, but survival rates have been poor. There are many reasons for this lack of success, but the main ones are the poor care of the seedlings after planting, uncontrolled grazing by livestock, cutting of trees to clear land and to obtain fuel, and, in particular, the fact that farmers were not involved in the activities in ways that encouraged them to take responsibility for them. Location Map Burkina Faso, Africa Content and Approach: The practice described here involves the improved use of a traditional technique involving pits known as zaï, where naturally occurring seedlings are protected or where seeds are deliberately planted. In Burkina Faso, where the technique originated, farmers are experimenting with it and have managed to re-establish and protect abundant perennial woody biomass on their fields. They have done this by sowing tree seeds, planting seedlings, selectively protecting natural regeneration, and sowing and planting grasses in the pits. Compared with the early 1980s, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of trees growing on farmers’ fields in parts of the Yatenga region. Many farmers have protected naturally regenerating trees but some have also made considerable efforts to grow trees in zaï. One example of a farmer innovator is Yacouba Sawadogo, in the village of Gourga. He developed the practice of growing trees in pits, but several other farmers can also be considered to be pioneers in this field. In 1979 Yacouba Sawadogo started to use the zaï technique to rehabilitate land. At that time, his main aim was to produce more cereals, mainly sorghum and millet. By digging wider and deeper pits and by adding manure to them, he managed to achieve very good yields from fields that had previously been so degraded that nothing could be grown on them. His improvements allowed him to achieve food self-sufficiency for his family. In addition, Yacouba was pleasantly surprised that numerous tree species started to grow spontaneously in the planting pits. The tree seeds had been deposited in the pits by the run-off water, or they were contained in the manure that had been added to the pits. Yacouba decided to protect the young trees. In this way, he discovered the use of pits for growing trees (zaï forestier). Already in the first years, the results were spectacular and highly encouraging. His next step was to start collecting the seeds of numerous useful local species of fruit and fodder trees, which he introduced into the zaï in the next wet season. These species included sheanut, yellow plum, grape tree and various acacia species, but also fodder grasses such as Gamba grass and Pennisetum pedicellatum. Within a few years, the piece of barren land was gradually transformed into a 12 ha forest with a large variety of species. Yacouba then had to make a difficult choice because the trees and shrubs started to compete with his cereal crops. He opted for growing trees. Each year he placed the seeds of desired tree species into the zaï, as well as alongside the stone bunds he had constructed in his fields to prevent erosion. In the month of August, he split and replanted clumps of fodder grasses such as Gamba. In order to protect his forest from livestock, he surrounded it by cultivated fields which livestock are not allowed to enter during the growing season, according to local land-use agreements. During the dry season, he or his children protected the forest against uncontrolled grazing, woodcutting and hunting. Since the devaluation of the West African franc (CFA) in January 1994, many farmers can no longer afford to buy commercial medicines. This has boosted an interest in medicinal plants. The farmer-innovators systematically protect and introduce into their fields all the species that can be used to heal common diseases (malaria, stomach ache, jaundice, etc.). The medicinal species named by the farmers include neem, grape tree, yellow plum, eucalyptus, savanna mahogany, drumstick tree, and Guiera senegalensis. Yacouba Sawadogo has developed this activity more actively than anyone else. He has introduced species not previously known in his region and has focused on species that have largely disappeared because of droughts in the early 1970s and mid-1980s.

The Role of Indigenous Knowledge: Around 1980, forestry professionals and other specialists in natural resource management working on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso all predicted doom and gloom. They said that important species such as Acacia albida were disappearing, that the stocks of baobab were ageing because of overexploitation and lack of natural regeneration, and that this was also the case for perennial grasses such as Gamba grass, which had retreated southwards over a distance of 200-300 km in the preceding 15 years. Twenty years later, farmers are actively protecting the natural regeneration of these species and several others, and they are planting Gamba grass along the stone bunds in their fields. In many fields, more trees were found in the year 2000 than in 1980. Twenty years ago, the expanses of severely degraded land were vast and expanding. Now, thousands of hectares of this land have been successfully rehabilitated by farmers in the Yatenga region using the zaï technique.

Transfer of Knowledge: The rehabilitation of land and the improvement of the woody vegetation have greatly increased the social status of the farmers. Before they started to experiment and to invest, they were as anonymous as most farmers. Nowadays, their reputation extends beyond their provinces and even beyond the borders of Burkina Faso. They are in regular contact with the decentralized services of various ministries and have become focal points for improved natural resource management in their regions. Yacouba Sawadogo receives many visitors from projects and from research institutions. Delegations of farmers also seek to learn from his experience. Each year he receives perhaps another 100 visitors who ask him for various parts of plants (leaves, bark, roots) for medicinal purposes. Most of these are farmers, but some are traders and office workers. Because of his knowledge in this field, Yacouba is in constant contact with well-known traditional healers who consider him their partner. The field of medicinal plants is secretive and Yacouba did not want to indicate which species he has introduced for medicinal purposes. He only indicated that he has planted species that reduce hypertension and even mental problems. Apparently, he does not ask for cash payments for his products and services, being more interested in the social esteem that he derives from this activity.

Achievements and Results: This case proves that, as a result of indigenous innovation and initiative, it is possible within a fairly short time span (5-10 years) to produce a considerable quantity of diversified plant biomass that can be used for many purposes, including fodder. This facilitates the integration of livestock keeping and cropping systems, which is the basis of sustainable agricultural intensification. The practice goes a long way towards solving the problem of firewood. The lack of firewood in this part of Burkina Faso is a serious problem for the women who must often walk long distances (10-12 km) to collect enough fuel for the home. As the wife of one of the farmer innovators remarked, ‘To have trees on the family fields is a great richness because we can save a lot of time that we can now spend on income-generating activities.’ The possibility of covering at least part of the family’s firewood requirements is one reason why the farmers protect and regenerate the woody vegetation. Most of the farmers prefer local to exotic species because they are better adapted to the environment and the farmers are well aware of the multiple uses to which they can be put. The practice is efficient because it produces trees for multiple uses, including for medicinal purposes, and it provides extra income for full-time farmers. It is cost-effective because the seeds are readily available. And it is locally manageable because every farmer can use the zaï technique and also systematically protect the natural regeneration on his land in this way.

Impact of the Practice on Food Security: As Yacouba Sawadogo explained, ‘in the days before the zaï technique, I was a part-time trader and I used all the income this generated to buy cereals to feed my family. Since I started treating the land with zaï, I am self sufficient in food and sometimes I sell a surplus of cereals and cowpeas to cover my financial needs.’ One of the major advantages of the zaï technique is that it minimizes risks caused by variations in rainfall and ensures substantial yields on marginal lands. The zaï have stimulated the production not only of cereals but also of leguminous crops such as cowpea. This is generally grown together with sorghum or millet as a cash crop. The substantial quantities of cowpea produced annually on the rehabilitated land contribute to the income of the farm families. The zaï have indirectly had a positive influence on the crops produced by farmers’ wives. Because the men now concentrate on the zaï fields, the sandy soils not suitable for zaï have been allocated to the women, who use them to grow common groundnuts and Bambara groundnuts.

Impact on Livestock Husbandry: The zaï also have a positive impact on livestock-keeping. Many farmers stated that, before they adopted zaï, they had few animals. The investment in zaï has been paralleled by changes in their livestock husbandry practices. It is only by adding manure to the zaï that the farmers can obtain good yields. Farmers whose cattle were formerly managed by Fulani herders now keep their cattle at the homestead. Those farmers who keep sheep do this not only to raise stock to sell, but also to produce manure, which is either applied directly to the zaï or used for composting. It is now common practice among Yatenga farmers to collect the pods and fruits of specific woody species (yellow plum, acacia species, Piliostigma reticulatum, etc.) for livestock feeding. When passing through the animal’s digestive system, the seeds become softer and end up in the manure used in the pits. The seeds sprout and grow at the same time as the cereal crops, and the farmers protect them during weeding. The zaï have thus contributed to a stronger integration of livestock and cropping activities.

Impact on Biodiversity: When the farmers started rehabilitating the tracts of degraded land, the land had only a few large trees from a very limited number of species. Yacouba Sawadogo counted only four: Balanites aegyptiaca, Lannea microcarpa, Guiera senegalensis and Combretum micranthum. Twenty years later, he has more than 60 species of tree on the same land. Yacouba has introduced into his forest several medicinal species which had disappeared from the region. He collected these during his travels outside the Yatenga area. When people come to visit his farm during the wet season, he asks them to dig some planting pits, plant some trees or sow some seeds that he collected.

Impact on Income Generation: Several farmers mentioned that they have also sold wood for the construction of roofs, sheds and the like. On an annual basis, this brought cash income of CFA 20,000-40,000 (approx. USD 30-60) per farmer, but the amounts can vary according to the amount of timber in their fields and to demand and supply on the local market. The main species for construction purposes are exotic, such as neem and eucalyptus, but certain local species are used for making chairs, mortars and pestles. The current drive to regenerate the woody vegetation is also linked to the possibility of gaining some cash income. The women have a stake in this as well: they collect leaves of the baobab, flowers of the kapo, and fruits of the sheanut and the locust bean tree for home consumption and to sell at local markets.

Farmers’ Motivation: The farmers’ reasons for regenerating the vegetation differ and depend largely on the amount of land they have. Yacouba Sawadogo owns his land and has more than enough to meet his family’s subsistence needs. He aims to create a multipurpose forest of 20 ha and gives priority to planting trees at the expense of producing cereals. He plans to invest more in growing medicinal woody plants and he would like to reintroduce wild fauna (small deer, hyenas, birds, etc.) into his forest. Farmers who have only usufruct rights to the land they are farming generally hesitate to plant a live fence around the fields. This would make it easier to protect the trees against uncontrolled grazing but, in view of the local land use customs, planting trees on and around fields could evoke negative reactions from the landowners. The farmers can protect regeneration, however, which is different from the art of planting. The battle against land degradation has not been completely won. Farmers involved in land rehabilitation continue to face many constraints, such as uncontrolled livestock grazing and the cutting of trees for firewood by outsiders. These are problems that can be solved only at village and intervillage level. Nevertheless, the environmental situation appears to be less gloomy now than 20 years ago because farmers have shown that something can be done.

Source of Inspiration: It would be possible to transfer the practice, but there certainly would be conditions and prerequisites to consider. It is now common to selectively protect seedlings that have regenerated naturally in the pits known as zaï, but only a few farmers deliberately sow tree seeds in them. Nevertheless, this practice has considerable potential.

Conclusion Indigenous peoples have an evolving status in international law and policy, and many of the rights contained in draft declarations are not secured. Many indigenous peoples claim international and national legal instruments are invalid because they do not have to be granted rights they have always possessed (Venne 1998). Regardless, they are participating in defining their rights in international law and visibly impacting national laws and policies. There will be an ongoing tension as they pressure governments to recognize fundamental rights of self-determination and sovereignty, while nation-states seek to limit these rights according to national interest. Scientists will be affected by the incorporation of indigenous and local community rights into policies and laws that regulate access to knowledge and resources and benefits sharing on mutually agreeable terms. Implementing equitable principles for indigenous and local community participation in biodiversity management need not wait on legislation. Scientists and scientific societies could increase support for IK research in partnership with communities; aid the development of indigenous institutions; provide for their full and effective participation in policy, research, and management; ensure transparency in research, and data management and support cultural revitalization efforts and the continued use of IK (IUCN ICTFIP 1997, Posey 1999). Indigenous peoples should not be treated as clients or mere stakeholders in the process, but should be invited to participate in all levels of decision-making and management, finding representation on steering committees, planning boards, advisory bodies, and similar organizations. Comanagement rights to resources on lands ceded by tribes to national governments, as recognized in Canadian and U.S. treaties to hunt, fish, and gather in “usual and accustomed places,” should also be fully recognized, and this includes participation in policy and planning. Scientists should also be particularly aware of information issues regarding IK. The ability to control benefit sharing under the CBD requires that information not be placed in the public domain, and there may be data in scientific IK databases considered to be sacred or privileged information by indigenous peoples, which should have oversight. For previously published and data based information, scientists should make a strong effort to make the data available to the communities of origin, and provide capacity-building to help them manage their own information. Some examples include the Pilot Project on Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing for botanical gardens and arboreta, and the ethical guidelines developed by the International Society of Ethnobiology, the Society for Economic Botany, and the Pew Conservation Fellows Biodiversity and Ethics Working Group (Posey and Dutfield 1996: K. ten Kate, unpublished manuscript). These principles have been clearly stated in the UNESCO sponsored Declaration on Science and the use of Scientific Knowledge and the Science Agenda-Framework for Action, which calls upon the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and other professional science bodies to incorporate them into their operations (UNESCO 1999). Decisions of the COP of the CBD contain recommendations on IK that should be integrated into scientific policy and programs at all levels.. Indigenous participation has been virtually nonexistent in the development of the U.S. National Biological Information Infrastructure (NBII) and similar biodiversity information networks. Participation has also been absent in programs such as Species 2000, the Global Taxonomy Initiative, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), and the Global Invasive Species Program (GISP). Each of these initiatives contains significant issues of monitoring, valuation, benefits-sharing, and technical capacity building for indigenous peoples. Respect for cultural diversity and the treatment of IK as coequal and complementary to Western scientific knowledge is fundamental to these policies. Indigenous peoples are asking for this respect and support from scientists because the use of their traditional knowledge is necessary for cultural survival, and it is through their cultures that healthy ecosystems are maintained. Much of the world’s biodiversity occurs on or adjacent to traditional indigenous territories, and it will only be protected if the close interdependence between culture and ecosystems is maintained (Nabhan, 1997). It is not wise, or right, to save pages from the book of life while recklessly discarding pages from the book of culture, especially when these contain vital lessons for us all.


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