Knowledge is of two kinds
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Ngwasiri, Clement N. 1995. Knowledge is of two kinds. Spore 60. CTA, Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Permanent link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/10568/47184
Ignored for many decades, the role of indigenous knowledge in providing the basis for a sustainable approach to development is now being recognized in many countries. The international knowledge systems that have dominated the development agenda,...
Ignored for many decades, the role of indigenous knowledge in providing the basis for a sustainable approach to development is now being recognized in many countries. The international knowledge systems that have dominated the development agenda, especially in agriculture and natural resources management, have proved to be insufficient on their own to adequately address the problems of Third World countries. Indigenous knowledge is a term with no universally accepted definition but with many descriptions; 'local knowledge', 'location and culture specific knowledge' and 'localized knowledge systems unique to a particular society or ethnic group' are some that are in current use. In practical terms these are the indigenous technologies developed by a local community to solve a particular problem taking into account all the local relevant factors. In the case of agriculture these solutions are developed by farmers. The technology and knowledge is specific to the farms' environmental conditions and the farmers' needs and helps them to produce enough to feed their families and in many cases to provide surpluses for local markets. The term indigenous knowledge is best used to distinguish between these knowledge systems, developed by a community, and the international knowledge systems, also called Western knowledge, generated through universities, government research centres and private industries. Those who have relied excessively on these international knowledge systems for addressing problems encountered would do well to remember that communities have been evolving knowledge systems for centuries. The systems are modified each year, enabling communities to live harmoniously with their environment as their needs and environment change. Indigenous knowledge should not necessarily be considered more important than Western or international knowledge, but at the same time the value of this indigenous knowledge must not be underestimated. It should be utilized with the international or Western knowledge in a balanced way. To ignore either one of these knowledge systems would be to exclude some knowledge that could be beneficial for the future of a community. Neither indigenous knowledge nor the international Western knowledge systems seem to be able to provide sustainable solutions to meet future demands. Both have their strengths and weaknesses, but by using the two knowledge systems in a complementary rather than competitive way, the best results can be achieved. In order to do this effectively there has to be comprehensive information on the indigenous knowledge available to allow its relative strengths and weaknesses to be compared and contrasted with those of its global counterpart. By researching indigenous knowledge and retrieving it from the communities the potential of indigenous knowledge can be unravelled. The process of researching indigenous knowledge may not be as straightforward as it sounds. The questions of where to go and who to ask are just the first problems that need to be solved. In recent years indigenous knowledge in some areas has become a well-guarded secret as a result of the unscrupulous behaviour of some Western scientists. Some indigenous knowledge and material has been collected and used without rewarding those who provided the original information. In certain areas there is great reluctance on the part of the practitioners to release their knowledge for precisely this reason. But, when the knowledge is going to be used as part of a local project, explaining the purpose of the study and the benefits the community may derive from the results will often be enough to access the required knowledge. In other cases it may be necessary to provide compensation for this knowledge. Countries that include indigenous knowledge in their development planning derive many advantages. As well as being an important first step to development, it also empowers rural people who use their own knowledge to seek solutions to their problems. Indigenous knowledge used in this way would gradually convert the rural people from receivers of development to participants in their own development. It is important to realize that being participants in development does not merely mean acting as labourers in projects. To achieve the best end results in a project, community participation must be involved from the initial design stage. Thus the community can apply their local knowledge and expertise to the problems and develop their own solutions, greatly increasing their contribution and commitment to the project. When communities are not involved in this way, the departure of the experts often results in the collapse of projects. For this reason many projects fail to fulfil their objectives. If the communities have been involved from the earliest stages then a project is more likely to be self-sustaining and to continue. In many countries, including Cameroon, the development potential of indigenous knowledge is only now being recognized. There is no doubt that it constitutes a strategic national resource that ought to be harnessed as it provides a sustainable basis for agriculture and natural resources management. Preliminary results from our research currently underway in Cameroon show that indigenous people have developed very creative approaches to the conservation of biodiversity, soil and water resources and dispute settlement systems; approaches that have potential on a much wider scale. With a very rich biodiversity to be maintained, 9,000 species of plants, over 800 species of birds and some 300 species of mammals, Cameroon is proving to be an ideal testing ground for the role of indigenous knowledge. This high level of biodiversity has been maintained so far as a result of the indigenous systems used for generations, using the resources available without over-exploiting them. More and more strain is now being put on these indigenous systems as population growth continues but, by combining this indigenous knowledge with Western knowledge, more productive and sustainable systems of agriculture are being developed.