Following Tradition: Top Examples of Indigenous Knowledge Preserving Biodiversity, Ecosystem Service

Dec 10th, 2013 | By | Category: Agriculture, Learning, News

followingtraWith the planet losing species 100 to 1,000 times faster than the natural extinction rate, international experts assembling for high-level global biodiversity meetings say knowledge co-production with indigenous peoples has growing importance.

Indeed, they note, processes that merge multiple sources and types of knowledge already help manage challenges as diverse as wildfires and animal herds.

Building synergies between science and traditional knowledge forms one focus of delegates in Antalya, Turkey, December 9 to 14 charged with determining a concepfollowingtratual framework and initial work program for the UN’s new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Modelled on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the new IPBES is mandated to bridge the gulf between authoritative biodiversity-related information, knowledge, insights and effective policy-making. The organization has 115 member nations.

Available from almost every world region, lessons for ecosystem and natural resource management in indigenous and local knowledge include:

  • Rice-fish co-culture, a farming technique for over 1,200 years in south China, was recently designated a “globally-important agricultural heritage system,” by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. A mutually-beneficial relationship has been documented: fish reduce rice pests; rice moderates the fishes’ environment, a relationship that reduces by 68% the need for pesticides and by 24% the need for chemical fertilizer compared with monocultures. The findings suggest modern agricultural systems might be improved by exploiting other synergies between species.
  • Indigenous fire management techniques developed thousands of years ago, and which today protect large landscapes in Australia, Indonesia, Japan and Venezuela. Early dry season controlled burns create patchy mosaics of burnt country, minimizing destructive late dry season wildfires and maximizing biodiversity protection. In Australia, such projects also create credits sold in carbon markets that support traditional livelihoods.
  • Animal herd management in the Arctic, where remote satellite sensing, meteorology and modelling are complemented with the indigenous knowledge of Sami and Nenets reindeer herders to co-produce datasets. The indigenous observers are able to make sense of complex changes in the environment through qualitative assessment of many factors, complementing scientists’ quantitative assessment of variables. This holistic approach produces better monitoring and more effective decision-making.
  • Agricultural diversity: An important source of resilience for , who have long and successfully managed the risks and impacts of natural variability and extreme weather. With experience in observing closely and reporting the impacts of changing conditions, indigenous communities have always preferred growing a number of traditional crop varieties over a single high-yield—and high-risk—mono-cropping system. Analyses of three agricultural systems, in China, Bolivia and Kenya, found that maintaining diverse traditional cropping strategies and access to seeds has been essential for adaptation and survival.
  • Rotational farming, as practiced in the highlands of Tanzania, illustrates a unique and ingenious farming system involving pits surrounded by four ridges on steep slopes to plant maize, beans and wheat on a rotational basis. During the rainy season, the pits act as reservoirs preventing the destructive effects of surface runoff from the steep cultivated slopes. An elaborate traditional rotational farming system in northern Thailand, meanwhile, features a complex land use mosaic including a sacred forest, a forest line serving as a firebreak and wildlife path, a transition zone protecting biodiversity habitat, livestock grazing on fallow land, home gardens, rice paddies on terraced slopes and lowland fields, and drought tolerant rice in cleared areas upland.
  • Sustainable management of marine resources, as practiced by many Pacific island communities, traditionally involves the use of area and time-based restrictions to facilitate marine resource recovery. These traditional management systems involve a range of strategies, including tabu areas (sacred sites), species-specific prohibitions, seasonal and area closures to create networks of refuges, gear restrictions, behavioural prohibitions, totemic restrictions and food avoidance – all promoting a balanced approach to resource management.
  • Rainwater harvesting, thought to have originated 6,500 years ago and revived in the 1970s when the Alwar district of India’s Rajasthan state was declared a ‘dark zone’– indicating severe drought and rapid depletion of groundwater. Many traditional rainwater harvesting structures that had fallen into disrepair were refurbished and new ones built, all of which helped replenish the aquifers.

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