Indigenous knowledge – ancient solutions to today’s challenges

Indigenous Knowledge

Indigenous knowledge, such as the use of ancient grains and traditional agricultural methods, can help to ensure food security while protecting the environment. Photo: UNDP Peru

Revitalizing and supporting indigenous knowledge is essential to address many of today’s challenges, including the effects of climate change.

Indigenous knowledge is a key resource that needs to be promoted to support livelihoods and food security, often under threat due to climatic changes.

Here are some examples of how indigenous peoples and local communities around the world are reviving traditional practices and knowledge.

In Hawaii, where youth migration is a common phenomenon, Donna Kameha‘iku Camvel from the University of Hawaii works on reviving customary practices and culture to address outward migration. She seeks to bring youth back to the land by planting and harvesting the indigenous crop taro.

Ensuring food security is critical to the survival of indigenous peoples and local communities, particularly those that are migrating due to climate change. The island Kuna communities of Panama are looking to ancient grains to help reverse the modern trend toward migration to the mainland. As noted by Kuna leader Onel Masardule, “to increase food production, communities need to recover traditional seeds so as to not depend on external donors to provide seeds.”

Equator Prize winners, the Abrha Weatsbha in Ethiopia have applied local knowledge to address extreme land degradation that had pushed the community to the brink of resettlement. A mix of partnerships with research institutions, strong community leadership and investment in the community have kept the people from migrating.

The recently endorsed Paris Agreement on climate change recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge and the rights of indigenous peoples and their role in addressing climate change. This is a welcome acknowledgement, as is the endorsement of integrating science, technology and indigenous knowledge to provide solutions for coping with climate change.

The UNDP Equator Prize brings visibility to initiatives that use indigenous knowledge effectively and whose experiences can be replicated by others in similar circumstances. Networks such as the WIN (World Network on Indigenous Peoples and Local Community Land and Sea Managers) can help facilitate the exchange of these practices. They can also contribute to the platform described in the climate change agreement for “the exchange of experiences and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner”

For years UNDP has been promoting the use of indigenous practices and knowledge systems through programmes such as the Indigenous Knowledge Programme back in the 1990s and reports documenting their uses and significance. Perhaps this is just the kind of boost indigenous knowledge needs from the international community.

On 9 August, the world comes together to celebrate the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, focusing on the right to education. Perhaps some thought can be given to how indigenous knowledge can be incorporated into the mainstream curricula so the youth of today and the children of tomorrow are well equipped to live in an ever challenging environment.

Reference list: Alejandra Pero. 2016. Retrieved from

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