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Best Practices on Indigenous Knowledge MOST/CIRAN


Comparing and sustaining agricultural knowledge systems: from the cosmovision perspective


The practice is closely linked with COMPAS (1) (Comparing and Supporting Indigenous Agricultural Systems), a project to protect biocultural diversity. The project works through the partner organizations that put together case studies for a workshop in April 1995 at Cochabamba, Bolivia. The case studies describe the vision of the cosmos held by each of the indigenous peoples in the areas studied, its relationship with the agricultural technology these peoples have developed, and the intercultural dialogue that results when they interact with outside sources of knowledge. This is one of the case studies.

The practice begins by establishing a dialogue between the professionals seeking to solve specific problems and various key persons in the communities: spirit mediums, traditional healers, elders, women functionaries, and persons who are knowledgeable in the subject concerned. The dialogue generates debate which gives rise to further action for development and to the improvement of local practices. The result is a blending together of indigenous knowledge and improved practices.

How does it work? Representatives of traditional structures and institutions--including spirit mediums--lead the discussion of innovations and how these innovations can possibly be improved. The spirituality of local people serves as the basis of all discussions and is reflected in their worldview, which in this case assigns a central role to the ancestral spirits.

The facilitators or professionals search for the technical knowledge that is needed for improvement. They go to libraries, research centres, and any resource persons that might have technology that could improve the situation if incorporated into the indigenous practices. The innovation and new technology are presented to the spirit mediums, who test their acceptability and offer guidance for their introduction. An innovation, thus incorporated into the indigenous practice, is then tried, discussed and evaluated in the community. When accepted as successful, the practice is scaled up for widespread adoption.

The outcome of the process is improved local farming practices. Formal or scientific knowledge has been incorporated, and local elders have been encouraged to inform the young about effective farming practices that they might not have been aware of. Supported by the worldview of the people, the improved local practices are thus sustained by virtue of their own spiritual strength. The practices are designed to solve problems that the community has identified and intends to resolve. This best practice is determined not by content alone, but by the process itself. The content emerges as the process unfolds. Currently the content is related, among other things, to cross-breeding that will improve poultry production.




  • The worldview held by the local people is reinforced.
  • Local knowledge serves as the foundation into which improvements are gradually incorporated.

The case study concerns traditional practices related to poultry. The process of improvement began with the spirit mediums selecting the local breeds that would be hybridized first. This ensured the innovationís compliance with the ancestral cult. The cockerels which the project introduced for breeding purposes were presented through the spirit mediums to ensure their acceptance. The ritual performed by the mediums also made the offspring of the new cockerels suitable for sacrificing, which for the local community is a major reason that people keep poultry, and justifies investments to increase production. Without the ritual, the poultryís offspring could not serve this vital social function. The mediumsí spiritual performances thus guarantee the survival of the new genetic material, which enhances poultry production.

Besides reviving and improving local breeds of poultry and revitalizing effective traditional practices, the project has resulted in the revival of indigenous knowledge for the herbal treatment of poultry disease. Incorporation into practices emanating from the cosmovision of the local people, including rituals performed by the spirit medium and ritual sacrifices, thus ensured the acceptance and survival of the new hybrids and other innovations, which in turn resulted in the larger yields that will improve the situation of the local community.


The main stakeholders in the practice are farmers, fieldworkers, government organizations, non-government organizations, students, universities, and the men, women and youth who live in the communities concerned. The beneficiaries--beginning with those who benefit most--are men, practitioners, students, women and youth. Local beneficiaries are at the same time collaborators, facilitators and implementors.

Altogether, the stakeholders and beneficiaries presently number some 300 to 400 people.



  • It is an empowering process that is stimulated by the communities and developed in situ in such a way that at the end of the process the communities can continue on their own. The process builds on their own knowledge and experience. It puts them in the driverís seat, and thus represents community-led, endogenous development.
  • Besides enhancing endogenous development, the process educates and informs the outside agents who wish to introduce change.
  • It is a slow and laborious process to develop strategies in this way for eliciting the desired response. Projects cannot be clearly focussed, and it is difficult to measure their impact.
  • The approach places too much power in hands of the local social organizations and the spirit mediums.

The community responds well, becoming willing and eager to act decisively to better their own situation.


  • The local people appreciate the recognition of their worldview and the respect shown for their spirituality.
  • All activities enjoy high participation rates.
  • The local people invest their own resources in the development activities and themselves organize the means for sustaining them.

The practice could be transferred to other places and situations, but several conditions would have to be met:

  • The community must have an identifiable set of cosmological beliefs into which the technological innovation can be incorporated. In this project three communities were involved, all of which have the same system of ancestor worship, the same kind of spirit mediums, and the same worldview.
  • The authority of spirit mediums must be accepted.
  • All parties must be willing to discuss very sensitive issues.
The practice has not yet been replicated elsewhere.

It is the dialogue process that requires replication. The technologies to be improved depend on the local situation and the problems as put forward by the local community.


Information related to this programme can be found in the COMPAS Newsletter. Also available on the Internet at http://www.etcint.org/compas_newsl.htm

From 1997 to 2001.

USD 120,000.00 (= 29,979.47 p/year)


David Millar
Centre for Cosmovisions and Indigenous Knowledge


Organization that provided this information:

Centre for Cosmovisions and Indigenous Knowledge
P.O. Box 607
Bolga - U.E./R.
Telephone: 233-71-23240
Fax: 233-71-23278
E-mail: cecik@africaonline.com.gh

Cooperating organizations:

Ministry of Food and Agriculture
P.O. Box 2
Bongo - U.E.R.
Bongo Agro-Forestry
P.O. Box 120


1. COMPAS: a project to protect biocultural diversity. The COMPAS project's main objective is to help development organizations enhance biocultural diversity by building on Indigenous knowledge and sharing knowledge. Through this approach participating organizations are better equipped to support the development of ecologically sound and culturally adapted agricultural communities, where poverty will be alleviated and gender differences minimized. COMPAS stands for 'Comparing and Supporting Indigenous Agricultural Systems'.

The project is based in the Netherlands but works through partner organizations in seven countries in Africa, Central and South America, India, Sri Lanka, and Europe. Throughout 1995 these partners worked to gather case studies for presentation at a workshop in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In the case studies they indicated the various requirements for supporting endogenous development in the study areas.
For further information on the COMPAS project or its newsletter, please contact Bertus Haverkort or Wim Hiemstra, COMPAS, c/o ETC Netherlands BV, PO Box 64, 3830 AB Leusden, the Netherlands. Fax: +31 33 94 0791; Tel: +31 33 94 3086; Email: etc@antenna.nl

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