UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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Indigenous and local knowledge systems
in sustainable development 

Informal meeting for delegates and staff members.

Monday, 8 November 1999

Organizers Paul de Guchteneire
SHS/MOST Management of Social Transformations
Fax: +33 (0)145685724
Email p.deguchteneire@unesco.org
Douglas Nakashima
SC/CSI Environment and Development in
Coastal Regions and in Small Islands
Tel. +33 (0)145683993
Email d.nakashima@unesco.org
Purpose This meeting was organized in the wake of the World Conference on Science, to allow an exchange of views on the role of UNESCO in fostering the equitable utilisation of indigenous and local knowledge to attain sustainable development goals such as poverty eradication and community-based resource management.
Format The theme of the meeting was introduced by a guest speaker from one of the major networks of Indigenous Knowledge centres, Mr. Guus von Liebenstein, Director of the Centre for International Research and Advisory Networks, Nuffic-CIRAN, the Netherlands. The on-going and planned activities concerning indigenous knowledge within the Science Sector and MOST were briefly highlighted by Douglas Nakashima and Paul de Guchteneire, after which delegates and other staff members were invited to discuss the strategy that UNESCO is to develop in this field.
Participants Delegates and UNESCO staff members interested in the theme of indigenous knowledge.
Background Knowledge is indispensable for understanding and promoting technical, economic and social change in societies. Scientific and technological knowledge is considered to be at the basis of development, both in the North and in the South, as a factor of production as important as labour and capital. 

It is fortunate to observe that interest in the role of indigenous knowledge in sustainable development has increased in the past ten years in Member States as well as in Intergovernmental Organizations and NGOs. Nevertheless indigenous knowledge continues to be largely disregarded in development planning, it plays only a marginal role in biodiversity management and its contribution to society in general is neglected. Furthermore, indigenous knowledge is being lost under the impact of modernization and of ongoing globalization processes. There is a need to protect and further develop the knowledge generated and perpetuated by local communities through awareness-raising, training programmes, international property rights arrangements, and validation procedures.

Indigenous knowledge may contribute to improved development strategies in several ways such as by helping identify cost-effective and sustainable mechanisms for poverty alleviation that are locally manageable and locally meaningful; by a better understanding of the complexities of sustainable development in its ecological and social diversity; and by helping to identify innovative pathways to sustainable human development that enhance local communities and their environments.

Through interdisciplinary co-operation among the programmes and sectors of the Organization, follow-up is to be provided to a series of recommendations that attracted much attention at the World Science Conference: to promote better understanding and use of traditional knowledge systems, and to sustain the societies that are the guardians of these systems of knowledge

The follow-up will provide initial steps towards a coherent, intersectoral programme for creating a partnership between the natural and social sciences, and indigenous knowledge. It will build upon current activities such as the Database of Best Practices of Indigenous Knowledge of the MOST programme, traditional resource management projects in CSI and MAB, and activities from other programmes and sectors concerned with the socio-economic, cultural, educational and environmental priorities of local communities.

Definitions of
indigenous knowledge
"the unique, traditional, local knowledge existing within and developed around the specific conditions of men and women indigenous to a particular geographic area." (Grenier 1998)

"the local knowledge – knowledge that is unique to a given culture or society. IK contrasts with the international knowledge system generated by universities, research institutions and private firms. 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." (Warren 1991)

"traditional ecological knowledge can be defined as a cumulative body of knowledge and beliefs, handed down through generations by cultural transmission, about the relationship of living beings with one another and with their environment. Further, traditional ecological knowledge is an attribute of societies with historical continuity in resource use practices; by and large, these are non-industrial or less technologically advanced societies, many of them indigenous or tribal." (Berkes 1993).

"there is consensus amongst scientists using various terms that such knowledge: i) is linked to a specific place, culture or society; ii) is dynamic in nature; iii) belongs to groups of people who live in close contact with natural systems; and iv) contrasts with ‘modern’ or ‘Western formal scientific’ knowledge."(Studley 1998)

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