Bringing Knowledge Diversity to Landscape Governance

Observing bird diversity in Guna Yala.

Moving into the fifth day of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, today’s events include many focused on Indigenous Peoples rights and management of natural resources. Pernilla Malmer,  Senior Advisor on Agriculture and Biodiversity with The Resilience and Development Programme – SwedBio- at Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) in Sweden, reports some of the recent efforts to incorporate indigenous knowledge and insight into management of natural resources and ecosystems. 

Traditional, indigenous, local, and scientific knowledge systems are different manifestations of valid and useful ways of knowing, which strongly contribute to the sustainable management of ecosystems.

The significant overlap between biodiversity hot spots and territories managed by indigenous communities are well known. Generally local communities directly dependent on their local ecosystem are striving to find ways to organize management practices as to enhance biodiversity and generate certain ecosystem services, such as in small scale farming in different parts of the world. As an example, in southern Madagascar pockets of forest are scattered across the human-dominated agricultural landscape. These pockets, albeit small, generate essential ecosystem services such as capturing moisture and regulating the microclimate and crop pollination by wild or semi-domesticated bees. These forests are sacred, and respect for them is deeply embedded in local norms and traditions.

And more generally, indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge systems are increasingly being recognized as sources of understanding on ecosystem dynamics, sustainable practices, and interdependencies between people and nature. There are a growing number of examples where ecosystem assessments are carried out along with communities using local and indigenous knowledge, in ways that are highly valued locally as well as in policy and science.

Tinoc Ifugao
One such example is the Indigenous Peoples Climate Change Assessments. In Tinoc Ifugao, The Philippines, Tebtebba Foundation together with Montanosa Research and Development Center (MRDC) has carried out such assessment together with the communities. Traditional knowledge on climate, seasons, and weather were included, as well as an assessment of community vulnerabilities and their experiences developing mitigation and adaptation measures. The assessment revealed a wealth of knowledge on how people are able to work with the natural cycles of seasons and weather in their agricultural calendar and in the different land use management activities of their territory. It showed a direct correlation between the health of different ecosystems and the resilience of communities to ongoing trends of climate change. Less healthy ecosystems correlated with increased vulnerability of communities to changes and variability in climate.

Guna Yala
Successful knowledge exchanges at local level are also made using geographic information system (GIS) techniques for mapping and making tools available for local monitoring of key resources. In Guna Yala, Panama, such a project is developed together with the communities. While biodiversity rich cultural and spiritual areas can be identified using GIS, for a valid analysis the areas have to be visited, and relationships between different parts of the territory must be understood through direct experiential learning. The local communities point out mistakes in the GIS analyses and provide guidance on places that are important for harvesting food and natural resources, and for biological and cultural diversity. The synergistic method facilitates a more holistic analysis with an ecosystem approach, considering indigenous knowledge together with other multiple factors in a location. Among the main results of the research conducted in Guna Yala so far are guidelines for territorial management.

In April 2012, before the second session of the plenary to establish the Intergovernmental Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) a “Dialogue on knowledge for the 21th Century: indigenous knowledge, traditional knowledge, science and connecting diverse knowledge systems’”was held in the indigenous community Usdub, Guna Yala, Panama. Representatives from scientific and international organizations, governments, UN bodies, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, and NGOs from all continents participated in the dialogue, offering their rich experiences from a diversity of knowledge systems. The dialogue helped inform the IPBES meeting in Panama, and seem to have bolstered openness and support for indigenous knowledge and diverse knowledge systems in the work of IPBES 

Moving Forward
Efforts such as these in Guna Yala and Tinoc are experimenting with methods for co-production of knowledge – joint indigenous-scientific formulation of novel research questions, collaborative methods for data gathering, flexible arrangements for interaction, complementary data sets, and mutual respect for approaches, worldviews, and epistemologies. In order to achieve this, local and indigenous knowledge must be accepted on its own terms and modalities must exist to bring scientists and indigenous peoples and local communities together on equitable terms.

An Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized Populations and Climate Change workshop series, hosted by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in conjunction with several UN Secretariats, is striving to broaden the recognition of indigenous knowledge as a resource for climate change assessment and adaptation processes. Equally encouraging is that within the Convention on Biological Diversity, there are significant efforts to build on local and indigenous knowledge, as was highlighted previously on the Landscapes Blog by the Forest Peoples Programme.

The value of diversity in knowledge sources has often been neglected in decision making on ecosystem management beyond the local level. Indigenous peoples and local communities are important knowledge holders and actors in the processes to assess the state of ecosystems and landscapes. Equally, their presence and influence in policy arenas are crucial for informed decisions.

Read the full report from the Guna Yala dialogue workshop.

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