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close this bookResource Management for Upland Areas in Southeast Asia - An Information Kit (IIRR, 1995, 207 p.)
close this folder4. Diagnostic methods and tools
View the documentParticipatory appraisal methods
View the documentIntegrated land-use planning in upland areas
View the documentFarm househoId profile
View the documentGender analysis
View the documentCollecting information on crops
View the documentBuilding on indigenous knowledge

Building on indigenous knowledge

Over centuries, communities have acquired a wide spectrum of information, skills and technology in:

· agriculture
· Iivestock rearing
· food preparation and preservation
· construction and building
· soil and water conservation
· natural resource management
· community organizing
· health care, education and other subjects

This indigenous knowledge is a product of many years of experience. Indigenous knowledge is

· unique to a given community
· based on cumulative experience
· often tested over centuries of use
· adapted to local culture and environment
· dynamic and changing with conditions
· transmitted through indigenous communication channels.

In many instances, indigenous knowledge will be a blend of "locally rooted” and exogenous knowledge.

Development and indigenous knowledge

Indigenous knowledge is a valuable resource for development activities. It may be equal or even superior to the know-how introduced by outsiders.

Development initiatives should build on a community's knowledge. They should unleash a process of blending, strengthening, energizing and synergizing indigenous with exogenous knowledge.

Roles of indigenous knowledge in development

Indigenous knowledge:

· Is a basis for selfsufficiency and selfdetermination.

· Strengthens people's participation and the empowerment process.

· Ensures viability and sustainability.

· Promotes the use of appropriate technology.

· Ensures cost-effective approaches.

· Provides the opportunity to understand and facilitate the design of appropriate development approaches.

Types of indigenous knowledge



· Which trees and plants grow well together?
· Which tree species are best suited for mulching?

Practices and technologies


· Ways to store seeds.
· Simple threshing devices.
· Stonewall terracing.
· Grafting, composting or other practices.


Beliefs can play a fundamental role in a people's livelihood and in maintaining the environment.


· Holy forests, protected for religious reasons, in fact, maintain a villager's lifegiving watershed.
· Rituals and religions may regulate the access and pattern of water distribution.



· Implements for planting and harvesting.
· Carriers for fodder grass collected as animal fodder.



· Farmers' integration of new tree species into existing farming systems.
· Farmers' modification of planting practices.

Human resources


· Specialists such as healers and blacksmiths.

· Local organizations such as kinship groups, councils of elders, or groups formed for labor sharing and exchange.



· Animals' breeds.
· Local crop and tree species.



· Stones for building walls.
· Housing construction materials.

Deciding on appropriate interventions

Not all indigenous knowledge is equally useful Some may be ineffective or even harmful from a development point of view. Practices originally benign under conditions of low population and limited contact with the outside may no longer be appropriate

Therefore, indigenous knowledge should not be applied indiscriminately. Projects should document local knowledge and assess its validity before selecting what to use. The flow chart on the next page illustrates how to proceed when deciding on the type of technology to be promoted

Example: Introducing an agroforestry scheme into a village. Before deciding which species and techniques to promote in this scheme, farmers and project staff should systematically record and document whether there are any local tree and bush species, how they are used arid whether farmers have indigenous knowledge related to agroforestry, such as intercropping, terracing, etc. Then the team should decide whether any of the existing indigenous knowledge (information, practices, technologies, species) could be used, improved or blended with outside technologies. As with any technology, efficacy, costs, cultural and social feasibility, effect on user and non-user groups, environmental impact and other factors should be considered and weighed against characteristics of alternative solutions

Blending indigenous and exogenous knowledge

Farmers in East Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia, have several practices to improve soil fertility and prevent erosion. The table shows how the Indigenous knowledge can be blended with and improved through exogenous knowledge.

Indigenous practice

Indigenous practice blended with exogenous knowledge

Carry biomass from the forest and burn it on fields.

Promote tree growing on farm for biomass production.

Burn plant residues on the farm and distribute the ash.

Reduce burning on farm; incorporate at least half of the residues unburnt into the soil.

Build walls from dry branches, shrubs and

Combine wall with contour ditch uphill from wall.


Strengthen wall with live hedgerows.

Integrate trees into fields.

Improve planting patterns of existing practices.

Build terraces from rocks.

Strengthen terraces with live hedgerows.

Integrating indigenous knowledge in development