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close this bookRecording and Using Indigenous Knowledge: A Manual (IIRR, 1996, 211 p.)
close this folderPart 1 Indigenous knowledge and development
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentHow the manual was compiled
View the documentHow to use the manual
View the documentWhat is indigenous knowledge?
View the documentWho knows what?
View the documentCharacteristics of local systems
View the documentWhy is indigenous knowledge useful?
View the documentHelping communities conserve their IK
View the documentUsing indigenous knowledge in development
View the documentRecording IK in communities
View the documentIntellectual property rights

Using indigenous knowledge in development

Usually development projects start with the identification of problems and with discussions on how these problems might be solved. For example, if soil erosion is a problem, conservation measures will be needed. if farmers need money for farm inputs, a credit program might be the answer.

How can such projects and others use IK? The flowchart below summarizes the decisions that must be made. We can identify four basic steps (these steps are the same as in the table in the section How to use the manual):


Decisions when using IK in projects

1 Determine whether relevant IK exists

Working together, community members and development workers record and briefly document all IK available in the community relating to the identified problem—what has been done in the past and what is presently done to solve the problem. For guidance on how to record IK, see Why is indigenous knowledge useful and Recording IK in communities. and the descriptions of individual recording methods in Part 2.

If time and financial constraints prevent a thorough recording and documentation, think of methods that allow for a quick assessment of at lea et some IK-such a as bra in storming sesions with key informants (see Brainstorming in Part 2).

If no relevant local IK exists, it might be necessary to test, adapt, and promote appropriate knowledge from outside. This outside knowledge can be western knowledge, IK from other places, or a blend of both.

2 Evaluate me effectiveness and sustainability of IK

If relevant IK does exist, local people and development workers can together discuss and screen their findings, looking for IK useful to the project.

Remember that from a development point of view, not all IK is equally useful. Some might be ineffective, and some might even be harmful. De selective (Part 3 gives some criteria for validating IK).

When evaluating the effectiveness of IK, understand the reasons behind a particular practice or belief. For example, we may ask:

Why does farmer X build a stone wall in this particular place and not further down the slope like we teach at the university?

We might find that if the wall were built in a different place, it might be washed away by heavy rains. Thus IK can make sense even if it contradicts the teachings of outside specialists.

If the IK is indeed effective and sustainable, it can be promoted without further modification. For example:

- Make effective cooking devices more widely known.
- Promote local remedies that work.
- Employ local healers.

3 Test whether IK can be improved

Often, IK is effective but can be improved. For instance, a traditional cropping system might be made more productive by incorporating a new grass species or an improved crop variety. Alight modifications to a traditional stove design might make it more fuel-efficient yet retain other desirable features.

These improvements can be made in various ways

- Through formal research in laboratories and experimental farms.

- By on-farm research managed by scientists (as is common in farming systems research).

- Through farmer-managed, participatory technology development (Veldhuizen and Zeeuw [1992] give guidance on this).

The outside knowledge can be both western knowledge and IK from other places. The table below, and Part 4 give some examples of blending indigenous and outside technologies.

In some cases, IK cannot be improved or adapted satisfactorily. Adaptations of a local cropping system, for instance, might prove consistently inferior in all respects to an introduced pattern. In such instances, it might be best to adapt and promote the introduced pattern.

Blending local and introduced knowledge

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

Indigenous Practice

Western knowledge

Indigenous Practice blended with western knowledge

Carry dry biomass from the forest (e.g., from Albizia sinensis trees) and burn it on fields.

Green manuring using Desmodium, Gliricidia, and Flamengia.

Promote growing of indigenous tree species on farm for biomas production.

Slash and burn cultivation on rotation basis.

Use of leguminous tree species.

Use of leguminous hedgerows to maintain soil fertility on slash and burn fields to turn them into continuously cultivated fields.

Build contour barriers from dry branches, shrubs, and bamboo.

Contour canals and hedgerows to reduce erosion.

Strengthen barrier with live hedgerows and combine them with a contour ditch uphill from the barrier.

Integrate trees into fields in irregular pattern.

Regular planting distances among trees; trees not planted in fields.

Improve planting patterns of existing practices in fields.

Build terraces from rocks.

Live hedgerows.

Strenghten terraces with live hedgerows.

Source: Nelson Sinaga Yayasan Tananua, Nunsa Tenggara, Indonesia.

4 Apply and Promote improved IK

The improved IK can be promoted and applied through the extension service, farmer-centered extension, and other communication and education approaches. Participatory approaches to technology development have the advantage that local people have been involved in the development and tedting of the improved IK. They are therefore more likely to use and promote it successfully than If top-down approaches are used.

Note Using IK in projects: An example of soil erosion

A village's harvests are low. Farmers and development workers identify heavy soil erosion as one of the causes How can they design measures that build on IK?

First, local people and development workers discuss what has been done by the community in the past to solve this problem. Together they determine what resources are available in the village.

They record and document all IK relating to land management. They walk together around the fields and assess the situation. Out in the fields they become aware of facts and practices that a discussion in a room might not have brought out. They document everything stone walls, terraces, bush species planted on hill slopes planting practices, etc.

The team (insiders and outsiders) then decides whether any of the existing IK (information, practices, technologies, species, etc.) might be useful to the project. They discus how the IK could be used— whether pure, modified, or blended with outside technological.

Finally, the project applies the selected practices, using some directly and setting up experiments to test and improve others.

Note Using IK in Projects: An example of credit

Farmers have asked a church group to lend them money to buy farm inputs. The church group agress to make available a small amount of money to be distributed through a credit program is there any IK in the community that the credit program could use?

First, farmers and representatives of the church group sit together to discuss and record any forms of saving and credit practiced in the community. Indigenous forms do not necessarily involve cash.

Although many societies indeed have some arrangements for money lending, they can also involve valuable goods that are sold or exchanged when cash is needed. (For example, people often keep sheep and goats an forms of savings.)

The church group also talks with indigenous money lenders.

Then farmers and representatives of the church group screen their findings to determine whether some of the recorded IK could be useful for the credit program. For example, the project could consider employing indigenous money lenders. These money lenders are often very successful. They might, however, employ practices that the project might feel uncomfortable imitating, such as asking very high interest rates But, the money lenders' success could also be due to the respect they enjoy in their community.
In this case, they might be a valuable asset to the credit program.