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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

Why is indigenous knowledge useful?

- IK is the basis for self-sufficiency and self-determination for at east two reasons:

1 People are familiar with indigenous practices and technologies. They can understand, handle, and maintain them better than introduced western practices and technologies.

2 IK draws on local resources. People are less dependent on outside supplies, which can be costly, scarce and available only irregularly.

- IK provides effective alternatives to western know-how. It gives local people and development workers extra options when designing projects. Instead of searching only among western technologies for feasible solutions, they can choose from indigenous knowledge or combine indigenous and western technology.

- Indigenous technologies and practices are often cheaper than western once. They rely on locally available skills and materials and often require little on no cash outlay.

IK is easily overlooked

Be careful: indigenous practices are sometimes not very spectacular. Despite their effectiveness, they can easily be overlooked.

For example, a traditional irrigation system consisting of mud canals and bamboo pipes looks leas impressive than an introduced system of neat, straight, and cemented canals. Nevertheless the local system can effectively distribute water to the fields. In the long run, it might even conserve water better than the cement canals. Research in Nepal has shown that farmer-managed irrigation systems based on indigenous knowledge resulted in higher agricultural productivity than systems built and managed by government agencies (DFM 1993).

IK is often overlooked because it seems "messy" and 50 is not obvious to outsiders. For example, people in some places do not weed their plots in order to reduce soil erosion. An outsider might get the wrong idea and assume nobody is tending the fields.

IK is an endangered species

IK is often transmitted by word of mouth rather than in written form. This makes it vulnerable to rapid change—especially when people are displaced or killed in famine or war, or when younger generations acquire values and lifestyles different from their ancestors.

Some IK is lost naturally as techniques and tools are modified or fall out of use. During the last decades, however, development processes and population changes have accelerated this 1055, endangering the survival of IK.
What can we do to preserve this endangered species? Here are some ideas:

- Raise awareness about the value of IK for development.

- Help communities conserve their IK (see Helping communities conserve their IK).

- Record and use IK in applied development projects (see Using indigenous knowledge in development).

- Document IK and make the information available to people working in development.

- Make IK available to the communities from which it was obtained.

- Observe intellectual properly rights when recording IK (see Intellectual property rights).