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close this bookTraditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development (WB)
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View the documentEnvironmentally sustainable development series
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Open this folder and view contentsSummary of the conference proceedings
Open this folder and view contentsPost-conference discussion
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Knowledge is perhaps the major factor that will determine whether humankind will be able to create a sustainable future on this planet. Yet, until relatively recently, our conception of knowledge was bound by the philosophy and methods of Western science. Few, outside of some anthropologists and historians, recognized that there are myriad "sciences" embedded in the cultures of other peoples and civilizations throughout the world. Today, both scholars and public policy-makers are recognizing the importance of various local or culture-based knowledge systems in addressing the pressing problems of development and the environment. The United Nations declared 1993 the International Year of the World's Indigenous People. This was followed by the United Nations' declaration of 1995 to 2004 to be the Decade of the World's Indigenous People.

This report, Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development records the proceedings of a two-day conference held at the World Bank in September 1993 in support of the United Nations year. The conference brought together a small number of peoples from around the world - some of them members of indigenous or traditional societies - to discuss how the knowledge of indigenous peoples might contribute to creating more environmentally and socially sustainable forms of development.

Interestingly, the conference speakers focused not on abstract propositions but on real world problems, such as the contributions of traditional knowledge to land use planning and environmental protection, food security and agricultural sustainability, and health and medicine. They also highlighted how traditional or customary social institutions can promote and facilitate the practice of sustainable development.

This conference made no formal recommendations. However, consensus (reflected in reports such as the UN Agenda 21 documents and those from the UN International Year of the World's Indigenous People) seems to be emerging that a new type of relationship or contract is needed among indigenous peoples, national governments, and international development agencies. The old top-down or paternalistic forms of development policymaking are no longer acceptable to indigenous peoples. Like so many other groups who formerly were unheard or unheeded, indigenous peoples are asking for respect for their land rights and cultural integrity, and the right to participate as partners in the development decision-making process.

For all of these reasons, I am glad to see that the Proceedings of this conference are being published and will be available to persons involved in sustainable development efforts both inside and outside of the World Bank.

Ismail Serageldin
Vice President
Environmentally Sustainable Development
The World Bank