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close this bookTraditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development (WB)
close this folderSummary of the conference proceedings
View the documentIntroduction
View the documentTraditional knowledge and cultural survival
View the documentTraditional knowledge, land, and the environment
View the documentTraditional knowledge and agricultural sustainability
View the documentContributions of traditional medicine to health
View the documentTraditional institutions and participation
View the documentGovernment policies and traditional knowledge
View the documentBuilding a new partnership
View the documentConclusion


Ma te huruhuru ka rere te manu.
A bird can only fly if it has feathers.

The role of traditional knowledge is the same as the feathers. Traditional knowledge is an enabling component of development.... Our cultural artifacts, our whole cultural fabric, rely on every single interlocking part of the fabric. Our knowledge system is a very integral part of that. So, we have to have access to it. Not just to preserve it, not because it makes us feel good to have it; we have to be able to use it. Without my tikanga Maori, I'm just another person. And, if I am just another person, I've failed in my duty to my grandchildren and their grandchildren by not transmitting these values to them.

Whaimutu Dewes
Washington, D.C.
September 28, 1993

On December 18, 1992, the United Nations declared 1993 as International Year for the World's Indigenous People:

... with a view to strengthening international co-operation for the solution of problems faced by indigenous communities in such areas as human rights, the environment, development, education, [and] health. Resolution 164

The positive response to the International Year and the need for further progress in solving the problems faced by indigenous peoples led the United Nations General Assembly to proclaim an International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2004).

To support these efforts, the World Bank held a two-day conference on the topic of "Traditional Knowledge and Sustainable Development." On September 27 and 28,1993 the conference brought together a group of indigenous peoples with staff members and representatives of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and United Nations agencies to discuss the relationship between traditional knowledge and sustainable development. The closing speaker was Whaimutu Dewes, a Maori lawyer who works for one of the largest business corporations in New Zealand. The theme of his summary remarks, as well as the conference itself, was that no contradiction exists between the maintenance of strong cultural traditions and identities and economic development. To the contrary, for development to be socially and environmentally sustainable, it must take into account and draw upon the values, traditions, and cultures of the people in the countries and societies that it serves.

Indigenous peoples - perhaps more than any others - are aware of these relationships between culture and development. According to the United Nations, there are more than 300 million indigenous people in over 70 countries. These people live in almost every climatic zone from the remote Arctic region and the deserts of Africa to the Pacific Islands and the rainforests of Asia and South America. While there is a great diversity of language, culture, dress, and customs among them, indigenous peoples share a strong sense of ethnic identity and close attachments to their ancestral lands.

Historically, indigenous peoples have been socially discriminated against and culturally marginalized by the process of economic modernization and development. Over the past decade, however, policymakers, development planners, and the public at large have become increasingly aware of the important role that the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples can play in the promotion of sustainable development.

The significance of traditional knowledge for sustainable development was recognized in the Brundtland Commission's Report, Our Common Future (1987), and at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It is also incorporated in the Agenda 21 documents of the United Nations and the International Convention on Biodiversity.

The World Bank and Indigenous Peoples

The World Bank was the first multilateral development agency to establish a special policy for the treatment of indigenous peoples in internationally funded development projects. This policy dates back to the early 1980s, when the Bank became involved in funding several projects that affected the lands and welfare of relatively isolated and highly vulnerable indigenous tribes in the South American Amazon. The Bank policy called for the recognition, demarcation, and protection of indigenous peoples' lands, and the providing of culturally appropriate social services, especially to protect and maintain their health.

In the late 1980s the Bank reviewed its project experience in this area and, in 1991 issued a revised policy. This new policy extends the definition of indigenous peoples to reflect the much broader range of social and legal definitions and situations in Bank member countries. Some of the earlier protective measures are maintained, but the new policy also stresses the need to promote the informed participation of indigenous peoples and their sharing in the social and economic benefits of development projects.

A major innovation of this revised policy is the commitment of the Bank to assist its borrowers in preparing and financing special Indigenous Peoples Development Plans. These plans, some of which are being prepared, are to be designed in consultation with indigenous peoples and, where conditions permit, to be implemented by them. These plans are also to respect indigenous peoples' "cultural uniqueness" and take into account "local patterns of social organization, religious beliefs, and resource use."

The Traditional Knowledge Conference

The September 1993 conference was organized as part of the World Bank's activities for the UN International Year of the World's Indigenous People. A major purpose of the conference was to bring together a small number of indigenous peoples from around the world to educate Bank staff on issues relating to traditional knowledge and sustainable development.

The questions that the conference explored were: What is the role of traditional knowledge in sustainable development? What are the contributions that traditional knowledge can make to health and environment programs? How can traditional institutions be used to increase participation in the development process? How can the Bank and other donor agencies improve their performance in planning development projects with indigenous peoples?

The September 1993 conference was only a first step in addressing these issues and did not cover all of the significant cultural and development concerns relating to indigenous peoples. The people who spoke at the conference provided their own personal perspectives and experiences; obviously, they could not represent the spectrum of the great cultural diversity of the world's indigenous peoples. In fact, some regions of the world, such as Asia, were not represented at the conference, even though Asia contains a major segment of the Bank's borrower countries. Furthermore, some of the people who spoke at the conference are members of large African tribal groups, many of which have non-western cultures and world views but do not fall within the restricted definition of "indigenous" used by the Bank and other international agencies.

To create dialogue, we did not ask the speakers to prepare formal papers. In this way, we hoped to maximize the amount of interaction among the speakers, participating Bank staff, and other conference attendees, as well as to respect the oral nature of traditional cultures. We also felt that it was important for Bank staff to hear the "voices" of indigenous peoples - which seldom find their way into development institutions, which are located far from the often remote areas in which indigenous peoples live.


This Proceedings contains two sections. The first summarizes the conference itself. In this section we highlight several themes: the importance of traditional knowledge to the cultural survival of indigenous peoples; the relationship of this knowledge to the land and environment; the contributions that traditional knowledge can make to agricultural sustainability and health; the relevance of traditional institutions for development planning; and, some recent government and international initiatives in the areas of traditional knowledge and indigenous peoples' rights.

The first section concludes with remarks made to the participants by Ismail Serageldin, Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development at the World Bank. His presentation is significant in that it represents the growing interest on the part of the Bank in integrating these themes into its development agenda.

The second section of this report is a transcript of a roundtable discussion that took place on the day following the conference among some of the conference participants. It presents many of the key issues related to traditional knowledge and development raised by the indigenous participants.

The Appendixes comprise the conference program; names and addresses of conference participants; names and addresses of Indigenous Knowledge Centers recently established throughout the world; the World Bank's Operational Directive on Indigenous Peoples; and a selected bibliography.

Themes and Perspectives

While the conference made no formal recommendations, participants highlighted a series of themes or perspectives. These themes can be organized around five subjects: culture, development, participation, rights, and partnership.

1. Culture. A strong motif of the conference was that traditional knowledge must be under stood within the framework of the cultures of indigenous peoples. Indigenous peoples value traditional knowledge, because it is fundamental to their cultural values, spiritual beliefs, and collective identities. To separate traditional knowledge from its cultural context is to lose sight of the meaning that it has for the survival and integrity of indigenous peoples.

2. Development. There is no contradiction between the preservation of traditional knowledge and development. To the contrary, traditional knowledge can be seen as a "tool" or "instrument" to promote culturally sensitive or appropriate forms of development. This is particularly clear in the areas of environment and natural resource management, in which the use of traditional knowledge is increasingly recognized as a key to sustainable development. Similar contributions are being discovered in the fields of agricultural development, health and medicine, education, rural finance, law reform, and the strengthening of kin-based social safety nets, especially for groups such as youth, the handicapped, and the elderly.

3. Participation. As in so many other areas, local or popular participation is fundamental to the ownership and success of these development interventions. Traditional knowledge can play a role in the design of culturally appropriate participation mechanisms, particularly when government policies and programs and project designs give adequate recognition to indigenous social and political institutions (Chapters 5 and 6). Here, the recognition and support of indigenous women are especially important because women are key transmitters of traditional knowledge and values, and they are significant participants in the development process.

4. Rights. The contributions of traditional knowledge to development also must be seen within the larger framework of the struggle of indigenous peoples for social justice and the recognition of their rights. At numerous international conferences, including this one, indigenous participants have stressed the critical role of land rights recognition for the integrity and survival of their people. Other social justice issues voiced by indigenous peoples include the rights to practice their own cultures and speak their own languages, to be protected and receive appropriate benefits from the use by outsiders of their traditional knowledge (intellectual property rights), to be free from economic exploitation and poverty, and to determine their own development paths and destinies.

5. Partnership. Several participants stressed the need for a "new partnership" among indigenous peoples, national governments, and international development agencies. While the nature of this partnership was not spelled out, indigenous peoples clearly are not seeking the old types of "paternalistic" or "top-down" approaches to development so characteristic of past government and donor agency responses to their situations. In contrast, what was expressed during this and other recent fore is the need for a new type of relationship in which indigenous peoples, national governments, and international agencies are equal partners in a common effort (that includes other actors) for planetary survival and sustainable development. Obviously, there are lessons here for institutions such as the World Bank, and its affiliates, in designing and funding projects in which indigenous peoples are affected populations or key participants.

Traditional Knowledge and Western Science

It is worth mentioning that, in highlighting the important (and frequently overlooked) role that traditional knowledge can play in the development process, the speakers at the September 1993 conference were not arguing against the contributions that Western science (if appropriately applied) can contribute to the problems faced by indigenous peoples and other marginalized populations.

None of the speakers questioned, for example, the role that modern medicine can play in the control of diseases among indigenous and other rural peoples; nor did any of the speakers question the utility of modern agricultural and natural resource management techniques in improving food security or rehabilitating degraded landscapes and ecosystems, especially under conditions of rapid demographic growth and social, economic, and cultural change.

The issues at the conference and in this report are raised less as opposing traditional knowledge to Western science than as questioning the current balance among the uses of different types of knowledge in the development process.

Similarly, the challenge is less one of coming out on the side of one form of knowledge or another than of finding areas in which traditional knowledge and Western science can mutually support each other in the common quest for solutions to what up to now have often been intractable local and global problems.

Shelton H. Davis
Katrinka Ebbe
Conference Organizers

Traditional knowledge and cultural survival

What is the meaning to indigenous peoples of traditional knowledge and what role can it play in the development process? Several speakers at the September 1993 conference argued that traditional knowledge is related to the entire culture of a people, including its identity and spiritual and religious beliefs. While some scientists and development planners may see traditional knowledge as a means to resolve certain problems of development, indigenous peoples see it as part of their overall culture and vital to their survival as peoples.

In making this point, indigenous peoples are not saying that their communities are not interested in participating in the development process, or in sharing their knowledge with scientists, development planners, and the global community. They are saying that there must be respect for the cultural values of this knowledge and that their rights to maintain these values must be acknowledged and protected in the development process.

This was the theme of the remarks made by Brazilian Indian leader Jorge Terena, who told the conference that the history of the West's relationship to indigenous peoples and their traditional knowledge has been contradictory. On the one hand, Western cultures have for 500 years rejected traditional knowledge because:

... it is said to be a primitive knowledge, from a primitive culture. It is of the past, and therefore it is no, certain scientists are beginning to realize that this knowledge can be considered scientific.

Why? Because they know that our community has helped preserve the earth, not only the natural resources but humanity as a whole.

This new interest in the scientific value of traditional knowledge, however, poses a paradox for indigenous peoples. Today, there is an interest in the economic value of traditional knowledge; this is especially true in the area of biodiversity and the uses of medicinal plants. Many companies, Terena said, are identifying traditional medicines and patenting them but not giving back anything to the indigenous communities. Furthermore, there is little understanding on the part of these companies or the development community in general about the meaning that this knowledge has for indigenous peoples. Terena told the conference:

This knowledge that we have, we are not so eager to sell it and not so eager to patent it. Because it is on this knowledge that our community depends for its living. The important thing is our community has a traditional belief, a spiritual belief, that controls this knowledge. This goes far beyond just thinking of the economic value that the knowledge has.... It is something sacred to us.

Roberto Haudry de Soucy, a Venezuelan economist who works with the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), made a similar point: we should look at a people's culture as having "intrinsic value" and hence invest in it as part of our development lending and assistance. To do so, however, he said, we will need to accept indigenous peoples as "equal partners" who bring their own cultural assets and identities to the development process. He suggested that this acceptance means financing such activities as the strengthening of indigenous organizations, cultures, and languages. Haudry said:

The major asset of any indigenous peoples is its culture, and since this is an inseparable component among the assets making up its heritage, it is to their culture that any international financial institution (IFI) should channel its investment. And if, in reply to the question as to what the investment should be made in, we have said 'culture,' then the question as to how such investment shall be made, the reply must be to acknowledge that a culture is indivisible and admits no fragmentation. A manifestation of a people's culture, such as its productive technology, is bound up with a language, with an environment whence it draws its sustenance, with a pattern of distributing the end product, and with a religious view of the world and practice.

Until recently, a local culture has been seen as a hindrance to development, whereas today we must rather look upon culture as an asset, as a driving force for self-development. Nowadays, one hears it said that if we conserve a heritage (water, forests, biodiversity), future generations will have a larger stock of these component assets of that heritage, and enjoy a correspondingly enhanced wellbeing. Similarly, one might argue that more culture is more wealth, that having more know-how, more languages, and more centers of interest enriches indigenous peoples, as well as enriching in the process the rest of a country's citizens and some segment of humanity as well.

In a similar way, Whaimutu Dewes noted the importance of traditional knowledge to the cultural identity and survival of the Maori people, and the role which it plays in his people's development choices.

To the Maori there are three very important questions:

Ko wai koe? Who are you? (identity)
No hea koe? Where are you from? (lineage)
E ahu ana koe ki hea ?
Where are you heading? (survival)

These questions are the starting point, of all Maori discussions and negotiations with outsiders.

In trying to explain to corporate people with whom we are negotiating joint ventures, we start there. They have to understand that this is a survival issue. Time horizons do not mean a great deal to us. To put it in banking terms, our discount factor is not as high as they are used to because we've got a much longer time horizon. However, that is not to say we are going to accept a lower rate of return.

The leitmotif of the conference was the intrinsic value of traditional knowledge to the cultural survival of indigenous peoples. Traditional knowledge can play an important role in the development process, not only because it offers some obvious solutions to local problems but also because it is an important component of the identity and spirit of a people.

It has been 500 years that colonialism has been trying to offer us something different, and yet for 500 years the world has still not recognized our traditional knowledge. You must respect our culture, our social structure, and our way of living before you can offer us anything different. - Jorge Terena

Some implications of this proposition, as well as its operational relevance to the work of the World Bank and other development agencies, were reconfirmed and explored by other participants at the conference. Nowhere was this issue of intrinsic value clearer than in the discussions concerning the relationship of traditional knowledge to land and the environment.

Traditional knowledge, land, and the environment

A second theme of the conference was the idea that traditional knowledge is rooted in the land and the environment. Several speakers noted the importance that environmental values have for indigenous peoples, not only because the environment provides them with food, fiber, and other necessities but also because of their spiritual relationship to the earth and deep respect for it.

Canadian Indigenous Peoples

Conference participant Cindy Gilday from the Dene Nation works with the Department of Renewable Resources in the Government of the Northwest Territories of Canada. She told several stories about the respect that her people have for the land. One of these stories was about a trip that she made to a remote Dogrib village that was involved in land claims negotiations with the Canadian government.

I've travelled a lot, but this place really touched me. It's the first time in a long time that I went into a village and found the children still building animals and houses with sticks and mud and things they can find on the road....

This is also a place in the Northwest Territories where there has just been a massive diamond find. In this village, people reported that helicopters were landing every fifteen minutes during the summer. Within this same area, there is another mining company opening operations and two hydro dams are planned.

She then described a conversation she had while berry picking with women from the village.

The women still wear blue handkerchiefs, long-sleeved blue jackets, blue skirts, and moccasins. These women, as they took me over the hill, said: 'You know, you are not allowed to take the berries home.' I said, 'Why not?' I had a very Western reaction. I thought if I picked them, why cannot I take them home. I would have known better if I had listened to them more carefully in the village. One of them, Mary Ann Football, sat me down and said, 'Aside from the fact that we like the berries, if you move the berries and plants out of the community, it will affect the little animals, who eat them. If they are affected, then all the bigger animals that depend on the little animals will be affected. If those animals are affected, it will impact us. One living being depends on another living being.'

In another story, which took place outside of Yellowknife, the provincial capital, she described what happened to the caribou when there was a sudden influx of outsiders.

A lot of these outsiders started going out hunting without knowing what hunting means to Northerners. They shot caribou from the roadside and butchered them on the road. They left the heads and insides scattered along the roadways. These parts of the animal are considered to be the most delicate by my people. The chiefs of the Dogrib were absolutely horrified that any civilized group of people would act that way. It goes against the ethics of the way our hunters relate to the land and the animals....

Our people have reconciled the relationship between respect for wild animals and usage. There is a lot to learn from this, and that's Caring-for-the-Earth ethics. For thousands of years, our people survived in this fragile environment. Their traditional knowledge is based on how they've interacted with the animals, their environment, and each other: what they have observed and tested through time and patience and relationship with the environment.

Ms. Gilday used these stories to communicate the deep respect that her people have for the land and its resources. Obviously, the material survival of the peoples of the north depends upon the exploitation and sale of renewable resources, including fur-bearing animals. However, this use of the environment is based on a set of traditional rules, ceremonies, and practices that define the relationships that human beings have to the natural world. While native languages may not have specific terms for the modern concept of "sustainability," it is obvious that many traditional peoples had a sustainable relationship to the earth.

The Faasao Savaii Society of Western Samoa

Moelagi Jackson, founder and president of the Faasao Savaii Society of Western Samoa, also described the respect of her people for the land and environment. In her native language, she said:

For the Maori, economic development and culture have a reciprocal relationship that has a metaphor in our relationship to the earth.... I've yet to find a culture that doesn't talk about Mother Earth. For example, sea life has an obligation to sustain me. It's a mutually supporting relationship (Whanaungatanga). That's what gives me my right to go and exploit the sea. However, Tamure, the red snapper, has got this relationship with me, and I have to sustain her. When we're looking at how we reconcile the tension and the trade-offs, we must make this the metaphor we work within. - Whaimutu Dewes

Oi matou o fatu o le eleele.
We are the seeds of the land.

It is in our language handed down from our ancestors, and we strongly believe that our land and our environment are our heritage from God. We live on it, develop it, enjoy, but never destroy it as the next seeds will have nothing to grow on.

Savaii Island, Ms. Jackson's home, is the biggest island of the Samoan group and the second largest Polynesian island after Hawaii. It is also considered to be "the cradle of all the Polynesians," and until recently was one of the most undeveloped and unspoiled of the islands. In 1978 when regular ferry service became available, Savaii Island experienced a great deal of development. The government brought more roads, airports, and hospitals; better communications systems; and electrification to the island. One of the consequences of this improved infrastructure was the increased interest of developers. Development projects led to the clearing of forest land; planters who now had more access to markets began clear-cutting rainforests; and others started to exploit the island's marine resources. "Most of these developments were necessary," Ms. Jackson said, "though some were not. Some of these were launched with or without plans and consideration of those living on the island."

Most important, she explained how these activities threatened the cultural traditions of the Savaii people by reducing their access to the forests. For example, Samoans use forest products for the building of traditional houses and canoes and the making of tools. They also use medicinal leaves, barks, ferns, roots, flowers, and seeds; perfumed oils for skin care; flowering and fruit-bearing trees for predicting the weather; and trees for producing tapa clothes and kava bowls. She elaborated on the cultural significance of the kava bowl.

This is very important to our culture, as it is used for mixing our ceremonial drink. Every meeting conducted in the village is opened with a kava ceremony; guests arriving in the village are welcomed by a kava ceremony conducted by chiefs and orators of the village. The purpose of the offering is thanksgiving to God, asking for his blessing, protection, and guidance in our future.. I truly believe this kava ceremony will continue to keep our people in peace and harmony due to our total belief in communication with each other and with God.

The Faasao Savaii Society was established in 1990 to protect the environmental and cultural values of the island. It comprises 20 corporate members consisting of 17 villages, 2 youth clubs, and 1 college. The program includes environmental education, eco-tourism, forest conservation, handicraft production, encouragement of traditional medicine and healers, and capacity building. One of the Society's major goals is to establish nature reserves around each village that are under the control of village chiefs and orators. When created, these reserves will enable the villagers to maintain their local cultural use of the forest, serve as a place for training young people in traditional forest management, and provide income from tourism.

The Faasao Savaii Society is an example of numerous local and regional indigenous organizations that have arisen throughout the world to provide an alternative vision of land use and management, based on the traditional environmental knowledge of indigenous peoples. One of the challenges that international organizations such as the World Bank and its partners in the Global Environmental Facility (GEE) - the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) - face is how to better incorporate these people and their traditional knowledge into natural resource management and conservation programs. This theme was central to the presentations of other participants, including those who dealt with agriculture and traditional medicine.

E tua i le vaoola.

This is an expression often used when someone is doing well. We say, 'He is doing well as he has a living forest to depend upon....' Our everyday and our oratory languages are both rich with expressions pertaining to the cultural values of our land and the rainforest. It is a good indication that without our rainforest, our culture - which has survived for so many generations - will disappear. - Moelagi Jackson

Traditional knowledge and agricultural sustainability

Food and agricultural production are perhaps the major areas in which in recent years some scientists and development planners have sought new approaches based on the wisdom and knowledge of traditional peoples. The "Green Revolution" technologies (widespread use of new seeds, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides) introduced after World War II increased food production. However, the costs of this technology transfer, while not immediately evident, are high soil erosion and loss of plant genetic materials that were resistant to pests and other diseases.

Dr. Ntombie Gata, Deputy Director of the Department of Research and Specialist Services of the Zimbabwe Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Water Development, stressed the importance of traditional knowledge in agricultural development, especially in Africa. She noted that development theory has tended to focus on disparate factors such as land, labor, and capital; technology; socioeconomic conditions; gender; and, more recently, indigenous technology and knowledge systems. However, she said, "We can't afford shunting back and forth in the train of development picking one factor at a time sometimes picking the wrong factor. We must seriously examine what it really takes to socially, economically, and environmentally develop sustainably."

Scientific Validity of Indigenous Agricultural Knowledge

The current crisis in African agricultural production, Dr. Gata said, demands a change in attitudes and approaches on the part of governments and donor agencies. There must be, she said, a deeper respect for indigenous knowledge, and a commitment to incorporate it into development policies and projects.

Indigenous agricultural practices, reflect the store of experience and knowledge accumulated literally over thousands of years based on sound understanding of soils, plants, and the environment. [This] knowledge is revealed through various practices that are used in crop production, for example, forecasting seasonality, conservation of crop/plant diversity, mixed cropping, land fallowing, and others associated with soil and crop management systems....

Farmers deliberately influenced the natural processes of mutation by careful seed selection over centuries. They developed an intricate range of crop variability generated by sophisticated knowledge.

Dr. Gata stressed the scientific validity of traditional agricultural knowledge. In Zimbabwe, for example, farmers are able to predict the onset of rain using such signs as changes in leaf color of some tree species, shifts in wind direction, cloud formation, temperature and relative humidity fluctuations, and bird and beetle songs and their seasonal migration. These signs," she said, "are crucial in decision-making relating to land preparation, planting and choice of plants....

She went on to discuss the role of women in traditional agricultural systems.

Indigenous women are excellent sources of both genetic and cultural information on plant and animal species, because they have to meet multiple needs within their sphere of household activities.... Women play a crucial role in selecting seed with preferred characteristics, such as color, size, genetic stability, disease tolerance, palatability, storage, and processing.

Working classifications of crops by gender show that crops with multiple uses in form and function (for example, pumpkin and cow peas) are considered women's crops. [This illustrates] the central role played by women in maintaining genetic diversity, which ensures options for responding to environmental changes.

Local Knowledge and Sustainability

Dr. Gata emphasized that agricultural science and technology are not neutral but are deeply rooted in a society's history and culture. Failure to respect other people's knowledge and culture has led to the imposition of alien technologies that often undermine local people's self-confidence. Dr. Gata pointed out: "Failure to recognize the farmer's point of view and analysis has meant that the farmers have never really been part of most development initiatives."

As a counter approach, Dr. Gata and several of her colleagues in Southern Africa are looking toward a new partnership with grassroots communities for the common purpose of promoting sustainable resource use in agricultural development. In this partnership the traditional farmers' knowledge will form the basis for development projects and researcher and extension agent training programs.

Emmanuel Asibey, Senior Ecologist in the Southern Africa Agricultural and Environment Division of the World Bank, described one of these training programs that will be launched in Zimbabwe and other Southern African countries. Its purpose is to study indigenous agricultural and land-use knowledge from village elders and to incorporate this knowledge in training workshops for government research and extension agents. If the program proves successful in Southern Africa, it will be extended to other parts of the continent. Similar programs are being introduced in other parts of the world, as witnessed by the growing international network of indigenous knowledge scholars and applied research centers (see Appendix 3).

In designing these training programs, it is also important, Dr. Gata suggested, to include indigenous women, who are often the repositories of traditional knowledge about plants, seeds, medicines, and other natural products. In many countries women are the key to the survival of traditional agricultural and land-use practices. Some advances have been made, especially in countries such as Zimbabwe, in increasing the number of women attending national agronomy schools and in using local women as agricultural extensionists. However, much more attention needs to be focused on the agro-ecological knowledge possessed by rural indigenous women, and how this knowledge can be usefully incorporated in national agricultural curricula and teaching materials and in local extension programs.

For a project to succeed, local people must be involved, not just in supplying labor but in making crucial decisions. Projects must be based on people's own ideas and knowledge of their farming systems. Such an approach will change the ownership of projects from development agencies to the people. - Ntombie Gata

Contributions of traditional medicine to health

Traditional knowledge is also of great value in its contributions to health and medicine. Two of the conference speakers, Dr. Maurice Iwu of Nigeria and Dr. Arturo Argueta of Mexico, are involved in studying traditional medicine and demonstrating its importance for the health and wellbeing of the world's population.

African Medicinal Knowledge

Dr. Iwu is particularly qualified to address this topic, because he is both a researcher at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. and a Professor of Pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, as well a member of a society of traditional healers. He told conference participants:

The only thing that you can say that traditional medicine has in common with modern medicine is the fact that they both cure disease - one heals, the other treats. But, the role of the traditional healer is much broader than that of a Western medical practitioner.

The traditional doctor is a healer, diviner, adjudicator, and protector of his whole community. Therefore, it is only a part of the traditional healer's role that we are discussing when we compare them to modern doctors.

Dr. Iwu described the three members of the traditional healing team: the healer, the spirits, and the patient. Through ritual and ceremony, he continued, a traditional healer communicates with and asks for the help of the indwelling spirits (those that reside in every object, plant, and animal); the invoked deities (minor gods who are asked to intercede with the one all-powerful God); and the ancestors (the patient's predecessors who are available for advice and consultation). These religious or spiritual aspects of the traditional healing process are often misunderstood by Western academics, whose cultural conceptions usually pose a fundamental distinction between "science" and "religion."

Despite these differences in the underlying approaches of traditional and Western medicine, Dr. Iwu noted that of "the more than 130 clinically useful major prescription drugs that are derived from higher plants, over 70 percent of them came to the attention of pharmaceutical companies because of their use in traditional systems of medicine."

Since 1978 his research group at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, has been systematically investigating the plants used in traditional African medicine. He described the research findings of his group:

To date, we have investigated well over 200 plants and have studied about 26 of them in some detail. In nearly all cases, our laboratory findings support the use of the plant drugs as therapeutic agents. We have established from the analyses of plants used in traditional medicine that the preference is for dietary supplements and masticatories rather than non-edible poisonous species....

In an earlier study, we reported the pharmacological activity and the therapeutic application of over 153 dietary plants used in traditional medicine. We included in our report their botanical names, local names in the three main Nigerian languages (Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba), their medicinal and dietary uses, and of course their chemical constituents....

[Our research has shown] that a high degree of selectivity is involved in the use of plants in traditional African medicine.

Dr. Iwu pointed out that most of the plants from which these drugs derive are found in tropical forests. Although tropical forests constitute only 7 percent of the earth's surface, they contain an estimated two-thirds of its plant species. Dr. Iwu continued:

Unfortunately, tropical forests are now under siege, threatened by overexploitation, habitat conversion, and the ravages of poverty. It is estimated that over 150 square miles of rainforest are cut down every day in order to accommodate the socioeconomic needs of human inhabitants of forest lands. Habitat conversion threatens not only the loss of plant resources, but also cultural diversity and the accompanying knowledge of the medicinal value of several endemic species.

Biotechnology Development Agency (BDA)

BDA is a consortium of scientists, nongovernmental agencies, and private sector entities established in Nigeria in 1990 to apply modern methodology in the study of traditional biological resources. BDA's purpose is to combat the threat to African biodiversity posed by the declining economic value of environment-based resources. The major objectives of the program are:

· To collect, collate, and codify available information on the uses of African plants, with special reference to indigenous food crops, medicinal and aromatic plants, and industrial crops

· To encourage basic research on the chemistry, biology, and industrial application of indigenous natural resources

· To stimulate public awareness and concern about the vanishing resource base of tropical agriculture; to support the activities of public interest groups that are working on these issues; and to foster cooperation and communication among them

· To stimulate activities and policies that lead to a better assessment of the emerging new technologies and highlight their implications for African natural resources

· To initiate and encourage efforts for the conservation of biodiversity as a feasible tool and exploitable resource for sustainable economic development

· To encourage the establishment of small-scale agroindustrial and marketing enterprises and of technologies in related industries that tap local and overseas markets.

Economic Needs of Forest Dwellers

In response to these threats he suggested that more attention needs to be focused on the economic needs of forest dwellers, and how their knowledge of plants and other forest resources might be utilized as a "feasible tool for social and economic development." However, he warned against too rapid an acceptance of the premises of recent efforts in what is called "biodiversity prospecting." He argued that the research methodology used by Western pharmaceutical companies is one of identifying biologically active compounds or active constituents from plants and then distilling them into commercial drugs. This methodology, Dr. Iwu said, is "based on the [incorrect assumption] that the plant medicine as constituted is not a medicine but has to be refined to distill the true drug." Under these conditions, developing countries are only suppliers of raw plant materials, rather than being involved in the development and commercialization of the drugs. These circumstances, he argued, resemble the "colonial situation in which tropical countries were raided for cheap raw materials."

In contrast, he described a series of projects that he and his colleagues are carrying out in Nigeria and that attempt to draw on traditional knowledge and ensure that a greater proportion of the profits remain both in the country and benefit local people.

The earliest of these projects was termed Nkana Nzere, which roughly means "a documentation of the arts and norms of the Igbo people." This project was launched in 1982 by the Institute of African Studies, the Faculty of Arts, and the Department of Pharmacognosy at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. It utilized undergraduate students who were trained in field data collection and sent to their home villages to gather information on human interactions with the environment. Data were collected on proverbs, music, oral history, ethnobotany, indigenous biotechnology, and ethnomedicine.

The success of this project led to the establishment in 1990 of a Biotechnology Development Agency (BDA), comprised of Nigerian scientists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the private sector. This agency seeks to use "available human and material resources in Nigeria for the conservation of biodiversity through establishment of extractive forestry research parks, initiation of village-based social forestry projects, and conducting investigation into the uses of biological resources in the development of novel pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food additives." (See box for details.) In turn the BDA initiative led to the formation of a regional organization, Bioresources Development and Conservation Program (BDCP), which pursues the same goals and links similar community-based projects in West and Central Africa.

Mexico's Traditional Medicine Program

Dr. Argueta, an ecologist with the Mexican National Indigenist Institute (INI), also described a comprehensive program underway in his country to protect and preserve the knowledge of traditional healers. This program first sought to document the extent of traditional plant knowledge in Mexico. It included a bibliographic search of all available information on useful plant species, their botanical names, and their ethnobotanical uses. Much of this information existed only in unpublished articles, or in the scientists' files. The program has developed a file on over 3,000 plants, which have nearly 15,000 different uses. This material is being made into the Atlas of the Traditional Medicinal Plants of Mexico, which will contain botanical drawings, indigenous names, and maps of their regional distribution.

A second aspect of the Mexican program is the organization of traditional indigenous healers.

For the past several years INI has been organizing regional workshops to foster the exchange of knowledge among traditional medicinal practitioners. There have already been two national congresses and the formation of a National Council of Traditional Indigenous Healers, which brings together fifty-seven local and regional organizations. There have also been meetings with traditional healers from other parts of the continent, and a technical consultation on traditional medicine with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

In collaboration with these and other indigenous organizations, INI has promoted the introduction of reforms in the Mexican Constitution that recognize the multi-ethnic and pluricultural nature of Mexican society. It has also linked traditional healers and other medical practitioners (for example, midwives) with the national medical system. This work has resulted in greater recognition of the role that traditional healers can play in the delivery of primary health care, the use of traditional healers in regional hospitals that serve indigenous communities, and the sensitizing to and training of medical students in the knowledge possessed by traditional medical practitioners.

For an estimated 4 billion people in the world, traditional health care is very important. The materials and the procedures, the beliefs and ideology, the sacred places and the holy plants - the whole thing - provides health for many people in the world. The trend is toward growth in the next decade.... More and more people from Western societies are using non-Western medicinal plants and traditional health systems. - Arturo Argueta

Traditional Medicine and National Health Care Systems

Following the Mexican presentation, Dr. Gerard Bodeker, an expert on traditional Asian medical systems, spoke from the floor and highlighted the worldwide significance of traditional medicine. He told the conference that the World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that 80 percent of the world's population, about four billion people, rely upon traditional medicine for their primary health care. He recommended that international agencies think more in terms of promoting traditional systems of health care rather than promoting medicine. Dr. Bodeker said:

Traditional Medicine: Promise and Problems

The following comment by Jorge Uquillas, Social Scientist in the World Bank's Latin America and Caribbean Region, indicates both the great promise and particular problems of using the traditional medical knowledge and beliefs of South American Indians:

The contributions of traditional medicine to health are enormous. For instance, the great biodiversity of the human tropics and indigenous peoples' knowledge about plants and their nutritional and medicinal value supported whole classes of specialized traditional healers who, because of a recognized ability to cure some diseases, are in great demand, as demonstrated by the popularity of some shamans of the Amazon region.

Yet, it is also necessary to point out that there are also a few instances where traditional medicine has been at fault and has contributed to morbidity and death. The widespread belief of traditional Andean people that persons with diarrhea should refrain from taking liquids because they aggravate matters is a case in point. It has led to many cases of dehydration and early deaths, particularly of infants.

When we look at traditional health-care systems, we are seeing systems that are effective, that are locally available, that are affordable, and that are sustainable. On that basis, I'd like to suggest that traditional health care in this Year of Indigenous People should become a priority agenda issue in international and national health planning. It should quite soon become a mandatory component of the health planning equation in all countries that have traditional health care systems.

Dr. Bodeker, a consultant to the World Bank's East Asia and Pacific Population and Human Resources Division, has been helping to design a traditional medicine component for a Primary Health Care Project in Viet Nam. In Viet Nam one-third of all medical care is provided by traditional medicine. This includes the use of traditional herbal medicine for the treatment of malaria, gastrointestinal diseases, and common illnesses such as respiratory disorders, fevers, hypertension, cardiovascular conditions, and rheumatism. Traditional acupuncture is also used in analgesia, anesthesia, and the treatment of central nervous disorders and other neuromuscular conditions.

In Viet Nam, as in other Asian countries, these traditional practices are being modernized and integrated into the national health care system at the central, provincial, district, and local levels. Vietnamese government policy, according to a recent report by Dr. Bodeker to the Bank, is: gather, record and disseminate the medical knowledge of experienced practitioners of traditional medicine [and to modernize] traditional medicine, including the use of modern medical means of diagnosis, scientific evaluation of the safety and efficacy of the plant ingredients in herbal medicines, and drug development programs based on knowledge of the bioactive ingredients and properties of medicinal plants.

His report provides several recommendations on how the Bank and other international donors might support the national government's policies on traditional medicine through financing training, improvement of facilities, equipment purchases, and research.

Traditional institutions and participation

Several speakers at the conference highlighted the need for more active participation on the part of indigenous peoples in development planning. At the same time they warned against imposing alien organizational forms on indigenous communities in the name of participation. It is often easier to promote successful development interventions by drawing on traditional social structures and using local decision-making institutions. The World Bank's recent policy directive on indigenous peoples highlights the need for their "informed participation" in Bank projects, as well as the design of indigenous peoples' development plans or strategies in collaboration with their leadership and organizations. (See Appendix 4.)

Burkina Faso and the Six-"S" Program

One of the best cases of this traditional approach was presented to the conference by Bernard La Ouedraogo, founder and head of the Burkina Fasobased Association Internationale Six-"S" (Se Servir de la Saison Se en Savanne et au Sahel).

Burkina Faso is a country of enormous linguistic, cultural, and ecological diversity. There are approximately sixty ethnic groups in the country, including descendants of the Kingdom of the Mossi, lineage- and village-based agricultural societies, and pastoral tribes. Large areas of the country are arid and pose special problems in terms of natural resource management and agricultural and livestock development.

Ouedraogo and his collaborators in Six-"S" have received worldwide acclaim for their capacity to motivate and organize rural people. He described the trials and tribulations of his early rural development experience and what he learned from working with the people:

I was a civil servant working in a regional government organization. My job was to train rural extension workers. My experience was crowned with some success, and I was told to go to the countryside and try to replicate that success. But I failed miserably.

I realized one of the problems was that I did not speak the same language as the peasants. I then set about studying the philosophical principles of the population. Those principles I found in their proverbs and fables.

I also studied the mentality of each region, the way the society is organized, how the various powers - legislative, political, press, and judicial - govern the environment. I studied the ways and means that are used to carry out economic tasks.

Based on this information, I began to create some trust and motivation. If the farmers do not trust you, they think you have come to cheat them. If the farmers are not motivated, they do nothing. In order to promote development and change, you have to talk their language and create mutual trust. This is what creates the spirit of confidence for the workers.

It was out of this intimate knowledge of local people, and familiarity with their outlooks and motivations, that Ouedraogo and his co-workers came upon the idea of using the traditional Mossi institution of Kombi-Naam for purposes of development. The objective of the traditional institution was the "social integration of youth" through the inculcation of the society's "fundamental values of equality, justice, equity and democracy." Ouedraogo used this traditional institution as the basis for a more widespread community organization, called the Groupement Naam. Its membership was broadened to include other categories of people, including women and the elderly. The elders, in fact, became the "counselors" of the organization providing it with a moral direction that did not exist in other organizations imposed by outsiders or the government.

Due to its acceptability and familiarity to the local people, Groupement Naam had great success and grew rapidly - the first group being formed in 1967; with 126 groups existing in 1977, and 4,500 groups active today. These groups also formed into larger networks at the village, district, and provincial levels, and even formed into national federations. Today, the concept of these decentralized local groups - based on what Ouedraogo calls "qualitative democracy" - has spread into neighboring countries, including Benin, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

According to Ouedraogo, the activities of the Groupement Naam respond to two priorities: training local people so they will be competent to address their own problems; and implementing activities that promote self-sufficiency and increase the revenues of their peasant members. The second category comprises numerous activities, but the major focus is local efforts to combat desertification and restore the ecological equilibrium. Almost all of these natural resource management activities have components whose purpose is to increase local food supplies and income. Some of the more successful activities have been the establishment of cereal banks, introduction of simple grinding mills, raising lambs, and numerous women's activities such as cloth dyeing, sewing, and solar drying of agricultural products. The organization has also established a network of rural credit institutions to serve these various community-based economic and natural resource management activities.

When we train the farmers, we don't train for the sake of training. We train in response to a need that they have identified. When a farmer applies for training, it is because he is confronted with a problem and he is prepared to act and implement new knowledge to solve that problem. If you want to do something successfully, you have to be involved. That is what we expect of our farmers. They must be involved totally. - Bernard Ouedraogo

Bedouin Tribes of Northwest Egypt

Another situation in which the role of traditional institutions in mobilizing people for rural development has been important is among Bedouin tribes-people in the Matruh region of Northwest Egypt. There are over forty tribal groups in this region, most of whom were nomadic sheep, goat, and camel herders until they were sedentarized by the Egyptian authorities in the late 1950s. The process of settlement led the Bedouin to be more dependent upon dryland agriculture, and growing fodder for their livestock. As a result, land has become increasingly overgrazed and soil has become seriously eroded.

The Bedouin of the Matruh region all trace their descent from a common ancestor and are organized into a segmentary lineage system comprising tribes, patrilineages or clans, and local extended-family household groups. While tribal sheikhs represent these people before the government, most aspects of social and economic life take place at the household level. These groups are called bayt (biyut, pl.), are usually three to four generations in depth, and contain an average of fourteen persons. Describing the significance of these groups among the Bedouin in neighboring Libya, British social anthropologist E. Evans Pritchard wrote:

The tribe may be the residual owner of land and water, but the biyut are the owners in use. Their members live in the same stretch of tribal territory, move during the rains to the same grazing grounds, use the same wells during the dry season, and cultivate adjacent strips of arable land. The members of a bait [that is, bays] have a lively sense of solidarity, and this is most evident in fighting and feuds.

For many years the Egyptian government and international donors supported rural development programs that showed little understanding of these highly complex aspects of Bedouin social structure. Many of these programs were based on notions of the private registry and ownership of land. They also assumed that government-organized cooperatives were the most equitable means of delivering technical assistance, agricultural inputs, and credit to the Bedouin.

Peter Klemann, team leader for the joint German (GTZ)-Egyptian Qasr Rural Development Project (QRDP), related the difficulties that have resulted from imposing these nontraditional concepts and institutions on Bedouin farmers and herders. The government-introduced cooperatives did not have the desired results of producing widespread participation and equality among members, because of the hierarchical organization of Bedouin society. In most cases these cooperatives reflected the interests of the sheikhs or their confidants, not local family, residency, and production groups. Klemann said:

As regards the ownership and use of lands, two systems of land tenure can be distinguished (among the Bedouin). First, there is tribal land, which can be used by all tribal members. This is mainly range land used for grazing. It is a public good, to which all members have access. So, everybody exploits it to the maximum. This results in the well-known effects of overgrazing, which lead to deterioration.

The second form of land tenure is individual land where a Bedouin is considered the owner even without legal registration. This falls under the concept of wad al yad, which means that the user has put his hand on it, and has made investments like trees and dams on it. [This land] would seem to be less problematic. This is not the case at all.

In general, this is the most valuable land, with deep soils and enough runoff water to ensure relatively high yields.

Rural development efforts such as construction of dams and dikes, levelling of fields, [and] excavation of cisterns change the size, shape and value of this land. Spaces between two neighbors that formerly had no practical value can be converted into fertile land. This makes clearly defined farm boundaries most important. We often have to adjust our engineering works according to farm boundaries even where another solution would be technically more sound and less costly.

The QRDP, which began as a pilot program in 1988, has encountered several other problems such as the absence of information and research on the Bedouin; difficulties in recruiting staff to live in the Matruh region; lack of trust by small farmers of government employees; and lack of respect for the Bedouin by outside technicians. On this last point Klemann said:

We observed that Egyptian technicians who lived a longer time in the area dealing with the Bedouin lost this attitude. But after we observed some of our younger Egyptian colleagues releasing their extension messages to elderly Bedouin farmers like a captain's orders to his soldiers, we quickly organized a course on didactics for our staff.

In coping with this broad variety of problems, QRDP found that two major principles were consistently the most effective in implementing its work. Again, to cite Klemann:

First, the Bedouin participate as far as possible in all project activities right from planning until implementation. For example, the definition of project aims and formulation of the correspondent strategy was done in planning-by-objective conferences where the sheikhs and other leaders of the Bedouin tribes actively participated....

Second, with some very specific exceptions, we always request a target group contribution, either in cash or in kind....

By observing these two principles, we try to ensure sustainability of the executed measures. People will care better for investments that have been made with their full consent and a significant material contribution of their own.

He further recommended the following as being critical to the success of projects among indigenous peoples:

1. Allow for more than the normal time for project appraisal. Such missions should include anthropologists, ethnologists, or sociologists.

2. Allow for flexibility to change the project strategy after a certain time when the team on the spot has gained enough experience. Somebody who has worked with indigenous groups for a couple of years knows more about the subject than the best short term expert in an appraisal mission.

3. Involve indigenous peoples to a maximum in all aspects of project planning and implementation.

4. Respect their organizational structures and try to make the best use of them.

5. Apply careful staff selection and assure special training concerning indigenous peoples.

6. Apply close monitoring at short intervals.

7. Allow for a long lifetime for indigenous development projects.

Bedouin Women and Development

Klemann was accompanied by Dr. Salima Abd El Rehim Mohamed, a Bedouin woman who has a university degree in veterinary medicine and works as the Executive Officer of the QRDP Women Affairs Program. Conference participants were extremely interested in her comments, because it is rare for Western development specialists to have access to the views of traditional Muslim women.

Dr. Salima described the goals of the QRDP Women Affairs Program as being to "improve the living conditions of the Bedouin women." This includes five main approaches to women's activities: reduction of women's exhausting and time consuming work loads; encouragement of women to increase their income-generating activities; organizing women's groups for access to credit; informing women about existing governmental services; and supporting direct access to these services. She noted that much of the work of Bedouin women - such as firewood and water collection - is very tedious and time consuming; hence, women readily accept changes that lower their work loads but do not conflict with their traditional roles within the Bedouin family structure.

To get across her point to the women she has been working with, she often uses herself as an example:

I tell [them] that I went out of my house for four or five years after the discussion and consent of my family. I joined schools until I reached university stage, yet my traditions are the same. I am still adhering to my traditions. I am not Americanized, and I am not Europeanized. The respect of traditions gives me an open door of communication to these indigenous peoples who are my people.

Dr. Salima stressed that there is no inherent conflict between tradition and development, including that of religion. In response to one question concerning whether culture or poverty was the cause of Bedouin women's difficulties, she replied:

What I think and believe is that religion helps development; it's not against it. Culture is something [necessary], but if it is a closed society that has not accepted any change or revolution, how can we arrive at the best possible way of development? The most important thing and the basic ingredient in the problem is poverty.

Bedouin women live in houses in the desert without any electric power .... Exhausting work for women is transport of water to the houses, which is a job that has to be done three times per day. A woman might walk up to 15 kilometers daily. The amount of water she has to lift from the cistern by using a bucket is more than 300 liters which she transports home on the back of a donkey....No wife would refuse a new method of bringing water into her home. But, they have their own priorities.

These are the aspirations for the future for Bedouin women: We are seeking an improvement and development of a certain layer of the society's culture. We are trying to help women to think of educating their children, opening new horizons for them, trying to engage in certain projects which are suitable to their circumstances. - Salima Abd El Rehim Mohamed

Matruh Resource Management Project

Based on the experience of the QRDP Project, the World Bank assisted in the preparation and financing of a follow-up project in the Matruh region that is intended to reach a much larger number of Bedouin farmers (nearly forty tribes) and promote more sustainable land use and resource management. The Matruh Resource Management Project, as it is called, originally began as a traditional range-management improvement program. However, using participatory rural appraisal techniques, it was decided to design a more comprehensive project which includes the active participation of Bedouin communities and incorporates some of their traditional land-use practices and knowledge.

Bachir Souhlal, the Task Manager for the Matruh project, described some of its critical design features. One of these is the empowerment of local Bedouin groups (the bayt described above) to serve as the project's major participants and beneficiaries. Each "community group" (CG) or bayt will be directly involved in the design, implementation, and monitoring of project activities. These groups, in turn, will select representatives to form part of a CG Council, which will be collectively responsible for all land and resource management decisions, including formulation of a Community Action Plan (CAP).

The project will also establish special Sub Regional Support Centers (SRSCs) to provide extension services to the CGs and assist them in the preparation of the CAPs. The SRSCs will comprise specialists in such areas as field crops, horticulture, range management, and rural women's extension. There will also be Community Liaison Coordinators and Community Extension Agents, who will be nominated by the participating tribes.

Finally, there is a research component under the project, which includes an assessment of indigenous technical knowledge on local resource use. This will include a description and elaboration of customary legal procedures for resource use, indigenous knowledge of seasonal environmental changes, local methods of livestock care, identification of local fodder sources, and local knowledge of soils and cultivation methods.

In reference to the role of traditional systems and values, Souhlal said:

An important principle underlying the design of the project has been to ensure that the approach to community planning, the selection of interventions and activities, and the delivery of services are all in harmony with the traditional systems and values of the Bedouin society. At the same time, it has been recognized that, as is the case for Egypt as a whole, the Bedouin society is changing and adapting to a variety of outside influences. The project will help the entire Bedouin community to preserve, to the extent possible, its cultural heritage and be more confident as it faces and participates in these changes. It will build on existing tribal mechanisms for community action and stimulate mobilization of households into user groups to work with the government authorities in sustainable management of natural resources.

The Matruh initiative represents a new generation of natural resource management and rural development projects in which local people actively participate in project preparation and implementation. These projects incorporate traditional knowledge and institutions in their activities and provide local people with opportunities to capture project benefits. Lessons learned from these projects are playing a fundamental role in shaping government and international donor thinking about how to promote local participation among indigenous populations living in fragile environments.

Government policies and traditional knowledge

Like many other initiatives in the area of popular participation, a favorable enabling environment is necessary to promote the use of traditional institutions and knowledge. Governments can provide such an environment through the passage of legislation and adoption of policies. Some governments, such as the nation of Ghana and the Provincial government of the Northwest Territories of Canada, have highly innovative legislation and policies in the areas of traditional governance and the promotion of traditional knowledge. These policies were presented by speakers at the conference and are briefly discussed in the following pages.

Ghana's Chieftaincy Act

The West African country of Ghana provides one of the best examples of recognition of traditional authority institutions, especially for purposes of local governance and development. Ghana has a population of approximately 14 million people comprising 75 distinct languages and major ethnic groups. In 1971, just fourteen years after its independence from Britain, the Ghanaian legislature passed the Chieftaincy Act. This act constitutionally recognized and protected the local governance powers of village chiefs, granted them authority to enforce customary tribal laws, and established regional and national assemblies in which they could discuss and govern their affairs. While the state maintains responsibility for the armed forces, the judiciary, trade, the economy and other national matters, these local chiefs handle more customary concerns such as divorces, child-custody matters, land disputes, and the maintenance of cultural heritage, practices, and ceremonies.

Under the direction of Mamadou Dia. the Capacity Building Division of the World Bank's Africa Technical Department is conducting a study of the Ghana Chieftaincy Act as part of a broader program called "Indigenous Management Practices: Lessons for Africa's Management in the 90s." This program is based on the premise that much of the "development crisis" in African countries is the result of a failure to take into account the particular values, traditions, and organizational styles of African societies. Development programs, it is hypothesized, would be more effective if they built upon African cultures and institutions, rather than imposed outside forms of organization and management. The Africa's Management in the 90s program is investigating the Ghana Chieftaincy Act as an example of new approaches to African governance whereby traditional authority institutions are adapted to modern development conditions. For example, it is examining the legitimacy and effectiveness of local decisionmaking and control by village elders or chiefs. This study, under the direction of Professor Moses Kiggundu of Carleton University, is examining the formal legal recognition and administrative uses of traditional chieftaincy by modern African nations.

The conference was fortunate to have as two of its participants and speakers Professor Kiggundu and the Honorable Nana Oduro Numapau II, current President of the National House of Chiefs of Ghana. Chief Numapau described some of the history and problems faced by the traditional institution of chieftaincy in Ghana:

Before colonization, chieftaincy was the fulcrum of society in Ghana. It gave unity and direction to the people and mobilized them for common purposes. With the onset of colonization, the colonial administration found the institution to be so viable that, through the policy of indirect rule, it sought to make chiefs junior partners in the government.

In the long run, indirect rule had a paradoxical effect on the institution of chieftaincy. On the one hand, the institution appeared to have gained strength through its close association with the colonial government; but, on the other hand, the very fact that the colonial government had power to grant or withdraw recognition whittled away the local people's right and power to make and unmake their chiefs in accordance strictly with customary law and usage.

This paradoxical situation cast its shadow over the institution during the independence era. All of Ghana's constitutions and governments since independence have given recognition to the institution of chieftaincy. And yet the institution has not enjoyed a stable status in Ghanaian society. Instead it has experienced ups and downs, mainly as a result of the government of the day seeking to play politics with the institution.

Despite these problems, Chief Numapau noted that the Constitution of the Fourth Republic of Ghana contains provisions that have strengthened the institution of chieftaincy and protected it from intrusions by national politics. The Constitution provides that the decision on who is or is not a chief, as well as all jurisdictional matters pertaining to the role of chiefs, are the responsibility of the National House of Chiefs and not the central government. Furthermore, chiefs are prohibited by the Constitution from participating in partisan politics. Nevertheless, there are broad areas, outside of party politics, in which chiefs (and queen mothers) do participate in national affairs and in the formulation of national policies. The President of the House of Chiefs, for instance, is a member of the Council of State and counsels the Presidency and other state organs. The ten regional and one national House of Chiefs have jurisdiction over numerous customary and legal issues, including adjudication of disputes, codification and unification of customary law, and elimination of harmful cultural practices. Chief Numapau said that he was "highly optimistic that the institution of chieftaincy is poised to play an enhanced role in Ghana's development." He mentioned the following factors as reflecting the increased potential for chiefs to participate in the nation's development policies:

First, we now have highly educated chiefs who understand the ramifications of modern development and have the expertise to contribute to it in various fields.

Secondly, because chiefs are not associated with political parties, ...their advice and exhortation will henceforth carry greater moral weight across party lines.

Thirdly, it is now widely realized that traditional fore and means of communication are relevant to educating the broad masses of our people on such development oriented issues as family planning and population control, indiscriminate sexual habits, teenage pregnancy and AIDS.

Fourthly, government-sponsored organs have not been able to supplant the chief as the medium of mobilizing the local people for communal efforts at development. And yet, it is now common knowledge that to achieve true development, the laudable efforts of the government will have to be meaningfully supplemented at the local, grass-root level through communal effort.

Chief Numapau concluded his talk by stating:

I do not wish to leave you with the impression that all is golden with the institution of chieftaincy in Ghana. It has its problems. For example, the institution is plagued with disputes and litigations over rightful occupancy of stools and skins and over land ownership. The incessant litigation over land, in particular, poses real problems to security of title to land for building, farming, and commercial purposes, to the detriment of development. There is no doubt that [we] chiefs in Ghana will have to put our own house in order by defining more clearly the customary rules of succession and of land ownership, as the National House of Chiefs has been mandated by the Constitution to do.

In his comments on Chief Numapau's talk, Professor Kiggundu noted that party politics and various government regimes used chieftaincy for their own ends and often gave it a bad name. "Politicians," he said, "would often go to the chiefs at night and then throw stones at them during the day." However, Professor Kiggundu stated that the institution is going through a period of renewal and, with adequate protection from partisan politics, it could play a vital role in the development process, especially at the local or grassroots level.

Chieftaincy is deeply rooted in Ghanaian society. There is not a single Ghanaian who does not trace his roots to chieftaincy.... It is extremely difficult for any outside force such as government to go into a community and do anything without the full support of the people and the chief. - Moses Kiggundu

In the area of dispute resolution, especially in terms of land conflicts, the performance of traditional chiefs is sometimes low, but public perception of the institution is high. This, Professor Kiggundu concluded, augurs well for the creation of a more efficient institution, both for mobilizing people for development and for preserving their cultural life and spiritual well-being. He and other participants argued that the institution of traditional chieftaincy had great capacity to adapt to modern circumstances and could be a positive force for African development.

Northwest Territories' Traditional Knowledge Policy

Another initiative in government recognition of traditional institutions and cultures was brought to the attention of conference participants by Cindy Gilday from the Department of Renewable Resources, Northwest Territories (GNWT) of Canada. The GNWT has established a Traditional Knowledge Policy. Based on the report of a Working Group comprised of representatives of the territorial government, NGOs, and local community elders, the policy provides a set of guidelines for incorporating traditional knowledge in government decisionmaking and programs. The policy defines "traditional knowledge" as "knowledge and values which have been acquired through experience, observation, from the land or from spiritual teachings, and handed down from one generation to another." The opening paragraph of the GNWT's policy states:

The Government of the Northwest Territories recognizes that the aboriginal peoples of the NWT have acquired a vast store of traditional knowledge through their experience of centuries of living in close harmony with the land. The Government recognizes that aboriginal traditional knowledge is a valid and essential source of information about the natural environment and its resources, the use of natural resources, and the relationship of people to the land and to each other, and will incorporate traditional knowledge into Government decisions and actions where appropriate.

It then provides a set of principles for implementing the government's policy:

1. The primary responsibility for the preservation and promotion of traditional knowledge lies with aboriginal people.

2. Government programs and services should be administered in a manner consistent with the beliefs, customs, knowledge, values, and languages of the people being served.

3. Traditional knowledge should be considered in the design and delivery of Government programs and services.

4. The primary focus of traditional knowledge research should be the aboriginal community.

5. Traditional knowledge is best preserved through continued use and practical application.

6. Oral traditional is a reliable source of information about traditional knowledge.

In the Northwest Territories Traditional Knowledge Policy we're working across the board on justice, wildlife, medicine, conservation - the totality of disciplines in which the world engages. We're not just looking at intellectual property in isolation. We're not looking at promoting traditional knowledge in just wildlife preservation. We're doing this institutionally as a government so the Departments of Education, Renewable Resources, Justice, and so on will all have to make traditional knowledge a priority in their work. - Cindy Gilday

While all government agencies and departments are responsible for implementing this policy, major responsibility for coordination, implementation, and monitoring rests with the Department of Renewable Resources. A traditional knowledge coordinator has been appointed in each program department who is responsible for coordination and monitoring of traditional knowledge activities within that department.

The Science Institute of the NWT includes the pursuit of research on traditional knowledge as part of its mission statement; and the territorial government's cross-cultural awareness training courses, which are available to all government employees, will now develop special sections on traditional knowledge.

The GNWT Traditional Knowledge Policy is extremely innovative and could provide a model for other governments that wish to conserve and promote the use of traditional knowledge in their environment, development, research, and science policies. The idea of such promotion was included in the International Convention on Biodiversity and Agenda 21 report both adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. However, no other governments have actually adopted explicit policies on the subject; hence, implementation of the GNWT policy should be looked at closely by both international agencies and other national and provincial governments.

Building a new partnership

The central theme of the International Year of the World's Indigenous People was "Indigenous People A New Partnership." The idea of the Year was to lay the groundwork for more open and cooperative relationships among indigenous peoples' organizations, governments, and international agencies. No one expected that the creation of such a "new partnership" would be easy, especially given the history of the relationships and paternalistic attitudes of governments and international agencies toward indigenous peoples. However, some interesting experiments are taking place, which were discussed at the conference and which potentially could provide insights for governments and international agencies that are seeking more effective ways of relating to indigenous peoples.

One program that was described in some detail is the Regional Support Program of Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon Basin of South America. This program is sponsored by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Andean Development Corporation (CAF). It was conceived by IFAD economist Roberto Haudry de Soucy after long years of experience working and living with South American Indian people and, at the time of the conference, was coordinated by Brazilian Indian leader Jorge Terena.

A major innovation of the Amazon Basin Support Program is that it works in direct partnership with a growing network of regional Indian organizations, providing them with small grants to carry out pre-investment projects that will assist them in protecting their land rights; improving the health and education of their members; and strengthening their capacity to maintain their traditional knowledge, cultures, and ethnic identities. As mentioned in Chapter 1, Haudry's idea is that by "investing in the culture" of indigenous peoples, through the protection of their land rights and strengthening of their own organizations, international financial institutions (IFIs) have the best chance of promoting the long-term economic development of indigenous communities.

In his presentation Jorge Terena highlighted some ideas behind the Regional Support Program, as well as some of the new thinking that he and other South American indigenous leaders are trying to introduce into the international development dialogue.

I am very glad that the speakers we heard today have been talking about their traditions, customs, and social structures. I think this is a very clear message that we are trying to give the World Bank and other financial institutions. The message is that you must respect our culture, our social structure, and our way of living before you can offer us anything else different.

It has been 500 years that colonialism has been trying to offer us something different; yet for 500 years the world still has not recognized our traditional knowledge. In these 500 years little has been learned about our cultures.

We have anthropologists, sociologists, and economists trying to resolve our problems. They come up with words like "sustainable development." Sustainable development, they say, is going to solve the world's problems and society's problems, or the poor's problems. Yet, as we look at the history of development as a whole, it has not resolved the problems of the world. As a matter of fact, this development has become a source of poverty.

It has been about two decades since the financial institutions have been trying to start something with this sustainable development. They have not even defined what it is yet. Now, within the last five years, the world has realized that indigenous peoples have something to give to the modern world. The world is beginning to recognize the knowledge we have accumulated over years and years. They realize that this knowledge can resolve part of the problem.

Indigenous People and International Financial Institutions

The requests from indigenous people that call for immediate support from the International Financial Institutions (IFIs) concern basically:

1. Demarcation of specific territories and the establishment of titles thereof

2. Strengthening indigenous organizations and their capacity to enter into dialogue

3. Support for self-managed micro-projects in health, bilingual education, and other fields wherein the "partners" are selected and contracted exclusively by the indigenous organizations and not predetermined by the donors.

It is of great importance to gear any financial aid carefully to the capacity that the respective indigenous people and their organizations possess for managing such aid. At present, the management capacity is very poor, and it would be a serious mistake to "inundate" indigenous people with money. It is essential to hand over funds in a limited, progressive fashion and to insist on a careful rendering of account. [Therefore], any action should be conceived in terms of pre-investment, such that the indigenous people may affirm their cultural values, address their urgent needs, and prepare themselves for managing sizable funds and investment that will be sustainable in the long term. For the IFls, action here means a learning process and no project financing (since, in official parlance a "project" has objectives, time spans, and costs that are carefully calculated), and it is here that we are largely ignorant and have to learn and accompany our partners in pursuing approaches that they have chosen.

- Roberto Haudry de Soucy

Terena then explained how the World Bank, IFAD, and other financial institutions can improve their development projects with indigenous peoples.

The first thing I would like to suggest is that you must consider land demarcation. I mention this because in Latin America we're fighting to get the governments to recognize our land as our own so that on our own land we can set up any kind of program we want. If you want to talk about development that needs to come from the community, from the inside not the outside, first we must secure the land....

How are institutions going to convince the governments in Latin America that they must mark the land to strengthen the identity of our people? They do not want to, because governments and our communities are fighting for the same things - the control of the land. Historically, we have the rights to the land, but according to the laws it belongs to the government.

I believe that as long as there are indigenous peoples on the face of the earth, this battle is going to go on. But, if we want to talk about helping the indigenous peoples to get somewhere, at least help us to mark our lands.

The second thing we must change is the spokesmen for whatever these institutions want to do. The government has spokesmen telling the international financial institutions what to do with our people without asking our people. [The government] might send somebody to go and jot on a piece a paper what they think the indigenous peoples want to do.. Yet, when the indigenous peoples come to discuss their own ideas with the government, that's not what the government wants.

The international financial institutions must not only hear, but support, what it is that the indigenous peoples want. That means spending time with the indigenous community. I'm glad that we have begun a process here in this meeting. But it's not because of three or four hours of meeting or three or four hours of people talking about culture and tradition that we're going to learn. The real learning is out in the field. That is where the planners and economists need to be - talking to the indigenous peoples to see what they want. The international institutions need to say to the government that this is what the [indigenous] peoples want and [this is] what we're going to support.

As a third element, Terena claimed:

We must consider the strengthening of indigenous organizations. Because colonialism has tried to destroy our system of living, our social structure, our economic structure, we were forced to organize. We had to create organizations in order to defend our rights before the governments and the institutions. That is why there are so many indigenous organizations in the world. We need spokesmen to defend our rights, our land rights, our cultural rights....

Because these organizations usually do not have the means to come to a forum like this and present their defense, what is needed is to build up and strengthen these institutions. Help build up the community organizations. We're not talking about only national organizations but organizations at the base where the needs are most felt.

The last thing that Terena mentioned as needing assistance from the international financial institutions is indigenous leadership training.

But this is just the beginning. If you really want to help indigenous peoples you must address these four considerations: land demarcation, consultation, organizational strengthening, and leadership training. Otherwise, I think the attitude will continue to be just wanting to help the indigenous peoples without giving them the means to solve their own problems. Otherwise, the exploitation of our land and our natural resources will continue. More and more we will continue to be put into the market economy that will destroy our people.

In the discussion following Jorge Terena's presentation, Maritta Koch-Weser, Chief of the Environment and Natural Resources Division in the Asia Technical Department of the World Bank, stressed the urgency of the issues raised by him and the other panelists. In large areas of the world indigenous peoples find themselves without the secure land tenure that he mentioned. Similarly, the voices of indigenous peoples are seldom heard within the halls of government or international financial institutions. Thus, development policies and projects continue to be planned without the informed participation of indigenous peoples. This in turn leads to the loss of valuable cultural knowledge and heritage, which could be the bases of sustainable development.

In his closing remarks, which appear in the following chapter, World Bank Vice President for Environmentally Sustainable Development Ismail Serageldin also stressed the urgency of the situation faced by indigenous peoples and the importance for development of respecting and supporting their cultural knowledge, heritage, and identities.


Friends, I am very pleased to be with you here today to share the sense of commitment to the idea that, indeed, we need to think less linearly. We have to recognize that, frequently, the linear paradigm is contributing to the destruction of a valuable patrimony, not just of our environment, our forests, our rivers, but of our heritage, our cultural dimensions.

Mamadou Dia referred to an international conference that we held here in April 1992 on culture and development. It highlighted the project philosophy that we are talking about here - that, ultimately, the whole purpose of development is to improve the well-being of people. Today, after all the efforts toward development, we have to recognize that about a billion people are still living on less than $1 a day, that close to a billion people (mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia but also in other parts of the world) - about one in five members of humanity - go hungry every day. We cannot accept the view that this is somehow an acceptable cost.

Neither can we turn our backs on the very real basis of solidarity that cultural identity provides, that gives people a sense of being and self-worth. We have to think about the philosophical aspects of development in terms of giving people rights. Rights to clean water, clean air, and fertile soil are one way of looking at environmental protection issues. We must not think only of protecting the natural resource base, but we must give people these basic rights. Today these rights are being denied to many people. These rights are being denied to the 1 billion people who have no access to clean water and to the 1.7 billion who have no access to sanitation. These rights are being denied to their children, of whom 2 to 3 million die annually from causes related to this pollution. They die from eminently avoidable diseases that are associated with the lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

We have 1.3 billion people, primarily in the developing cities of the world, who are breathing air that the World Health Organization says is unfit for human beings. Seven hundred million people, mostly women and children, breathe indoor air polluted by biomass-burning stoves that is the equivalent of smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. Not to mention the hundreds of millions of farmers who are unable to maintain the fertility of the soils from which they eke out a meager living.

Against this backlog of problems, at least 90 to 100 million people a year are being added to the world's population, most of them in those very same weak states and poor countries in which the problems are the worst. The development paradigm that is being pursued by many of these governments has not been able to address these problems. It can neither respond adequately to the past stock of problems nor is it likely to meet the challenges of the future.

In this paradigm these governments are also ignoring the wealth that indigenous knowledge brings, the wealth of indigenous peoples and their cultures. Indeed, we have to recognize that, by and large, everywhere in the world indigenous peoples have been victimized in the name of "progress." They have been persecuted by that which should have empowered. They have been oppressed by that which should have liberated. We must recognize that the post-colonial independence of many states has not translated into respect for the individual rights of indigenous peoples or indigenous communities. For indigenous peoples, I want to speak of other rights, not just rights to clean water and clean air. I want to speak of the right of a people to be themselves, the inalienable right of each and every people to self-determination.

Here the issue of culture and cultural identity takes on a different manifestation. I speak of it not just as something interesting that might be lost, but as an inalienable right, a central core of being human, as part of human rights. We need to recognize that culture and cultural identity are not just things to be studied and written about in anthropological monographs. Cultural identity is very much the core of what makes a society tick. To understand this, we must come to the notion of empowerment. In answering the question that Whaimutu Dewes mentioned in his talk, "Who am I?" I think the answer comes from with whom I relate and my ability to act.

A radical, more dynamic view of cultural identity removes it from links with artifacts and objects of a past heritage, from past paintings, sculptures, and places. Such a view sees cultural identity as the ability of individuals, groups, and communities to act and, by their actions, to manifest their identities in the society of which they are a part. They must be social actors, not objectified artifacts. In this way we find the definition of cultural identity and authenticity rooted in action. In this way we bring cultural identity to a living people, to the meaning of well-being and development.

When we talk about unitary societies and unitary nation states, we have to understand that within these societies and nation states there must be room for diversity. Mamadou Dia just reminded us of the artificiality of certain legal constructs such as state boundaries when compared to the authenticity of peoples and cultures in Africa. He reminded us of many other fallacies that we need to set aside, but the one I would like to emphasize is the link between unity and diversity. As Aimire said, "The universal is enriched by all its various particularisms." Empowerment and recognition of the rights of people to be themselves do not lead to disintegration into many cultural groups. It is the denial of people to be themselves that leads to the disasters we see in the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, and parts of Somalia. It is empowerment that is needed to enable each community to define itself, not at the expense of its neighbors or even at the expense of its weaker members. It is these groups' capacity to define their destinies and themselves in concord with the broader society that allows a broader unity to be constructed. The broader society is enriched by the presence and well-being of indigenous peoples, by the traditional knowledge and the cultural variety they bring. As Jacques Cousteau said at the 1993 First Annual International Conference on Environmentally Sustainable Development:

We now have to make sure that there will be an awakening of global public opinion to save the mixed borders and the flowering profusion of our motley cultural jungle.... We have only one way to keep our proud civilization flourishing: we must protect its diversity.

To the exponents of that broader society who speak with a certain degree of arrogance of the modernism and advancement that they contribute, I think we should remind them of the precarious reality of the human condition in most of these societies, the vulnerability of unskilled labor, the soul-destroying impact of poverty and homelessness, and the ease with which the rich and powerful subvert law enforcement to their own ends.

This scenario of empowerment will be feasible if, and only if, development strategies are truly human-centered in the broadest sense. Strategies that invest in people in terms of health and education are essential. However, we must also devise strategies that recognize the importance of capacity building, governance, legitimacy, participation, priorities, and expression of people. An enabling environment must be at the center of all development strategies.

Again, Mamadou Dia reminded us of this in terms of the crises of institutions in Africa. This takes me into the domain of human and civil rights, participation, empowerment, accountability, and decision-making. For these, I would advocate that all societies think in terms of creating a space of freedom in which people can express themselves, in which those who are concerned can reappropriate the formulation of their own future communities and societies. This space of freedom must not be the monopoly of certain academic scholars in Western universities. In fact, these indigenous groups must take charge of their own destinies.

It is important that we move in this direction quickly. Maritta Koch-Weser rightly reminded us of the urgency of getting things done. As difficult and complex as these issues are, I believe there is a crushing and compelling urgency manifested by the numbers I mentioned earlier in my talk. Every passing day of misguided policies contributes to the misery of millions of human beings. Every incomplete package of reforms and projects that various donor groups agree to finance is another missed opportunity to reach out to those kindred souls.

We in the World Bank would like to work with all those dedicated to provide this better future, be they nongovernmental organizations, academics, local community groups, reformers, committed governments, intellectuals, international agencies, or national organizations. I stretch out my hand to each and every one.

We do not claim to have the answers and, indeed, we need to be humble about the scope of possible intervention that we can have. But I know that we must dare to be bold, we must dare to be imaginative. For I do believe that imagination is stronger than knowledge, that myth is more potent than history, that dreams are more powerful than facts, that hopes always triumph over experience. I think that with this kind of vision we can empower the people of the world to take charge of their own destinies. For, ultimately, real progress lies in enabling the weak and the marginalized to become the producers of their own bounty and welfare, not the beneficiaries of aid or the recipients of charity.