Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity

RCEunnipm's picture

JOIN NOW! 8th Global RCE Conference TKB Discussion Group

Welcome to the 2013 Global RCE Conference Traditional Knowledge and Biodiversity Discussion Group! Please join in the pre-conference discussions today by sharing your thoughts on the topics you feel most need to be addressed in the group meeting during the Global Conference in Nairobi.


RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

I am Professor MA Rahman from RCE Greater Dhaka would like to emphasize on Landscape management as it is directly associated with adaptation and biodiversity. Since Landscape is the driving factor to keep the earth system running and it also controls the adaptation with diversified species. So I think it is the most critical theme especially for diverse habitats of the most densely populated region of the world. Mohammed
RCEunnipm's picture

Hi Prof.Rahman, thank you for initiating discussions. Could you please also upload some of the interesting case studies of RCE Greater Dhaka.
Evans Kipngeno's picture

Prof Rahman, my names are Evans Kipngeno from Nairobi Kenya.
Iam glad you mention landscaping, two weeks ago i attended a conference at UNESCO Nairobi on mountains as waters towers & ecosystem. When you mention landscaping i do not know if that what you intend to bring up for discussion? What are you objectives to discuss landscaping in large economy countries?
Perhaps if i got hold of that i would know if it is related to mountains as water towers in global world then it would be interesting.
Let me know.
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

Dear Mr. Kipngeno, I am sorry that I could not attend you earlier as I was unable to sign in. Many thanks to Unni for his help.
Yes, it is interesting to note that, most of the living species have unique adaptability with the landscape and if you go in and in, you will find the uniqueness of diverse life with adaptation according to landscape. Yes, I am also considering the relationship of uphill water layers and the ecosystems with the flora and fauna at the top of the mountains. In many tropical mountains and hills, there are specific indicator plants which indicate the water tables. Here also plants and the water tables are interrelated. If these plants are destroyed water table falls and due to that, many of the perennial streams are drying in the tropical rain and semi-deciduous rain forests. Therefore, this matter I considered to bring in discussion and to correlate the relations among landscape, biodiversity and adaptation. Please put your opinion.
Evans Kipngeno's picture

Thanks Prof Marahman for this input into this discussion.
I think you have a point here, and i do appreciate this knowledge coming from you. I hope it will help us.
Evans Kipngeno's picture

G/Morning Prof. Marahman,

Another water table indicator from specific plant species in the mountains and land, is the color of the soils.
Saturated soils indicate low water table, and poorly saturated soils indicate presence of water table. Examples are looking at the color of soils, if the soil color is grey, water table is not far off from the soils and if the soils color is red, it indicates low water tables. Thus from the two perspectives, we can design a water-table plan fro that region to encourage conservation of the waters there or speed up convergence of building up of water tables. Any body with any idea on more methods we could use to identify the water tables and come up with urgent intervention plans to save them is welcome to say something, we need this urgently. Kipngeno.
RCEbuea's picture

Hello! I am Masango Sone from RCE Buea, Cameroon. I am very much interested in learning how others around the world are using traditional knowledge to solve health problems and what is being done to conserve medicinal wildlife and plants. I am very much interested in successful case studies. Thank you, Masango.
RCEunnipm's picture

Dear Masango, we do have a large network of RCEs working in the area of traditional knowledge and health - you may have a look at the policy report that UNU-IAS brought out last year -

We have been organizing events on the theme frequently, the recent ones were a major international conference along with healers and practitioners of traditional knowledge in RCE Penang, Malaysia and a policy event at the 11th conference of parties in Hyderabad, India. We will be most happy to share more information on this.
RCEbuea's picture

Dear Unipm, thank you so much for your reaction to my concerns and also for the shared link. It also feels good to know that conferences are organised where traditional healers and practitioners show what they are doing.
Thank you once more for sharing all this useful insights.
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

This is Prof Rahman would like to inform you that, the whole Indian AYURVEDA describes the medicinal use of plants and animals.There are people who still cent percent dependent on medicinal plants and animals in Bangladesh as well as in Eastern India. They never use any chemicals, antibiotics but they are very healthy and many of them are so healthy that they can do their usual works even at the age of eighty or nineteens. The Monipuris are the great examples in Bangladesh.
RCEunnipm's picture

Prof.Rahman, thanks for informing about Monipuris in Bangladesh ! As you know Ayurveda system of medicine is not only in India but across South Asia even extending to countries like Thailand though called slightly differently. It is also so diverse in various regions of the subcontinent. You know how rich is the Bengali tradition of Ayurveda. While Ayurveda has one of the richest documentations of health related traditional knowledge for last 3000 years, the folk knowledge or otherwise called as local health traditions, though not documented well, is also really vast and rich. These are often ethnic community and ecosystem specific, and thus highly diverse. One of the challenges is to systematically document these traditional/local/indigenous/folk/bush/ecological knowledge and revive it as active social traditions. Do you have some documentation of Monipuri traditions ?
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

Yes, I have some knowledge about their practices but not in publication form. While working at James Finlay's tea company I used to visit the Monipuri para. They have three sub-tribes: Khai (Mongolian), Moitheyee (Mongolian) and Bishnupuria (Sankar/like Bangali). The Monipuries consider themselves as vegetarian high class Hindus (with surname Shing) and they are the lord of land. They do not buy anything other than salt, kerosine and dry fish.In the homesteads and surrounding field, they grow many crops and medicinal plants. They are still using Azolla for soil improvement. For maximum land utilization, they utilize the sunlight, shade and partial-shade for growing crops and recycle all biomass and used water. Every family has their weaving mill and produce nice dresses and handicrafts. "Paan" the betel leaf usually grow on a bamboo stump and you will be astonished to know that they only put another stump at breast-height as the bamboo posts get rotten after two years and thus they keep on growing paan even more than 20 years from the same stock. They earn more than 2000 taka from a single post. They know very complicated grafting technique to produce tomatoes in the summer grafted with wild egg plants. They use many types of taros and yams and know the technique to dissolve the raphides those pince the throat. If you are interested then I shall input those information in TK book.
RCEbuea's picture

Prof. Rahman, this is really a very interesting case you are bringing up. I leave in a community where traditional knowledge is dying by the minute. They have been made to regard traditional medicine as dangerous and evil to the extent of stigmatising those who believe or practice it. I am very much interested in this case if there is any thing else on it you can share.
RCEzomba's picture

good day, I am Marlene Chikuni from RCE Zomba, Malawi and would like to suggest that the conference documents best traditional practices from different regions so that we can share techniques in biodiversity management as we enagage with communities. I concur with Rahman that catchment management is crucial and there is need to analyse all aspects that make up the 'quilt', similary with Masango, there is need for a record of successful case studies. best regards, Marlene
RCEunnipm's picture

Dear Marlene, Thank you for your comments. Have you had a look at the policy report on traditional knowledge and biodiversity - RCE Learning Contributions that RCE network and UNU-IAS together brought out last year -

I will shortly upload this publication on the portal. Do share your RCE experiences so that we could initiate some active discussions.
RCEgreaterportland's picture

My name is Kim Smith and I am the coordinator for candidate RCE Greater Portland, in Portland, Oregon, USA. We are trying to do outreach to the different Native American groups in our region, as their insights and knowledge are so valuable and they are underrepresented in our group.
RCEunnipm's picture

Dear Kim, Glad to know that you are working with native American groups. There are only a couple of RCEs working with indigenous groups like the RCE Mindanao in the Philippines, RCE Lucknow and RCE Kudagu in India. We really need to strengthen this area of work. Can you please share some narrative experiences from Portland ?
RCEgreaterportland's picture

Thank you for your question. I am sorry for my delayed response.

We have a number of active Native American organizations in town, including:
Wisdom of the Elders
Earth and Spirit Council
North American Rehabilitation Association (NARA)
Native American Youth and Family Center (NAYA)

Each are committed to maintaining and celebrating native cultures and educating others, in order to keep the knowledge alive.

Portland will be hosting the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference next fall and we hope that our Native American leaders and youth will help shape the framework and presentations offered.

I look forward to learning more about how to do effective outreach and collaboration between cultures.
RCEunnipm's picture

Hi Kim,

Thank you ! AASHE conference sounds very interesting. Thanks also for sharing information on various native American Organizations. Please do post more information on the conference.
Evans Kipngeno's picture

Glad to read your interest. My names are Mr. Evans Kipngeno from Nairobi, Kenya. African - American Natives are at large a community that came from Liberia, Gambia and the larger west African community. Most of them found their way to USA as slaves. If this is your area of interest, i would suggest you get in touch with communities from those regions and you could get educative resources to help you in native knowledge.
I happened to have visited USA in 2004 at in my visit i toured an area across York River, and area that is said to have been inhabited by slaves in those days. I was impressed by the way history has been preserved in Virginia State. The black slave camp is well preserved to this date. Wooden houses that existed during the slave trade periods is alive in that camp and you can feel it.
In one of the household there exists wooden furniture and a portrait of families that lived in that household.

Get in touch with history at Williamsburge town and you can get the background of this knowledge. Its interesting i know.
RCElusaka's picture

I am Mirriam Moonga from RCE Lusaka, Zambia. I would like to comment on Masanog's questions.
We do have a traditional healers association in Zambia which has been recognized by the government and are working hand in hand, especially in areas of HIV & AIDS. Government has allowed them to have their traditional medicines tested and quantified. One successful case in
Zambia is called “The Sondashi formula” which is at the moment undergoing scientific tests. Other cases of conserving medicinal wildlife and plants are common with people who believe in Back to Eden.
Unnipm : Have you uploaded the publication you talked about? I am very much interested in it.
RCEbuea's picture

Hello Marriam, thank you for the reaction. Here in Cameroon there exist a similar association which is really very weak and we are trying to revamp. I however think that your association is more advanced as they already have products that are being tested for certification. Really good to know how its done there.
RCEunnipm's picture

Hi Mirriam, Glad to know about your work with traditional healers associations in Zambia. Three years back we had organized an international healers learning exchange in Bangalore, India. This was also followed by an Africa-Asia learning exchange in Kampala. A number of RCEs are working in this area of health and traditional knowledge. Once again here is the link to the report which I mentioned -
- You may download it. It will be good if you could share your case studies and experiences in detail. Unni
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

Traditional knowledge of the inhabitants of the Ganges and Brahmaputra basin includes not only medicine but agriculture, climate, floodplain management, drought management erosion control and many more. I presented a paper on "Natural and traditional defense mechanism against climate extremes in coastal zone of Bangladesh" in a recent workshop organized by IGBP and APN in Bangkok.
RCEunnipm's picture

Could you please upload the paper if it is open source? You are true, traditional knowledge in most communities extend to not only health or agriculture but the whole web of life and well being. We will benefit immensely if you share your views on TK and climate change. As you may know, one of the operating units of UNU which is specialized in TK based in Darwin, is actively working on climate change and role of TK. Unni
RCElusaka's picture

I will definitely share the details when the findings are completed. I would also like to agree with Prof Marahman that it is a universal happening to find specific indicator plants which indicate the water tables. And that plants and the water tables are interrelated. As RCE Lusaka, we are carrying out a number of sensitization campaigns in rural communities where people with no formal income, have resorted to indiscriminately cutting down of trees for their gardening activities along the river banks and river sources. As people bring out their opinions to correlate the relations among landscape, biodiversity and adaptation, My request is that people with similar challenges should share on how to work with indigenous communities in such cases. Literature on alteration of landscape in terms of sacred waters/trees/natural features may be uploaded.
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

Last month I visited Chittagong Hill Tracts (Rangamati) and I was asked by Professor Banchita Chakma, the Principal of Rangamati Govt. College and my friend that "did you see any land-sliding in the hill tracts where the indigenous tribal people are living? only the place where the flat land settlers are living they are creating the problems with the hills, they want to make everything flatland cutting the trees and the hills for agriculture". So, I am in doubt that the indigenous people are doing harm to the nature. May be they are influenced by high-tech group to do gardening for more income. This culture is also here in Bangladesh and many people are trying to gain more at the cost of environment. So it is our responsibility to guide the people and make then understand not to become so greedy for short term benefit.

RCEunnipm's picture

Hi all, here is a power point presentation on RCEs contributions in the area of traditional knowledge and biodiversity. Around 55 RCEs are working in areas related to this theme, this means for half of the acknowledged RCEs this is one of the areas of interest ! This presentation was made during the RCE Americas meeting. You can check the details of the projects in the publication -

We have made much progress after this. RCEs in Africa have almost completed a book on TK and is expected to be shared during the global conference. This publication will also form the basis of our thematic discussions in Nairobi.
RCEbuea's picture

Hello Unnipm, Thank you for the document. Very much appreciated.
RCEgreaterdhaka's picture

Dear Dr Masango,
I consider Africa is the highest resourceful continent in the world now. But in some countries, there are fighting for some valuable resources like coco, gum and precious minerals, who are behind these? Of course the greedy developed world. So they are trying to control over our resources. There are so many traditional medicines which are much more better than the conventional antibiotics/ medicines. To introduce or expand their business they used to engage some so-called educated people with some higher degrees and they always explain different so-called methods and blame the traditional ones. Suppose the British physicians discouraged chewing Betel Leaf and nuts with lime and Acacia gum by blaming that they cause cancer and mouth diseases etc. etc. only for expanding their medicine market. But in practice, Betel leaves are the symbol for love and sex, The Bengalis used to use Betel leaf in the marriage ceremony and these combination of betel leaf, areca nut and lime and gum have tremendous health value especially for the women. Then how the so-called modern physicians are telling such lies. They should explore the scientific values of traditions. So, please be conscious about their intentions and ask them to learn the values of traditions.
RCEbuea's picture

Dear prof. Rahman, please do refer to me simply as Masango or Mr. Masango. I very much agree with you on this issue. Unfortunately, many of our educated Africans fail to sieve the information being fed to them by some of these bodies and act agents for these tendencies. We ran a medicinal plants garden here for two years until it was destroyed by some unknown persons. Looks like time to get a real one started again. Thank you for the encouragement.
RCElylebenko's picture

I am very pleased to be following these discussions. In RCE Saskatchewan, we have been working during the past 6 years to explore and "build the paths" with our First Nations and Metis people in our region. We have had some interesting conferences and also are trying to look at sharing research in the area of Traditional Ways of Knowing and Learning ESD. Currently we are moving forward with an integrated approach for our "working groups" to more fully invite and encourage participation in the variety of ESD work and research. We have learned it must be an "invitational and respectful" approach to gain the trust and respect of our Elders and Chiefs of the various First Nations Communities in Saskatchewan. We have also had meetings with the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations (FSIN) CHIEFS and our UNESCO Chair (Dr. Chuck Hopkins) in June of 2013. This was followed by our Queen's representative in Saskatchewan, ( Her Honour the Lt. Governor of Saskatchewan) also making presentations to a First Nations community in Northern Saskatchewan during our RCE Saskatchewan Recognition Event 2013. (See Attached FINAL 2013 Recognition Report with pictures).
I am hoping to learn more from our RCE colleagues of their work with Indigenous People.
Lyle Benko (Co-Coordinator RCE Saskatchewan)
RCEunnipm's picture

Dear Lyle, Thank you very much for sharing information on your work with First Nations people in Sasaktchewan and also the RCE recognition award. RCE recognition award is such a unique and excellent approach to appreciate and acknowledge the work of local stakeholders and partners. Infact, the RCE award instituted last year also draws inspiration from this concept of recognition than a competitive process of identifying excellence. Your work with First Nations people is highly relevant for our group. Discussion on indigenous groups has been quite weak within this thematic network. Earlier, in one of the posts, Kim Smith from RCE Greater Portland had shared their work in the USA with American Indian communities. Prof.Rahman had also shared RCE Greater Dhaka's work with some ethnic/tribal communities in Bangladesh. Through this years' global conference we may think of documenting these regional perspectives well and developing it as a RCE focal area. Since Prof.Charles Hopkins (Chuck) is currently also involved in a major program on indigenous education especially in many developing countries, we should discuss how to appropriately integrate TK epistemic perspectives in such indigenous education programs. During the RCE Americas meeting earlier this year in Lima, we (including Chuck) had discussed this briefly. Any thoughts are most welcome from group members on how do we expand this idea. Warm wishes, Unni
RCElusaka's picture

Dear Marahman
You are very correct, if you check my earlier submission when I talked about traditional healers working hand in hand with modern physicians in Zambia, that is what I meant. What needs to be done is to help people with traditional medicines to find a way of quantifying the doses, improve on packaging and shelf life, and other things. Pretending that indigenous medicines are inferior is not right, especially in Africa.
And thank you Unnipm for the document.
RCEunnipm's picture

Thanks, you are right, WHO in its 2002-2005 strategy for traditional medicine identifies quality, safety, efficacy, rational use, national regulations as key areas of focus. This is one of the most comprehensive policy documents of Traditional, Complementary and Alternative Medicine (TRM/CAM). The challenge is that there is really slow progress in implementing these. While public integrates different systems in a dynamic fashion depending on their healthcare requirements policy and institutional processes have been slow to respond to this complex fact of medical pluralism in most countries.
RCEketut's picture

During APEC 2013 summit one of Bali local wisdom called Tri Hita Karana become a main theme of sustainable development conference. Tri Hita Karana is a traditional knowledge use effectively in promoting harmony and peace to the world. The concept is base on a good and harmonious communication between mankind and its sorrounding such as the environment, the soceity and the spiritual power. I suggest that during RCE discussion all participant can promoting local wisdom from its country to find the solution in sustainable development activities.
RCEunnipm's picture

Hi Ketut, Thanks for sharing, can you please upload any document on Tri Hita Karana concept (if available) ? Sounds quite interesting.
RCEchandigarh's picture

I am Neelima Jerath from RCE Chandigarh. I have been following these discussions and observed that our discussions are generally focussed on Health and medicine issues only. We, in Punjab, India, have gathered some information on TK in water harvesting practices and the Science behind them. We also did some work on traditional agricultural implements. Could we include this in our discussions?
RCEunnipm's picture

Hello Dr.Neelima, Welcome to the forum ! You are right, the group has been focusing more on health related aspects of biocultural diversity. But there were brief discussions also on landscape management, habitat diversity, mountain ecosystems and water, indigenous communities, indigenous education, agro-biodiversity, integrating local worldviews and practices in university curriculum and so on. Please do share your longstanding experiences both as a practitioner and policy expert in the area of biodiversity and TK. RCE Chandigarh's project especially on wetlands will be very interesting for this group.
RCEbuea's picture

Dear Chandigarh, I personally think that your observation is founded but also think that the discussions follow concerns that where presented by members. I also remember that Prof. Rahman pointed out before that we are not limited to health issues. Please I am very interested in your works on water harvesting and agriculture. Please do well to share with us.
RCEzomba's picture

Dear All,

thank you all for an enriching online discussion with very relevant topics for discussion. we have also had research in medicinal plants and biodiversity in liason with traditional healers who have an established association with a secretarit. there has been talk of engaging them by the ministry of health to monitor dosage and efficacy. two major thorny issues are Access & Benefit Sharing/ Intellectual property rights and confidentiality since the knowledge is passed down generations. i am interested in learning how custodians of indigenous knowledge are engaged in other countries.

Unni, thanks for the resources i have been able to download, being new to the RCE family I wasnt aware of the various publications at our disposal.
RCEguatemala's picture

My name is Eduardo Sacayon from RCE Guatemala. I've been out of the country for a few weeks and I have not been able to be active in this discussion. I would like to refer to the initial question from Unni. I believe that the challenge of articulating the TK within the university hegemonic system should be part of our agenda. In this regard, I want to share a project that we implement in Guatemala. It's a seminar with university professors who are invited to visit Mayan cities as educational source for the implementation of intercultural view. Groups of teachers from all the University disciplines are participating in these visits. To mention some of them: doctors, architects, engineers, sociologists, historians, etc. Prejudice and discrimination do not allow to know the cultural richness of our heritage. These seminars have given us a good result and allow us to not only promote sustainable educational programmes but strengthen the cultural identity.
RCEunnipm's picture

Hi Eduardo, please do share RCE Guatemala's latest experiences in the "Wisdom Dialogues" project. Recently I had suggested to include a brief write up about this project in an end of the decade report on ESD and biodiversity to be brought out by UNESCO. I will send you the link if it is published.
Mathew Kipngetich's picture

Hi Unnipm
I am Mathew from RCE Nyanza, Kenya. We formed a Research group during the Discussion on TKB and I am interested to working with my community members on the traditional best practices that helped conserve biodiversity. What should be the format of the research?
I have a passion for traditional knowledge and do wish that if we can work together, we can present a paper during the 9th RCE Global Conference in Okayama Japan next year.
Thank you and hope to hear from you soon.
RCEgreaterportland's picture

One of the most touching (albeit contested) messages that is often shared as Native American wisdom and encouragement for reconnecting with nature is the 1854 Speech by Chief Seattle. While likely revised and translated differently over the years, the main message is inspirational. I discovered this video today, which I showed to my environmental sociology class. I find it beautiful and sad.
RCEhelsinkimetropolitan's picture

Hi Kim
Thank you for the videolink.
I am interested in how we teachers can share the most important guidelines of life for our pupils and how to tell them about the TK. I think that the stories are very good.
“The men and women are not only themselves; they are also the region in which they are born, the city apartment or farm in which they learnt to walk, the games they played as children, the old wives tales they overheard, the food they ate, the schools they attended, the sports they followed, the poets they read, and the God they believed in.” (W. Somerset Maugham. The Razor’s Edge.)

Professor Patrick Dillon tells in his article "Finding a place in the world" about Cultural ecology and the education as cultural ecology (Patrick Dillon, May 2011)
Cultural ecology is about relationships between people and their environments, about how they interact and transform each other. When we speak of the environment we mean more than just physical surroundings. Environment includes social relations and the collective capabilities of all the people who inhabit it – their lifestyles, beliefs, ideas and aspirations.

The pre-modern people wove everything – animals, tools, medicine, kin, plants, songs, weather – into an immense collective matrix of mind and matter. Nothing in this web can be neatly divided between nature and culture. (Bruno Latour: We Have Never Been Modern)

RCElusaka's picture

Custodians of indigenous knowledge in Zambia, especially those in traditional medicines have a registered association with registrar of societies. and so they are free to operate within the confines of the laws of the land. They have been having national and regional workshops and seminars on order to look at their operations. I will trying to find time to visit their offices before the conference so that I find out about their publications and how they manage to pass on the knowledge to the new generations.
Mary Kamunyu's picture

Hi Uni.Most grateful for this occasion.Issues of e-learning on pastoralist women and the youth need to be given prominence in the discussions.Other issues of great concern include but are not limited to preservation of traditional knowledge,culture and sustainable development.Views raised on these issues will be quite enriching to the conference
RCEgodfreywafula's picture

Many thanks for the on going discussions. From the coastal part of Kenya in line with my work I have worked with the coastal community towards conserving the indigenous forests called Kayas. The communities have a rich indigenous knowledge but unfortunately external factors have contributed to the loss and degradation of these forests. Climate change and development pressure in a big threat to these forests. Efforts have been put in place such as education and awareness raising of the communities and enforcement of the legal framework. More is still needed. Our legal framework recognizes the important role of indigenous knowledge. But we still need to learn from where indigenous forests have been successfully conserved even with the many challenges.
Joyce Kawooya's picture

My name is Joyce Nanjobe Kawooya from the RCE Greater Masaka.
My concern is on indigenous knowledge on medicinal plants. We can share the collective documented knowledge by healers and herbalists and other people from central and western Uganda on medicinal plants which can be planted in gardens and can be used as first aid and pharmacy.
The collective knowledge is from people for people and when the mystery around medicinal plants is unveiled, more people will use it and once published it becomes general knowledge.
This can contribute to discussions on indigenous knowledge on medicinal plants because those medicinal plants are common medicinal plants which were well known in the past and that through experience, we can always learn more.