By Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel, Stephan Rist, Freddy Delgado
The research results presented below were carried out in two countries, (Bolivia-Peru), and reflect that local knowledge is of utmost importance for both sustainable human development and environmental conservation. In the Andes, the life of the local populations depends to a great extent on their knowledge. This knowledge is current and dynamic, and responds to socioeconomic and environmental changes through a process of cultural resistance and adaptation. However, they are also vulnerable and, consequently, it is important to support their strengthening. Local knowledge must be effectively integrated into development projects. In fact, a dialogue between local knowledge and the so-called "scientific" allows us to give way to novel solutions to the new socio-environmental challenges faced by Andean communities in a globalized world.
The international and regional discourse on local knowledge
The importance of local knowledge for both human development and environmental conservation has been recognized since the Brundtland Commission Report (1987), ratified in the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (1992), the Convention on the Biological Diversity (1992) and at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development Rio + 20 (2012):
“We are aware that traditional knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous peoples and local communities make an important contribution to the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, and their wider application can boost social well-being and livelihoods. sustainable ”Rio + 20,“ The future we want ”, art.197 (2012)
The knowledge of indigenous and peasant peoples is also recognized by the constitutions of Bolivia, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia and Venezuela. Furthermore, local knowledge constitutes the core of the concept of biocultural diversity that emerged in the 1990s in response to the convergent loss of biological and linguistic-cultural diversity.
A fundamental role in the life of the Andean communities
In the Andes, the life of rural populations, mostly indigenous or native, depends to a great extent on their local knowledge. They are the inheritance of a long co-evolution between nature and societies. Over the millennia, the Andean and Amazonian communities have transformed their ecosystems according to their worldviews, values, practices and knowledge. They developed complex natural resource management systems that resulted in extremely high levels of agrobiodiversity. At present, the food security and health of the Andean peoples continue to depend on their knowledge of climate prediction, their management of soils and native crops, as well as medicinal flora and fauna. Local knowledge, which constitutes a body of their own knowledge, is part of their cultural identity, is exchanged and transmitted through reciprocal relationships and reflects their own worldview.
Knowledge in the Andes: vulnerable or resistant?
A common preconception is that local knowledge is a set of knowledge transmitted since time immemorial in an unaltered way from one generation to another, making it increasingly obsolete over time. Another opposite prejudice is that this knowledge is rapidly eroding since it is very vulnerable to “modernization” processes (formal education and health systems, inclusion in the market economy, migration processes to urban centers). However, recent research indicates, for example, that traditional medicine knowledge is current and dynamic in the Andes: this knowledge is not being eroded and, rather, responds to socioeconomic and environmental changes, through a process of cultural resistance and adaptation . Research results show that knowledge regarding medicinal plants, animals and minerals is being transformed from one generation to another, without implying a loss in terms of the number of species and uses. The transfer of knowledge from parents to children remains very strong, suggesting that this knowledge will continue to apply for decades to come. Furthermore, the analysis of family therapeutic strategies indicates that the greater presence of allopathic medicine in terms of quality and accessibility does not lead to the replacement of Andean medicine, but rather to a coexistence of the two medical systems. Instead, the results also indicate that specialized knowledge, such as that of yatiris or yachayniuq (traditional healers) are probably being lost because they are not being passed down to the younger generations.
Knowledge dialogue and innovation for development
The BioAndes program shows that various knowledge systems can mutually enrich each other through a dialogue of knowledge. This allows to establish innovation processes based on the complementation of the knowledge of indigenous-native peoples and peasants. They give way to innovative solutions to the new socio-environmental challenges faced by Andean communities in a globalized world.
In Andean communities in Bolivia, transdisciplinary research made it possible to revalue local knowledge in relation to native crops through activities that involved the entire community, such as knowledge contests. Likewise, dialogue and mutual learning between farmers and technicians allowed technological innovations focused on the transformation of crops, which is important for the feeding of Andean populations and has a high potential for commercialization, as in the case of cañahua ( Chenopodium pallidicaule). In the southern Andean region of Peru, traditional weaving techniques were recovered, including dyeing with natural dyes and traditional iconography, as a basis for improving their production and marketing.
In the various experiences of the program in the Andean region, the activities of revaluation and innovation of local knowledge had an important impact on the strengthening of the cultural identity of local communities, in addition to contributing to improve their quality of life.
Mechanisms of intervention
How to integrate local knowledge into development and / or environmental conservation initiatives? We recommend several lines of intervention:
1) Integrate local knowledge in development policies at the municipal, national and regional levels. In the case of Bolivia, the Framework Law of Mother Earth and Integral Development for Living Well has recently been promulgated, which recognizes the need to revalue local knowledge and the principle of dialogue of knowledge.
2) Design development projects together with representatives of local communities through an intercultural dialogue of knowledge, which covers both the objectives of the projects and their implementation and evaluation processes.
3) Develop tools and capacities to promote dialogue of knowledge in state extension systems (for example, in the health and agriculture sectors) and civil society. It is recommended to include intercultural curricula in the training of technical staff, as well as to hold social learning workshops where both representatives of local communities and external support actors participate.
4) Strengthen local knowledge by strengthening its processes of transmission and cultural recreation through specific actions, such as revaluation workshops, knowledge competitions and integration into the formal educational curriculum.
5) Conduct research to better understand the dynamics of transmission and recreation of local knowledge and the factors that are affecting them. A participatory transdisciplinary research seems to us the most appropriate to obtain contextualized data on local knowledge and support its regeneration.
Recognize the strategic role of local knowledge
The strategic role of local knowledge, which is of utmost importance for sustainable human development and for environmental conservation in the Andean region, must be duly recognized by government authorities and experts, project technicians and other external support actors. and effectively integrated into development projects.
Integrate local and "scientific" knowledge systems within the same policy framework
Only the creative integration of local and so-called “scientific” knowledge within the same policy framework can provide innovative responses to the new challenges faced by Andean populations and their natural environments, as a result of their increasing incorporation into a globalized world. .
Promote intercultural dialogue and decentralization processes
The definition of an integrated policy framework such as the one mentioned, based on jointly defined objectives, and its operational implementation by local populations, authorities and development actors, requires a continuous intercultural dialogue built on the basis of mutual respect. This also implies a certain degree of decentralization of decision-making, evaluation and control of development processes.
Support the strengthening and regeneration of local knowledge While local knowledge shows surprising resilience and adaptability to a rapidly changing context, it is also vulnerable to current development processes. Its capacity to regenerate and transmit the valuable experiences of local populations must be supported through revaluation actions. Transdisciplinary research allows not only to systematize and disseminate this local knowledge, but also to understand its dynamics.
Knowledge dialogue: Intercultural dialogue between the knowledge of local, indigenous or peasant actors, and the knowledge of sectors of society that have assumed the views of modern Western science or the so-called global knowledge systems.
Biocultural diversity: The total variability exhibited by the systems
natural and cultural world. This concept is based on the recognition of the intimate link that exists between biodiversity (diversity of genes, species and ecosystems) and cultural diversity (diversity of languages, worldviews, norms and values, practices and knowledge systems).
Transdisciplinary research: Type of research that aims to contribute to the production of solutions to social problems. A transdisciplinary approach is characterized by interdisciplinarity (interaction between various disciplines)
and the inclusion of non-scientific actors in the research process (interaction between science and society).
Local knowledge (also called traditional, indigenous, native or peasant knowledge): A set of knowledge, practices, norms and visions transmitted culturally from one generation to another, as well as between members of the same generation. They include, for example, knowledge about plants, animals, climate, crop management, etc.
Sarah-Lan Mathez-Stiefel (CDE-Univ. Bern). Researcher senior of the Center for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, Switzerland / Leader of the group “Governance of land and natural resources”.
Stephan Rist (CDE-Univ. Bern). Research professor of the Center for Development and Environment (CDE) of the University of Bern, Switzerland
Freddy Delgado (AGRUCO-UMSS). Executive Director Agroecology Universidad Cochabamba (AGRUCO), Professor at the Faculty of Agricultural, Livestock, Forestry and Veterinary Sciences of the Universidad Mayor de San Simón, Bolivia