The environmental knowledge of local and indigenous is now widely regarded as an essential building block for sustainable development and the conservation of biological and cultural diversity (LINKS project, 2002).
Emerging on the international scene at the Earth Summit (Rio de Janeiro, 1992), and through the Convention on Biodiversity, whose article 8 (j) incites State parties to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities, the domain has rapidly gained prominence and momentum (Nakashima and Nilsson, 2006).
It was at this forum that indigenous knowledge systems were reborn, rebranded, revived and launched. This was the brainchild of the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) through the local and indigenous knowledge systems (Links) project, as one of the revived generation of cross-cutting projects to heighten interdisciplinary and intersectional action.
The indigenous knowledge systems, otherwise known as traditional knowledge, local knowledge of knowing, folk knowledge or traditional environmental (or ecological) knowledge has been relegated to the periphery of climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies due to its historical nature. The new crop of African scientists would also want to rebrand indigenous knowledge systems as “scientific knowledge”.
The realisation that indigenous knowledge systems is indispensable, reliable, user friendly, pro-poor and cheaper pushed climate change experts back to the drawing board. Indigenous knowledge systems passed down information and wealth of knowledge about changing landscapes through hundreds of generations for no charge at all. Indigenous knowledge systems are local knowledge, built-up by groups of people through generations of living in close contact with nature, it is cumulative and dynamic. It builds upon the historical experiences of local people and adapt to social, economic, environmental, spiritual and political change.
Then comes Al Gore of the Inconvenient Truth fame and company with their monetisation of nature. They are the advocates of pushing the need to offset carbon emissions via green investments. Against the plain truth of indigenous knowledge systems, Al Gore’s mantra is to monetise emissions, trade them and reduce them. Although not a bad idea in today’s circumstances, but the monetary aspects appear to bring in the commercialisation of nature. Environmental matters of concern cannot be left in the hands of a few, powerful, rich and the influential to mortgage nature. In this regard, it is no longer in the best interests of the environment and the public, but that of the private interests.
The green economy that we so much cherish appears to be sidelining the role of indigenous knowledge systems in favour of trading nature. A much closer analysis would reveal that all successful adaptation practices are deeply rooted in harmonising and utilisation of the indigenous knowledge systems but it’s now the carbon credits and clean development mechanisms (CDM) that are taking centre stage. What now matters is the influence, publicity stamina and resources to manipulate the world’s thinking capacities and sufficiently confuse their perspectives. It is about an unforgiving ideological stand point aimed at maintaining hegemony.
What appeared a natural and dutiful process of indigenous knowledge systems has been replaced by the financial marketing of the environment. The dominion and stewardship of the environment is no longer the duty of every human kind, but the powerful new breed of smart industrialists.
The indigenous knowledge systems have allowed the local people to cultivate intrinsic values and relationships with the environment. The philosophies of the indigenous knowledge systems have also allowed the local people to strike a reciprocal balance with nature in many sustainable ways for generations. As such, it is the application of indigenous knowledge systems and its integration with climate change that can afford the people sustainable ways of engaging in eco-conscious mitigation and adaptation practices.
The idea is not to establish parallel movements of indigenous knowledge system programmes to those of the modern-day eco-preneurs. Integration still remains the answer, let those with money and the environment at heart fund indigenous knowledge system programmes that relate well with efforts that fight climate change effects. What we still want to maintain is the sacredness of our forests as the creation and storage of carbon stocks as well as forest farming that we are currently trying to practice through the establishment of monetised carbon sinks.
Even the COP21 Paris resolutions have been drafted according to the monetisation of nature, where nations can pollute as much as possible then review their pollutions, and then go back to pollute again. It’s such a vicious cycle that can only benefit polluting nations and leave the developing countries trying hard to engage into programmes that can afford them to sell air. The sustainability of this kind of behaviour will depend on the availability of resources not on the will to protect the environment.
It is not beneficial to make people engage in programmes that separate them from their close association and reciprocal relationships with nature. Let us not remove the world view that people have of nature, the world view that is natural and it should stay like that. Local people use experiential knowledge to acquire skills of adapting themselves to changes in the natural environment. They know the terrain, the landscapes and sacred places and coping strategies in the event of hunger and disasters.