The important role which Local Knowledge plays in agrobiodiversity management can only be clarified by analyzing the complex nature of local knowledge and by understanding how it is related to agrobiodiversity. Let us first look at a definition of 'knowledge' before we continue with this analysis.
[Box 1] WHAT IS KNOWLEDGE?
Knowledge concerns the way people understand the world, the way in which they interpret and apply meaning to their experiences. Knowledge is not about the discovery of some final objective 'truth'. It is the understanding of culturally subjective - conditioned products that emerge from complex and ongoing processes. Knowledge involves selection, rejection, creation, development and transformation of information. These processes, and hence knowledge, are inextricably linked to the social, environmental and institutional contexts they are found.
This definition is very important as it contains a number of key features, which are significant to understanding local knowledge. These include:
Knowledge emerges from complex and ongoing processes
Knowledge development happens through selection, rejection, creation, development and transformation (adaptation)
Knowledge is closely linked to social, environmental and institutional contexts
Local knowledge is the information people in a given community have developed over time. It is based on experience, adapted to the local culture and environment, and is continuously developing. This knowledge is used to sustain the community, its culture and to maintain the genetic resources necessary for the continued survival of the community.
Local knowledge includes mental inventories of local biological resources, animal breeds, local plant, crop and tree species. It may include information about trees and plants that grow well together, about indicator plants that show the soil salinity, or are known to flower at the beginning of the rains. It includes practices and technologies, such as seed treatment and storage methods, and tools used for planting and harvesting. Local knowledge encompasses belief systems that play a fundamental role in people's livelihood, maintaining their health, and protecting and replenishing the environment. Local knowledge is dynamic in nature. It may include experimentation on the integration of new plant or tree species into existing farming systems, or the tests a traditional healer carries out for new plant medicines.
Local knowledge is often collective by nature. It is considered the property of the entire community and does not belong to any single individual, but this depends also on the type of knowledge.
Common knowledge is held by most people in a community, e.g. almost everyone knows how to cook rice (or the local staple food).
Shared knowledge is held by many, but not all, community members; e.g. villagers who raise livestock will know basic animal husbandry.
Specialized knowledge is held by a few people, who might have had special training or an apprenticeship; e.g. only a few villagers will become healers, midwives, or blacksmiths.
Depending on the type of knowledge, transmission will occur in different ways. For example, much of common knowledge is shared in daily activities, with other family members and neighbours. During daily work and interactions children, for instance, will watch and experience the knowledge held by elder people and family members and acquire it over time. Public places, such as markets or community mills, are important places where information sharing takes place. Common knowledge is intimately linked to the daily life of local people. They do not treat it as something separate or as needing specific mechanisms for transmittal.
A different case is the transmission of shared or specialized knowledge. Here, the transmission takes place through specific cultural and traditional information exchange mechanisms. For example, it may be maintained and transmitted orally by elders or specialists, breeders and healers. Often, it is only shared with a few selected people within a community.