0303-A3

Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) Integration for Forest Biodiversity Conservation : Need and Priorities

Sas. Biswas 1


Abstract

Indigenous knowledge on the flora of India and adjacent region is as old as ancient scriptures, bio-geographical niche, cultural history, natural resource on which the indigenous communities are dependent upon on this subcontinent. There is marked affinity of indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK) of different communities of India with that of adjacent region. Indian region is endowed with rich forest biodiversity. An appreciable proportion of the biological components is used by indigenous communities for variety of value-added products. ITK on nearly 10,000 wild plant and 76 species of animals have been documented. Indigenous knowledge on the traditional classification system being followed by ITK holders (IKH) in colloquial/ dialects/linguistics has not been by and large converted in to taxonomic language of scientific world. The products of ITK base are used for their time tested, cost effectiveness, purity, environmentally friendly nature and popular beliefs. With the shrinkage of the bioresources rich areas under indigenous communities and vanishing of knowledge along with indigenous ,there is urgent need for application and integration of c knowledge. There is need for registration of grassroots innovations, certification of products for the authentication, besides developing benefit sharing mechanism on sustainable basis.The need and priorities for the integration of ITK with forest biodiversity proposed cover the aspects such as biogeographical levels of characterization of biodiversity rich areas, registration of grassroots innovations by IKH, characterization of products through application of scientific knowledge, preparation of extension materials , involvement of community through participatory approach, gender initiatives with regards to different aspects of sustainable utilization, benefit sharing , capacity building etc.


Introduction

Indigenous knowledge on the flora of India and adjacent region is as old as ancient scriptures, bio-geographical niche, cultural history, natural resource on which the indigenous communities are dependent upon on this subcontinent. The topography coupled with gigantic watershed river system, diverse mountainous, desert, oceanic ecosystems and varied climatic influences and other factors have contributed immensely towards the rich flora of the region with variety of life forms subsistent on them. There is marked affinity of indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK) of different communities of India with that of Indo- Tibetan, Sino- Himalayan , Indo- Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar region rich in forest biodiversity and genetic resource. Globally Indian sub-continent has admixture of flora and fauna of African, European, Mediterranean, Australian and south American origin.

Indian region is endowed with rich forest biodiversity, representing nearly 18000 flowering plant species occurring in various distinct floristic zones. About 75,000 species of animals, 340 species of mammals, 1200 kinds of birds, 420 reptiles, 140 amphibians, 1200 kinds of birds, 420 reptiles, 140 amphibians, 2000 fishes, 50,000 insects, 4000 molluscs and other invertebrates are distributed in the land mass of 329 million hectares and a coastline of 7516 kms.

Indigenous communities are represented by nearly 430 distinct ethnic groups interspersed among 54 million under 227 linguistic groups and inhabiting different phytogeographical locations. An appreciable proportion of the biological components is used by indigenous communities for variety of value-added products such as food, fodder, dyes, fibre, gum-resins, rattans, bamboos, medicinal herbs etc. through their traditional mode of survey, collection and usage. Various ethnic groups have gathered considerable knowledge about the use of plants due to their constant and intimate association with the forests and plants in particular. ITK on Indian flora still remains scrupulously guarded by the communities from publicity. The wild resources are in fact the result of co-evolutionary relationships between indigenous peoples and nature since time immemorial.

From the taxonomic -cum indigenous peoples' dependence on the forest diversity point of view, ethnobiological studies have been carried out on all India basis. Ethnobiological information on nearly 10,000 wild plant species including 7500 species for medicinal purpose, 3900 subsidiary food, 525 fibre and cordage, 400 as fodder, 300 piscides and pesticides have been documented. Among the fauna indigenous traditional knowledge based on sound taxonomy of 76 species of animals (60: vertebrates - amphibians, birds, pisces, reptiles and mammals), 16 invertebrates (arachnids, insects, mollusks etc) exist. Scientific scrutiny of several of such bioresources have characterized and standardized applications for safe use. Numerous medicinally important flora assessed through indigenous knowledge system have been documented and tested of popular tribal remedies. Over 300 items of assorted medicinal plants are extracted and traded from Himalayan and northeastern region of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Indigenous knowledge and end -users

Indigenous knowledge on the traditional classification system being followed by ITK holders (IKH) in colloquial/ dialects/linguistics has not been by and large converted in to taxonomic language of scientific world. Choice of species with features of taxonomic characters on the variability and propagating materials other those a traditional/orthodox taxonomist follows are needed under different project activities pertaining to the integration of ITK base with modern conservation measures. With the shrinkage of the bioresources rich areas under indigenous communities and vanishing of knowledge along with indigenous communities such as Kolazuthu and Aryazuthu of mountain tracts of southern India,there is urgent need to make joint venture through the application and integration of scientific knowledge through the ways and means the communities understand and prefer most considering the components of ITK.

Table - I: End - Users and Components of ITK

End- Users

Components of ITK

 

Products of Grassroots Innovation / Outputs

Services

Indigenous Knowledge Holders

- Survey and inventorization

- Education and extension materials

- Benefit sharing through individual / collective mode and material/ nonmaterial benefits to IKH.

- IPR (Intellectual Property Right) recognition

- Capacity building.

Organization or projected activities with short or long term objectives or mandate

- Interpretation and conversion of ITK

- Conservation of rare and threatened species.

-Free supply of useful materials for propagation / domestication etc.

-Developmental activities in IKH localities.

Benefits to indigenous knowledge holders may be in the form of award to the preservers/ custodians of biodiversity, monetary incentive for ITK on the phytogeographic/ zoogeographic and economic evaluation on species of great significance to mankind (Individual - Material). Under nonmaterial approach the individual (IKH) honor for traditional method for systematic evaluation for conservation efforts may be considered. For collective benefits approach under material, institutional- cum- financial mechanism, whereas under nonmaterial category development of communication and education to the communities in lesser /under explored biodiversity rich areas fall. The local governments in the form of communication and amenities may develop the services for rendering to the communities being focussed for integration of knowledge.

From forest biodiversity and forestry research and management points of view the end users fall under the organisations such as State Forest Department, Forest based industry and Corporations, farmers, plantation companies, non government organisations, Society of urban / rural / weaker section/Tribal etc. Anticipated output of a project, based on the reservoir of indigenous traditional knowledge base is as any of the components given in the Table 2.

Table 2: Anticipated Output from ITK

New technique

Improvement of environment

New product

Tree & other species improvement

New process

Improved technique

Technology package ( Pre- / Post Harvest)

Improved product

Development activity on forest biodiversity

Improved process

Exploitation of natural/ plantation resources

Data generation

Patents

Demonstration

Field trails

Reduction in production cost

Improvement in production / productivity

Soil improvement through preservation

Seed improvement

Basic research

Species improvement

Transfer of technology based upon grassroots innovation and application

Conservation of forest biodiversity

Any other

Indigenous knowledge integration

From the integration of taxonomic knowledge there is need for characterization of traditional methods of identification and classification, value addition and methods of pre and post harvesting of species. The range extension of species help in inventorization and monitoring. Popular beliefs folklore have now scientific principles for interpretative approach. As mentioned earlier ethnobiological information on 10000 wild plant species and 76 species of fauna have been deciphered taxonomically in India under co-ordinated project activities through concerted efforts in India.

With the property right and patent regimes the lesser known aspects of ITK have now larger attention and specific interest for commercial extraction. The lacunae in this respect exist in various ways and means. For example, with the change in dialects and linguistics in an area of ITK significance confusion over a name and complex groups of species exist with superfluous nomenclature. There is no uniform code of nomenclature in a physiographically and biodiversity rich area.

From the organizational level there is need for registration of grassroots innovations, certification of products for the authentication, besides developing benefit sharing mechanism on sustainable basis. Ethnotaxonomical products of biological origin have least record of information. For example, a plant is known to an IKH by its morphology, area of occurrence and usefulness to which they (IKH) have a vernacular. Yams ( Dioscorea) of northeastern India are known by Khasi tribe by the characteristic leaf with simple to digitate and variously shaped underground corms of similar species. The taxonomic knowledge of IKH may be put under coded, where the species and the products are known scientifically and the application of recent trends has subsequently made. Non coded categorization of ITK components are such as exploration, terra incognito , beside end users yet to be identified / targeted.

The products of ITK base are used for their time tested, cost effectiveness, purity, environmentally friendly nature and popular beliefs. It is found that the admixture of products of dubious taxonomic entity is in practice for commercial gains. With the upsurge of patent regime with out recourse to effective IPR of IKH in different areas, several agencies have competition among them for registration and marketing of the product. It is found that the little and less known ITK on better known species diversity have higher prospects. In such case the differences in patent laws of different countries play a key role particularly when the inventory is at inter organizational- cum- international level.

Need and Priorities

The improvements with regards to the products/ outputs and services proposed are (i) biogeographical levels of characterization of biodiversity rich areas of ethnobiological significance using remote sensing and GIS (ii ) registration of grassroots innovations by IKH (iii) characterization of products through application of scientific knowledge (iv) relocation, reintroduction and rehabilitation of rare and threatened species (v)preparation of extension materials based on local dialects and language.(vi) involvement of community through participatory approach (vii) gender initiatives with regards to different aspects of sustainable utilization (viii) studying the aspects of ITK entities of communities of disjunct and close affinity (ix) benefit sharing considering the sanctity of the region and ethics (x) developing at organizational and local government level accessibility to IK rich areas and IKH (xi) capacity building of IKH through integrated approach , and (xii) development of common format for the use of IKH at regional/national/international levels for rapid assessment, evaluation of features of forest biodiversity significance and integration of knowledge.


1 Forest Research Institute
(Indian Council of Forestry Research & Education)
Dehra Dun - 248006
Uttaranchal, INDIA.
Email: biswassas@icfre.org & biswassas1@rediffmail.com