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Capacity building through partnership and information and communication technology for using indigenous knowledge for nature conservation in Africa


Over the course of history, indigenous peoples have developed lifestyles and cultures, which are intricately tied to nature. The species-diverse environments in which indigenous peoples commonly live are deeply embedded in their productive activities and spiritual values. Natural resources management by indigenous peoples are often associated with: ancestral attachment to and management of large lands and resources; collective rights, use and management over resources; traditional decision-making institutions, benefit-sharing and leadership structures; traditional ecological knowledge; and subsistence economies that are largely self-sufficient and rely on resource diversity rather than monoculture.

Prompted by this recognition of indigenous practices, UNEP is promoting indigenous knowledge through its programme on dry land success stories and through the activities of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) such as those related to land management and environmental change. The Johannesburg Plan of Implementation for Sustainable Development recognizes the importance of indigenous knowledge systems as essential to achieving sustainable development and underscores the respect for local traditions and cultures. The Johannesburg Plan also places a focus on sustainable development for Africa, which is also a priority area for UNEP as elaborated in its GC Decision 21/15. Whereas Africa can boast of rich depositories of indigenous knowledge, a lot of it has not been harnessed to fit into current technical and scientific framework of environmental management. This project will therefore seek to strengthen the capacities of principal stakeholders to harness indigenous knowledge into structured training programmes delivered through information and communication technology. The project will contribute to information on traditional knowledge in reducing vulnerability to floods and drought, increase community and public awareness of the risks associated with natural, technological and environmental hazards and better knowledge for mobilization of community-based support in the prevention and management of floods and drought disaster events.


Strengthen the capacities of communities, with a focus on Africa, to harness and promote indigenous knowledge by integrating tradition and science through information and communication technology to mitigate environmental degradation and impacts of hydrological hazards on the natural environment.

The specific objectives of this project are: to promote the value and application of indigenous knowledge, through information and communication technology for the management of land, water and biodiversity resources and for coping with impacts of floods and droughts in Africa; to encourage local and south-to-south dialogue and transfer of technology; to promote and share indigenous methodologies; and increase awareness and participation among and by local communities in nature conservation.

Expected accomplishments:

  • Application and demonstrative added-value of indigenous knowledge, methodologies and skills of nature conservation in the management of natural resources and for coping with the impact of floods and drought disasters
  • Searchable, web-enabled database developed based on field research in four selected countries in eastern and southern Africa to collect and document indigenous knowledge, as an integral component of the UNEP best practices and success stories global network on indigenous knowledge systems
  • Improvement of local and South-South dialogue through a set of course modules developed on the integration of indigenous knowledge systems with modern scientific approaches for conservation of the environment made available through information technology
  • Network established of four centres for research and the exchange of information on the application and demonstrative added-value of indigenous knowledge systems for the management of land, water and biodiversity resources and for floods and drought risk reduction; and for the strengthening of local capacities through structural training courses on the use of methodologies derived from indigenous knowledge systems

Implementation status:

In 2006 a workshop was organized in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania from 23 to 24 November on the role of indigenous knowledge in nature conservation and natural disaster management in Tanzania, which brought together environmental and disaster managers, custodians of indigenous knowledge, community leaders, academia, non-governmental organizations and other stakeholders in promoting awareness among the stakeholder groups. Consensus was obtained among the stakeholder groups on the extent and capacity of indigenous knowledge in nature conservation and natural disaster management in Tanzania to validate initial information collected. This validation of information is key to the preparation of a national report and as data for the development of a website. Information architecture was prepared for the development of a website on indigenous knowledge for use by all stakeholder groups, including policy makers, disaster managers, donor community, community leaders, faith-based leaders, academia and others. In the long-term, it is expected that the web-enabled database will grow to include cases and accounts of the application and use of indigenous knowledge the world over. The project has generated interest from the Asia-Pacific and Latin America and the Caribbean regions. Draft project proposals have been designed and shared with prospective partners for replication of the project in the two regions.

More information is available on the website of UNEP.