How can indigeneous knowledge and science cooperate for sustainable development?
One of the possibly controversial topic regarding sustainability science is the role of indigeneous knowledge. The authors of the report The Future is Now stress that these knowledge must be taken into account as well as scientific knowledge. They however do not go into the debate.
Practitioners of basic sciences not familiar with social sciences approaches and methods, such as many physicists, chemists, mathematicians, biologists, etc. may wonder for instance what qualifies as indigeneous knowledge. Is there a distinction to be made between beliefs and knowkedge ? And is indigeneous knowledge always in the best interest of the environment and of the planet, as the authors of the report seem to suggest?
Indigenous knowledge builds on long-term understanding and practices of socioecological systems of various societies across the world. It is a social learning process by which practices and behaviours are adjusted towards embracing better uses of the surrounding environment and contributing to the wellbeing at individual, communal and societal levels. As such, indigenous knowledge has guided societies and supported sustainable management of resources, especially in regions where practices have been known for hundreds of years.
And is integrating scientific methods and practices, and indigeneous knowledge just a way to make the former more acceptable by populations? Here too, discussions will be useful.
In contrast, Western science often produces knowledge from simulating the real world through modelling. Therefore, not only is indigenous knowledge an important indicator of how sustainable development can be achieved, but it can also complement science and policy by placing them in the local context for better implementation.
Ethics will be crucial
Neither can indigeneous knowledge simply a source of new ideas to be tested, or validated by science. The authors of the report write about co-production: this too has to be precised, as good intentions won’t be enough.
Engaging with indigenous people, who have a diversity of know-how and cultures, for new collaborations along the knowledge production value chain are therefore needed for co-producing informed policy, improved evidence and the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Existing indigenous knowledge on megatrends such as biodiversity, climate change adaptation and land conservation must be documented.
More importantly, strong respect and ethics are crucial throughout the process. Harnessing and securing indigenous knowledge must be undertaken with regards to the intellectual property ownership, which belongs to the indigenous people. The Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 aims to secures and utilise indigenous knowledge as part of its scientific prioritization.