“When an old person dies, a whole library burns.”
The age-old African proverb is apt to explain the significance of ancestral wisdom. Since time immemorial, we all have been hearing and have also witnessed how rural communities across geographies have built an invaluable pool of indigenous practices based on traditional knowledge and wisdom.
Farmers predict rainfall watching movement of insects and animals. At many places people construct tanka (a water harvesting structure to collect surface rainfall water) or a chappar (made of local grass to protect animals from high temperatures).
Such simple solutions among communities have evolved over a period of time and the knowledge has been transmitted from one generation to the other – usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals. This has also been the basis for a wide range of other activities that sustain societies in many parts of the world.
Indian Journal of Traditional Knowledge published a paper titled ‘Assessing the Potential of Indigenous Technological Knowledge (ITK) for Adaptation to Climate Change in the Himalayan and Arid ecosystems’.
The study disapproves the myth that innovation must always be transferred from the lab to the land. It concludes that the indigenous wisdom widely practiced by communities before farming began, are highly relevant for climate change adaptation.
Indigenous knowledge has gone through a cycle of countless trials and errors by our communities before being adopted as a full-fledged accepted practice. Unfortunately, much of this information, due to absence of proper documentation, is either lost or forgotten. Its role has been ignored in development planning over years. Nevertheless, the importance of traditional knowledge cannot be undervalued.
Several such age-old practices are still prevalent in the rural ecosystem. In fact, many international, national and grass-root level organisations are working with rural communities to capture inherent native practices and understand their relevance in today’s scenario. However, there still exists a lot of scope to amalgamate local knowledge with modern technology for sustainable development. This is where community participation plays a crucial role.
Through active involvement of communities, organisations can not only harness local practices and understand the science behind them, but this will also ensure people’s support and consent during project implementation phase.
When Ambuja Cement Foundation kicked-off water resource management – its flagship project, the resources were primarily targeted to build the capacity of local people and encourage their participation. Much of the traditional wisdom captured while interacting with community members was translated into modern infrastructure as effective water management techniques. Interestingly, this approach has worked wonders in finding apt solutions for varied geographies ranging from coastal belt and drought prone areas to hilly regions. Embracing community’s traditional wisdom has also facilitated people’s acceptance and ownership for the project.
On the contrary, there is also a need to understand that there exists a fine line between traditional wisdom and blind myth. The practice of Jhum (shifting) cultivation is a good example to support this statement. Jhum has been a widely prevalent practice especially in north-east India where in vegetation/forest covers on hills are cleared by burning it before the next cropping season. Initially, when Jhum cycle was long and ranged from 20 to 30 years, the process worked well. However, with increase in human population and increasing pressure on land, the burning cycle reduced to 5-6 years, causing severe soil degradation and has become a threat to ecology at large.
Communities, across geographies, have evolved through a rich process of cultural and traditional transformation, which is evident in their beliefs and practices. If utilised wisely, these pearls of wisdom can be weaved with modern solutions to build a sustainable and prosperous society. There is a need for government and organisations to carefully document this knowledge and disseminate it for the larger good.
Pearl Tiwari is the Director of Ambuja Cement Foundation, the CSR wing of Ambuja Cements Limited. In a professional career spanning over 30 years, Pearl has been associated with the not-for-profit, educational and corporate sectors. Pearl joined Ambuja in 2000 and ever since has been at the helm of nurturing the Ambuja Cement Foundation that has expanded from a fledging team to nearly 400 development professionals, with a pan-India presence active in 21 locations across 11 states.
Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.
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The CSR Journal Team