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Loss of Traditional Knowledge Is Due to Lack of Documentation

Barsha Lekhi (Tharu), Nepal, Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme’s National Fellow

Modernization is a big challenge. There is a lack of interest among people in following their tradition and cultural practices; youth are becoming more attracted to Western culture and following tradition is considered outdated. Traditional knowledge holders face a lack of respect and appreciation for such knowledge. There are also few safeguards to protect traditional knowledge holders against misuse of their knowledge. Intellectual property is often acquired illegitimately by third parties. Traditional knowledge holders provide their precious and valuable knowledge for free and rarely receive any compensation. There should be a mechanism in place for give-and-take between the knowledge provider and knowledge gainer.

Practices like manuring, ploughing back the weeds and grasses into the crop field, help maintain the fertility of the soil naturally. Growing leguminous crops like beans helps maintain the nitrogen content of the soil. These traditional practices help rejuvenate the nitrogen that is consumed in large amounts by cash crops like rice and wheat. Bamboo cultivation is a well known practice in Nepal. Biofencing is another method adopted by Indigenous communities. The traditional practice of planting herbs like Tulsi in the homes is another small but effective practice in combating climate change. The plant is considered holy because it has immense medicinal value. The Neem tree and bargad/banyan tree are also considered holy. Considering the trees holy protects them from being felled and helps in combating local environment degradation, which ultimately combats climate change.

Matru Bhumi (mother land) through the Bhumi Devi ki Jai! It’s the dharmic duty that we have a functioning, abundant, and flourishing planet. Every plant and animal has a story or cultural practice that encourages people to maintain their resources at their best. The concept of protecting jal (jungle) and jameen (water, forest, and land) is an age old practice of Indigenous communities. Water, plants, trees, and animals are highly valued and are considered holy, they are even given the status of gods and goddesses.

Women are both the owners and main transmitters of traditional knowledge. However, the essential role of women in sustainable resource management processes, in the maintenance and promotion of biodiversity, and in the transmission of knowledge and culture has not been widely recognized in Nepal. Women need extra support when it comes to the protection and transmission of traditional knowledge. To prevent the loss of women’s rich traditional knowledge, it is crucial to document their skills, practices, and technologies in a detailed and systematic way.

A major reason for the loss of traditional knowledge in Nepal is a lack of documentation. Capacity building programs for women in the rural areas of Nepal are necessary to enhance their confidence and transfer traditional skills. The participation of women in leadership roles in planning and decision making within all three tiers of government and Parliament could enable the protection of women’s traditional skills and mainstream women-specific traditional knowledge in development processes. Recognizing and rewarding individuals or women’s groups for contributing to the sustainable management of the environment and biodiversity conservation through traditional knowledge would be another way to support women and traditional knowledge, as would encouraging and supporting women-run enterprises. Programs on traditional knowledge and skills transfer to the younger generation would also help prevent the loss of traditional knowledge. Awareness and education for women, especially those residing in remote areas of Nepal, will enable them to understand their rights and access information.

There is no stand alone legislation and policy in place in Nepal that protects traditional knowledge directly, but there are acts and policies that relate to its protection. The National Intellectual Property Policy  introduced by the government in 2017 provides a framework and strategies for the protection, use, and development of traditional knowledge. The policy aims to make an inventory and develop a traditional knowledge digital library for the protection, conservation, development, and use of traditional and Indigenous knowledge. It aims to utilize existing traditional knowledge, biodiversity, and intellectual property as a tool for national development. It also highlights the need for a legal framework for geographical indications, plant variety protection, biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expression. And it  encourages the establishment of institutions like the Intellectual Property Society, Collective Management Organizations, and Lawyers Society to ensure the protection of people’s intellectual property for the development and protection of copyright, plant variety, biodiversity, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expression.

***This interview was conducted by Alejandra Pero, GEF Small Grants Programme.

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