The slow adoption of indigenous knowledge

For a long time, they were embodied on the world stage by a few figures, such as that of the cacique Raoni, an Indian Kayapo from Brazil, who continues his fight for the Amazon, at more than 90 years old. Without one always realizing that the “indigenous communities” (1) populate today “A quarter of the earth’s surface emerged” according to the UN Biodiversity Expert Group (IPBES). In his last evaluation, he relies moreover on their “Knowledge and practices”, just like scientific data.

→ REPORT. The threatened identity of “forest peoples”

In fact, on the land they occupy, nature is doing better. “Their way of life does not erode natural capital, they only use interest”, explains Yann Laurans, director of the biodiversity pole at WWF-France, citing the example of “Forest peoples” Southeast Asia or “Breeders like the Masaïs who perpetuate the great African savannas”.

The importance of traditional knowledge

While this recognition is not new (since 2010, the Nagoya Protocol provides for a “Benefit sharing” with local communities), it has taken a special turn in recent years. “This knowledge has acquired a new legitimacy with the ecological crisis and the flaws in the Western system, which sometimes generates more problems than it solves”, summarizes Denis Couvet, President of the Foundation for Research on Biodiversity (FRB).

In 2018, three years after the Paris Agreement, Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UN Climate Convention, recalled that indigenous peoples were doing “Part of the solution to climate change”, calling not to underestimate the place of traditional knowledge. In Australia, for example, firefighters pay particular attention to indigenous fire prevention programs, which are based, in particular in the far north, in Arnhem Land, on the ancestral knowledge of the aborigines.

Development policies, a key lever?

However, on the ground, the reality is often cruel for these populations. The natural spaces they manage “Face increasing resource extraction, production of primary products, mining, energy and transport infrastructure, with varying implications for the livelihoods and health of (these) communities ”, underlines IPBES in its 2019 report.

→ MAINTENANCE. “Indigenous peoples have never been so threatened”

“The question of land is decisive. We see it in the Amazon, with villages under strong pressure for agriculture or gold mining ”, illustrates Yann Laurans. “The balance of power is enormous on rich lands, which attract greed”, adds Denis Couvet.

Opposite, the UN speeches seem of little weight. However, Yann Laurans believes that development policies can be a key lever. These policies – and their funding – “Must now be based on this indigenous knowledge and practices”.


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