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Linking indigenous knowledge and science to address challenges facing society

Science and Technology

Kumasi, Oct 04, GNA – “In Africa, when an old man dies, it is a library burning” (Hampate Ba, 1960, UNESCO conference).

          This quotation implies that in Africa, when a knowledgeable old person dies, a whole body or library of knowledge disappears - gets completely lost.
          This is because in the continent, old people are seen as the repository of traditional knowledge - transmitted to generations to guide them in their daily lives.
         The death of such knowledgeable persons tends to rob the community of this vital resource, because of our inability to tap and document these knowledge for future use.
          Indigenous Knowledge (IK) or traditional knowledge is very important to the lives of people in the local communities - socio-cultural, economic, political, scientific, health, agricultural, art and craft as well as entertainment.
          IK is that large body of knowledge and skills that had been developed outside the formal educational system. This kind of knowledge is embedded in the community and unique to a given culture, location of society.
          It forms the basis for local level decision-making in agriculture, human and animal health, food security, education, natural resource management and a host of other activities in rural communities.
          The local knowledge has evolved for many years and forms the basis for local scientific reasoning and socio-cultural relationships among the people in the community.
          In many developed nations, IK that has been fueling multi-billion dollar genetics supply industries, ranging from food and pharmaceuticals, to chemical products, energy and other manufactured products.
          In Africa, and Ghana in particular, there are no such multi-billion dollar industries based on IK. Indeed, Ghana has not paid much attention to IK resource as a foundation for business development despite the enormous potential.
          The importance of IK as a potential development resource is increasingly gaining recognition around the world. It is now being discussed as a commodity of value, something we can add value to, something that can be exchanged, traded, appropriated, preserved, excavated and mined.
        In fact in some jurisdictions, IK is treated as normal library material, so it is collected, recorded, processed and preserved.
          In Ghana, however, there is hardly any system of recording, documenting and preserving indigenous knowledge, let alone a mechanism to cope with dynamic world needs.
          It is therefore re-assuring that the Forestry Research Institute of Ghana (FORIG), has begun the process to identify, document and digitize indigenous knowledge on forest foods and medicinal plants.
          The use of forest foods and medicinal plants has not only been one of the most effective ways of treating diseases and providing nutritional supplement and balanced diet for the people, but also an enormous economic activity and poverty alleviation venture for many of the people.
          The taste for traditional forest foods and local delicacies among Ghanaians both inside and outside the country, is increasing while the efficacy of traditional herbal products to treat and cure many ailments and diseases, is increasingly becoming acknowledged.
          Traditional medicine practice has thus, become a huge commercial activity, giving employment to countless number of people and their dependents. 
         It is important that the people become aware, aided to identify these foods and plants and use them.
          The basic component of any country’s knowledge system is its indigenous knowledge. The ability to identify and mobilize knowledge capital is critical to sustainable national development.
          Again, in the current globalized world, where there is growing appropriation of IK by corporations from countries claiming proprietary rights over knowledge, belonging to cultures and people of indigenous communities and that makes it imperative for Ghana to take steps to patent is IK.
          As indicated by Mrs. Margaret Sraku-Lartey, Leader of the team of researchers spearheading the project, the objective is to identify, capture, document and digitize IK on forest foods and medicinal plants.
          It will create a database for those identified, share knowledge of useful IK practices and their usage and preserve the information to promote their wider application.
          Again, it also to establish a relationship between the knowledge identified and modern science, develop a manual of procedures and best practices to document the knowledge identified and train researchers, librarians and information management personnel in the management of indigenous knowledge.
          As she rightly pointed out, the “Ghanaian forest habours many treasures that one can imagine, but we have not paid attention to them”.
          Documenting and creating online database for these treasures will not only enhance access to information on such forest foods and medicinal plants to many people around the world, but also make it easier for people to identify these plants and their uses - diseases they could treat and nutritional benefits that could be derived from their use.
          It would also raise the awareness about how to protect these plants in the wild and encourage people to strive to propagate and domesticate some of them for commercial purposes.
          Increasing knowledge and awareness of the benefits of these plants will increase their demand and thereby provide a motivation for the collectors to increase supply, which in the long run, would boost their incomes and livelihoods.
          It is the fervent hope of many Ghanaians, that documentation of IK would not be limited to only forest foods and medicinal plants.
          It is important that Ghana develops an IK policy, especially in the areas of agriculture, health, arts and craft, music, entertainment among others.
          This has become necessary in the face of the significant role traditional knowledge continues to play in the transmission of information in agricultural production, health care delivery, music and dance, arts and craft making as well as scientific interpretation of certain events in the Ghanaian society.
          There is an urgent need to identify indigenous knowledge in these areas, harness the potential, and link them effectively with modern science and technology to solve some of the socio-economic, health, environmental and other challenges facing the people.

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