Tapping traditional knowledge for commercial benefits

Ellanie Smit
Benefits accrued from the utilisation of biological and genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge must not only benefit local communities but also act as an incentive for the protection, conservation and sustainable use of these resources and knowledge.

This is according to environmental commissioner Timoteus Mufeti, who made the remarks at a stakeholder dialogue on ‘Contributing to an Equitable and Sustainable Biotrade Sector in Namibia’.

The dialogue was aimed at identifying ways to support, improve and strengthen local development and establish necessary links to global markets to improve the overall returns from natural resources.

Mufeti said traditional knowledge has the potential to be translated into commercial benefits by providing leads for the development of useful products and processes.

“We know and understand that traditional knowledge plays an important role in the conservation of biodiversity and its traditional uses.”

Traditional knowledge associated with biological resources is an intangible component of the resource itself, he added.

Medicinal plants

According to him, traditional knowledge related to the use of medicinal plants has been inherited through generations by local communities and has played a key role in the healthcare systems of many developing countries - including Namibia.

“Our local communities - who live and interact with nature and partake in various resource-use practices - possess a broad knowledge base of the behaviour of complex ecological systems in their own localities.”

Mufeti said this knowledge has accumulated through a long series of observations transmitted from generation to generation.

Where communities have depended on the local environments for the provision of a variety of resources, those communities have developed a stake in conserving those natural resources and biodiversity, he said.

Trial and error

Local communities’ conservation practices of biodiversity are grounded in a series of rules of thumb which are arrived at through a trial-and-error process over a long time, the commissioner said.

“Conserving this community-based knowledge of biodiversity conservation is most appropriately accomplished through promoting the community-based resource management systems of local communities.”

He added that Namibia is a firm believer in community-based resource natural management, which grants greater autonomy to local communities to protect, conserve and sustainably manage resources while deriving meaningful livelihood options from them.

According to Mufeti, about 46% of Namibia’s communal area is covered by community conservation efforts through conservancies and community forests.

This includes private conservancies on freehold land that create a large contiguous area where wildlife can roam freely at a landscape level, enabling community conservation, environmental restoration, healthy game populations and diverse economic returns to communities.

“Community conservation has shown that it can improve rural lives by generating a broad range of community and individual returns while contributing to biodiversity.”

Act

According to Mufeti, considering natural resource use as part of conservation and the community as an essential power in conservation is very important.

He said Namibia passed the Access to Biological and Genetic Resource and Associated Traditional Knowledge Act of 2017 to regulate access, innovation, practices and technologies associated with these.

The main objectives of the Act are to protect the rights of local communities over biological and genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

It also provides a fair and equitable mechanism for benefit sharing and to establish the necessary administrative structures and processes for the implementation and enforcement of such principles.