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Understanding what is local knowledge?



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Local knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop.

Local knowledge is the knowledge that people in a given community have developed over time, and continue to develop. It is:

  • Based on experience
  • Often tested over centuries of use
  • Adapted to the local culture and environment
  • Embedded in community practices, institutions, relationships and rituals
  • Held by individuals or communities
  • Dynamic and changing

Local knowledge is not confined to tribal groups or to the original inhabitants of an area. It is not even confined to rural people. Rather, all communities possess local knowledge – rural and urban, settled and nomadic, original inhabitants and migrants. There are other terms, such as traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge, which are closely related, partly overlapping, or even synonymous with local knowledge. The term local knowledge seems least biased in terms of its contents or origin. As it embraces a larger body of knowledge systems, it includes those classified as traditional and indigenous.

Knowledge systems are dynamic, people adapt to changes in their environment and absorb and assimilate ideas from a variety of sources. However, knowledge and access to knowledge are not spread evenly throughout a community or between communities. People may have different objectives, interests, perceptions, beliefs and access to information and resources. Knowledge is generated and transmitted through interactions within specific social and agro-ecological contexts. It is linked to access and control over power. Differences in social status can affect perceptions, access to knowledge and, crucially, the importance and credibility attached to what someone knows. Often, the knowledge possessed by the rural poor, in particular women, is overlooked and ignored.

It is important to realize that local knowledge – as with other types of knowledge – is dynamic and constantly changing, as it adapts to a changing environment. Because local knowledge changes over time, it is sometimes difficult to decide whether a technology or practice is local, adopted from outside, or a blend of local and introduced components. In most cases the latter situation is most likely. For a development project, however, it does not matter whether a practice is really local or already mixed with introduced knowledge. What is important before looking outside the community for technologies and solutions, is to look first at what is available within the community. Based on this information, a decision can be made on the type of information that would be more relevant to the specific situation. Most likely, it will be a combination of different knowledge sources and information types.

This again has important implications for the research and development process. It is not sufficient to document existing local knowledge. It is equally important to understand how this knowledge adapts, develops and changes over time. How this knowledge is communicated is also significant, and by whom, both within and beyond the community.

Extract from the FAO article, Click on the link to access the full article