Indigenous Knowledge, New Knowledge and Indigenous Solutions


Owing to the influence of training often acquired in industrialized countries, policies in most African countries have tended to systematically attach greater importance to new, attractive and imported technologies and less attention to indigenous technologies in general and to those used almost exclusively by women in particular. Yet, efficient science and technology policies call for careful consideration of traditional technologies, particularly in the area of health, environmental management, food processing and storage and informal sector manufacturing, that have been or can be upgraded for wide application, broad-based benefits to the African population and sustainable development.  Indeed, many modern technologies are either hard to acquire for economic or financial reasons or unsuitable to the socio-cultural African context.


Moreover, foreign technologies simply do not exist for solving many specific African problems and thus meeting the whole spectrum of technological needs of African countries.  Technological development and application, relying in many instances on indigenous knowledge and technologies, constitutes therefore an important contributing factor of sustainable development in Africa.


During the last two decades, science and technology policy experts have come to recognize increasingly that, in some areas of development, indigenous technologies provide the foundation for socio-economic progress. They also have come to realize that indigenous solutions must be found to some indigenous problems related to sustainable development. Consequently science and technology policies must also identify areas where new knowledge is needed and put in place mechanism to acquire this knowledge.


Science and technology policies regarding indigenous technologies must addressed at least five categories of interrelated issues: (1) How to identify, describe and record information on the best technologies that can be shared and exploited more broadly and provide greater benefits to Africa?  How to encourage policy-makers to pay greater attention to these technologies?  Which organization should be encouraged to take the lead in developing a comprehensive database and website on indigenous technology? (2) How to validate, test or assess selected technologies in ‘laboratories’ and in different agro-climatic, socio-economic and cultural environments?  How to make sure that these technologies really do what they are supposed to do and that there are no better alternative technologies? (3) How to protect and remunerate the owners or the innovators of the technologies?  Alternatively, what mechanisms can be used to ensure that the technologies and innovations bring benefits to those (individuals or local communities) who have developed them? (4) How to exploit, transfer, commercialize or ‘industrialize’ the technologies?  Alternatively, how to move the technologies from the ‘familial’, ‘artisanal’ or ‘anthropological’ domain into the realm of business and micro or small business enterprises?  And finally (5), how to raise the challenge of developing indigenous technologies on the political agendas of governments?  What institutions, if any, need to be setup, and what kind of support needs to be put in place for the promotion of these technologies?  How to strengthen public-private partnerships within and among the countries of the region in order to achieve potential economies of scale?  In other words, what can or should governments do to promote promising indigenous technologies?  What should be the appropriate roles for NGOs, for UN institutions?