Traditional Knowledge

Constructed terraces to conserve soil and water in the Gina River catchment
Constructed terraces to conserve soil and water in the Gina River catchment
Image Credit: Gebremariam, B. 2007

Traditional knowledge is knowledge that local societies have acquired and preserved through generations; it is based on their experience in managing nature to secure their livelihood (Harmon 2002).

This definition points out some central features and characteristics of Traditional knowledge which are explained in the following. For examples see figure. Traditional knowledge

  • is strongly bound to its respective context and is deeply rooted in the society;
  • provides the base for agriculture, food processing, activities to conserve the environment, health, etc.;
  • is passed down orally over generations;
  • is subject to an inherent dynamic resulting from the adaption of knowledge to the steadily changing social, ecological and economic conditions of the society (Maffi 2002).

Because of these characteristics traditional knowledge is contrasted with scientific knowledge, while parallels and overlapping may occur (Warren 1991; Scoones and Thompson 2000). The differences between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge consist mainly in the fact that the latter asserts a claim to globalisation. Furthermore, the methods of gaining new knowledge and the way and sources for application of the respective knowledge differ (Antweiler 1995).

Indigenous knowledge or local knowledge is often used synonymously with the term traditional knowledge. Traditional techniques to conserve soil and water resources are recognised as part of traditional knowledge and are the topic of the next page, followed by the significance of traditional knowledge for Watershed Management.