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Indigenous Knowledge as Local Response to Globalization and Climate Change in Nigeria/Africa

Fri, September 1, 2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Gardner B


As we now adopt the Sustainable Development Goals post-2015, indigenous knowledge may prove to be “the single largest knowledge resource not yet mobilized in the development enterprise”. Many critics of African development liken the current pattern of development in the continent to building a house from the roof down as “all the institutions of modernization appear to be suspended over societies that have no firm connection to them, and whose indigenous institutions, even when oriented in the right direction, lack the necessary scaffolding to connect them to their modern surrogates”. Africa contributes least to, but suffers the most from the disastrous consequences of climate change. While the industrialized and more affluent countries are rightly being called upon to take greater responsibility for the current global environmental and economic crises, Marshall Sahlins has emphasized the need for all peoples “to indigenize the forces of global modernity, and turn them to their own ends”, as the real impact of globalization depends largely on the responses developed at the local level. How can Africa engage profitably with globalization, and cope effectively with the worsening threats of flooding, droughts and other emergencies that result from extreme weather conditions?
For a long time African customs and traditions were misperceived as irrational and incompatible with the conventional strategies of development. But the current global economic and ecological crises have exposed flaws in the Western neo-liberal model of development which is largely to blame for these problems, and for widening inequalities within and between nations. With the obvious underperformance of the Millennium Development Goals in Africa, there is now renewed interest in an alternative approach to development which emphasizes the cultural dimension of development, and the overlooked potential of indigenous knowledge. This paper considers how indigenous knowledge and practice can be put to good use in support of good governance, agriculture and natural resource management, poverty alleviation, and the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Although poverty may sometimes force people to use resources unsustainably, most traditional African societies have deeply entrenched ideas about environmental protection and sustainability because their livelihood depends largely on the land and on the stability of the ecosystem. They believe that land and other forms of nature are sacred, and are held in trust by the present day users on behalf of dead ancestors and future generations.
The paper argues that the indigenous knowledge movement is not only a useful and creative way to respond to globalization, it also has great potential for the mitigation and adaptation to climate change. Africa cannot now contemplate an insular and entirely home grown approach to its development, but indigenous knowledge does offer a model for rethinking and redirecting the development process, and for enlisting positive traditional values and institutions in a way that enables and empowers local actors to take part in their own development. Development agents, researchers and donors, who often assume a knowledge or capacity vacuum in Africa, should instead try to tap into indigenous knowledge for locally appropriate ways of forecasting weather systems, traditional techniques of soil management, pest and disease control, adopting suitable crop and animal varieties, and so on. By building on the indigenous we can make development more participatory and sustainable, and also promote intercultural dialogue in African development.