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Protection and Use of Traditional Knowledge
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Current Research
Promoting Traditional Forest-related Knowledge and Conservation Practices in Southwest China

The importance of traditional forest-related knowledge (TFRK) in biodiversity conservation is being rediscovered in Asia and other parts of the world. The satoyama conservation movement in Japan is one such illustrative example of how traditional wisdom can be harnessed and applied to solve contemporary ecological problems. Although it is difficult to find a lexical equivalent in the Chinese language, satoyama-type practices boast a long history in China, particularly in the south-western province of Yunnan.

Situated at the intersection of the Indo-Burma and the Mountains of Southwest China biodiversity hotspots, Yunnan is one of the world’s most ecologically and ethnographically diverse regions. It is also an ecologically vulnerable and poverty-stricken area. The conservation policy has so far tended to focus on the management of national parks, nature reserves and protected areas. It is not until recently that interest has begun to grow in traditional agroforestry knowledge and practices in biodiversity conservation. The challenge ahead thus lies in how to integrate TFRK in mainstream conservation policies and how to link conservation with poverty reduction in southwest China.

This study aims to promote greater understanding of TFRK in southwest China with a view to reconciling the tension between development and environment. It calls for a strengthening of community-based conservation practices to sustain ecosystem services, local livelihoods and human wellbeing through appraisal of traditional knowledge and culture. This will have significant policy implications for achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of alleviating poverty and ensuring social, economic and environmental sustainability.

The Heath and Traditional Knowledge Project

This project considers the feasibility of integrating different approaches of assessments with various project partners.   It highlights health and biodiversity linkages while focusing on the need for education and participatory methods of capacity development for planning towards various development objectives in a community health context. 

The health sector faces a paradox with the coexistence of immense advances in wellbeing in certain regions, extreme deprivation in others and increasing socio economic disparities in general. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) one third of the global population has no regular access to essential modern medicine; and in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America, as high as half of the population faces shortage of minimum healthcare. Existing burden of communicable diseases coupled with rapidly emerging chronic and lifestyle diseases persistently affect lives in these regions. Indomitable challenges such as high maternal and child mortality, rapid demographic changes and urbanization, increasing privatization of healthcare and related costs, emerging and reemerging infectious diseases, vertical and centralized health programs without adequate attention to the local context, under utilization of public health facilities, migration of medical professionals, environmental changes and related impacts continue to be major health sector concerns in such economies. Developed countries are also confronted by a changing demography, chronic and lifestyle-related diseases, low fertility, increasing fiscal burden through welfare programs, increasing demand for healthcare, dependence on high technology-centered healthcare and related escalating costs. Health planners are confronted with the dual challenges of integrating health promotion and disease prevention on the one hand, and treatment of acute illnesses and chronic care on the other. This has prompted a rethink in strategies from institutionally delivered health care to health access for improved health and wellbeing among populations.

Traditional medicine continues to play a key role in sustainable health care development in various regions and is an important component in achieving wellbeing and the realization of equitable health objectives. Essentially, there are three broad processes through which health access through traditional medicine is promoted – a. through a health focused approach which is state driven; b. a community based conservation, health and livelihood approach and, c. a market driven approach providing health supplements, products and services (such as spas). Synergizing policy attention on various nodes that provide health - resources, various practices and governance measures is still less emphasized. Most of the studies on biodiversity resources and health linkages are in the context of modern pharmaceuticals and only a few focus on a community health perspective.


Publication of Policy Report on Health and Traditional Knowledge Assessment Approaches with UNEP and the Foundation for the Revitalization of Local Health  (FRLHT) and the COMPAS Network in 2012.

Expansion of the work of the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative: The UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative seeks to build greater understanding and facilitate awareness of traditional knowledge (TK) to inform action by indigenous peoples, local communities and domestic and international policy makers. Key outputs include research activities, policy studies, capacity development and online learning and dissemination. Visit the TKI Website:

Promote Awareness of the Role of Traditional Knowledge: Support the participation of indigenous peoples in international meetings and processes including those of UNFCCC, CBD, WIPO, ITPGFRA, World Social Forum, Fifth World Water Forum.

Publication of the TK Bulletin

TK and Water Management Activities: Participation in the Fifth World Water Forum, Istanbul, Turkey, March 09 and convened in collaboration with UNESCO International Hydrological Programme a panel session on 'Traditional Knowledge Water Management and Global Environmental Change: Charting Sustainable Paths for the Future' ; Convene a 'Water and Cultural Diversity Symposium' with the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN), Kyoto, Japan, Sept 09.

A Water and Cultural Diversity Fellowship at the Institute

Cultural Mapping Project: This project maps indigenous hydrological knowledge and management practices in Northern Australia, Melanesia, Montane West and Central Asia, American South-West and Northern Africa.


  1. Johnston, B.R., Hiwasaki, L., Klaver, I., Ramos Castillo, A., Strang, V., (eds.) (2012)
    Water, Cultural Diversity and Global Environmental Change. Emerging Trends, Sustainable Futures. Springer.
  2. Subramanian, Suneetha & Pisupati, Balakrishna (eds.) (2010) Traditional Knowledge in Policy and Practice - Approaches to Development and Human Well-Being, through Sectoral Links. Tokyo, United Nations University Press.
  3. UNU-IAS Report: Comparative Study of Customary Law and its Role in Regulation of Access to and Use of Traditional Knowledge: A Case Study of Countries of the Andean Community of Nations and Pacific Island States
  4. Fact sheets on Traditional Water Management
  5. Best Practice Regional Analysis: Indigenous Peoples, Traditional Knowledge and Water Management: Lessons for Indigenous Communities and Policy Makers
  6. Capabilities Approach Linked to Community Based Resource Management and ABS Tool-kit (forthcoming)
  7. Galloway McLean, K (2010) 'Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples – A Compendium of Case Studies'. United Nations University – Traditional Knowledge Initiative, Darwin, Australia. ISBN: 978-0-9807084-4-8
  8. Ramos-Castillo, A (forthcoming), Indigenous Water Knowledge: White Paper Water Series. United Nations University – Institute of Advanced Studies Traditional Knowledge Initiative, Darwin, Australia.

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