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What is Traditional Ecological Knowledge?

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) refers to the ever-evolving knowledge that indigenous and local communities have acquired over hundreds or thousands of years living in their surrounding environment and directly depending on it. Most of the time, this knowledge is collectively owned and transmitted from one generation to another through oral means, and is therefore tightly linked to the local languages of the said communities.

In many places across the globe, TEK is under threat or has already disappeared with the last knowledge keepers. For numerous indigenous and local communities, colonization, so-called “progress” and the merchandization of natural resources for the free market have disrupted or destroyed the traditional livelihoods and languages upon which TEK relies.

Fortunately, it seems that international NGOs, policy-makers and stakeholders are now starting to realize the worth of TEK. As we are shifting from the classic “fortress conservation” model - which has been responsible for countless human rights violations - to a more inclusive way to perceive and practice the protection of biodiversity and natural resources, TEK is surely becoming a precious flow of information complementary to scientific monitoring.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is notably developing the concept of “Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure" (OECM), which recognizes the role of indigenous and local communities (and their knowledge) in the long-term management of their environment. The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), in its article 8(j), states that the parties of the Convention shall preserve TEK and promote its use in nature conservation programmes.

Despite comprising less than 5% of the world’s population, indigenous peoples protect 80% of global biodiversity! In this regard, the growing interest in the value of TEK is very encouraging. The total involvement of indigenous and local communities in nature conservation programmes, besides being fair, is absolutely crucial to make sure long-term global progress will be made in tackling the biggest challenges of our century: climate change, biodiversity erosion and the loss of traditional livelihoods.

Several NGOs are also working on developing such inclusive approaches. Among them, the ICCA Consortium has been working for 10 years on identifying Indigenous and Community-Conserved Areas (ICCAs), also called Territories of Life. By doing so, the communities on the ground are reinforcing their governance rights and celebrating their cultures and knowledge against the threats they are facing.

One of the main threats to TEK lies in the fact that, in many communities, it is disappearing with the elders. For this reason, focusing on youth is now a priority to ensure that TEK will live on. Our friends from the ICCA Consortium recently launched a Youth Group, “Youth for Territories of Life”, which aims to make the voices of the young people fighting for their communities heard at the highest levels. You are of course welcome to join ! All the information is in the link below


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