Indigenous Knowledge Preserved For Future Generations

21 Apr 2023

Tourists coming to Namibia also enjoy the cultural exchange with different population groups to discover more about their traditions, lifestyle and their centuries old knowledge about wildlife and the use of plants.

Various cultural villages have been established in recent years for this purpose with great success. Additional benefits are that the locals who run these villages earn an income and their traditions are preserved.

Namibia is rich in traditional resources and knowledge

And often tourists take home small souvenirs like soap and body lotion containing oil from the marula trees, the !Nara plant or the myrrh which the Ovahimba women use to produce their famous ochre body creme.

The Namibian devil's claw plant is famous for its medicinal benefits and is annually harvested by San communities. And we all remember the big hype about the hoodia plant, which is endemic to Namibia, and its benefits as a slimming agent for weight loss.


San women drying slices of devil’s claw roots.


Another example is the drought resilient mahangu (pearl millet) plant, used in India for thousands of years, it found its way to Africa hundreds of years ago. The flour from the mahangu cob seeds is used as a staple food in northern Namibia.

In the meantime innovative Namibians have developed instant Mahangu porridge, which is sold in shops and is very popular among the people who come from northern Namibia. On top of that various delicious mahangu cookies and biscuits are produced and sold in the country.

The traditional sustainable land use management of indigenous nomadic communities is in the meantime a research topic for scientists in relation to climate change adaptation.

And who would have thought that the traditional way of fermenting milk to produce variations of sour milk would be a research topic at the University of Namibia?

The aim is to apply the findings commercially to enable local producers to preserve the shelf life of their milk drinks without using chemicals.

Government to safeguard indigenous knowledge

The Namibian government has realised the crucial role that Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) play in the process of economic development, social cohesion, creation of employment as well as the fight against hunger and poverty.

Also, there has been an increasing public interest and acknowledgment of IKS as a valuable and essential resource.

It is however important to preserve that indigenous knowledge for future generations. To prevent the exploitation thereof, making huge commercial profits and even registering patents ignoring the owners and guardians of these genetic resources. These include agriculture, healthcare, environment, and natural resource management.

International regulations support developing countries

The United Nations has put in place several conventions and protocols to this effect to which Namibia is signatory. The Convention on Biological Diversity of 1992 is regarded as a milestone for environmental law. Since then, countries have the sovereign right to regulate how their genetic resources may be accessed. The convention provides for access and benefit-sharing (ABS) on mutually agreed terms of providers.

The Nagoya Protocol came to fruition exactly ten years ago. The protocol applies to genetic resources, traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources; and the benefits arising from the utilisation of such genetic resources and associated traditional knowledge.

The Namibian government is taking this a step further with the drafting of an Indigenous Knowledge Systems Policy.

During a two-day long workshop in April, organised by the Namibia Commission for Research, Science and Technology (NCRST) and its indigenous knowledge advisory council, the draft document was scrutinised.

"The aims are manifold: to preserve and promote indigenous knowledge, to explore its connection with science and technology,  to integrate it into national development plans, educational programmes as well as research and development", said Dr Anicia Peters, the chief executive officer of the NCRST at the workshop.

Women in north-central Namibia with marula kernels in their baskets.
Photo: Eudafano Cooperative


"Indigenous knowledge systems are a critical component of our cultural heritage and identity. They encompass knowledge, practices, and beliefs developed over time, passed down from generation to generation," said Peters.

The indigenous knowledge systems policy will - once finalised - recognise, affirm, document, protect, develop, promote and commercialise IKS and technologies in Namibia.

The various indigenous population groups are being consulted for their input.

The policy aspires to ensure that the formal recognition and acknowledgement of IKS, as a fundamental treasure, does not detach it from its associated cultural heritage.

It will lead to the establishment of a National IKS Office (NIKSO) and to mainstreaming IKS in the national system of innovation and will be linked to the bio-economical strategy. The latter is still in the development phase.

The policy will also provide for information on IKS to be included in education curricula.

An IKS data base is planned with the aim to have one main, central information base, in addition to the scattered research documents and information in various archives and libraries in the country.

Brigitte Weidlich


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