Forests, Human Health and the Role of Traditional-related Forest Knowledge John A. Parrotta Coordinator, IUFRO Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge U.S. Forest Service, Research & Development Washington DC (USA)
What is traditional forest knowledge? “a cumulative body of knowledge, practice and belief, handed down through generations by cultural transmission and evolving by adaptive processes, about the relationship between living beings (including humans) with one another and with their forest environment” United Nations Forum on Forests 2004
Why is traditional forest knowledge important ? Traditional forest knowledge is an integral component of and expression of the cultures of indigenous and many other traditional rural communities Traditional knowledge, practices and associated social institutions, developed and adapted to changing environmental conditions by indigenous and local communities over generations, represents an important source of adaptive capacity to sustain cultures, livelihoods, and health in the face of climate change impacts on forest ecosystems.
TFRK and Human Health – the linkages Traditional knowledge, practices and beliefs contribute both directly and indirectly to the maintenance and enhancement of human health in many important ways, including: • Psychological and Spiritual Health associated with traditional religious beliefs and social institutions. Example: the special role of sacred groves and culturally important plant and animal species worldwide.
TFRK and Human Health – the linkages • Physical health – traditional knowledge, practices and beliefs that enhance food security, water quality and support traditional health care systems through conservation and sustainable use of forest biodiversity - forest foods, traditional shifting cultivation systems, medicinal plants, ….
Threats to TFRK and associated impacts on human health Traditional forest-related knowledge is fast disappearing in many parts of the world for many reasons, including: • Erosion of traditional lifestyles, belief systems &traditional institutions governing traditional forest management. • Vanishing traditional knowledge of forest ecosystems, species and their management. • Loss of traditional local control over forest resources and use. Weak or non-existent land rights and protection of forests from encroachment or expropriation.
Commercialization of traditional knowledge by scientists and business interests without prior informed consent or adequate sharing of benefits (with the holders and users of this knowledge (e.g., medicinal plants) • Degradation of forest ecosystems in regions where traditional forest knowledge is concentrated: deforestation and forest degradation, • Actual and potential direct and indirect impacts of climate change on forest ecosystems (changing species compositions, changing animal migration patterns, increased natural and anthropogenic disturbance …)
Opportunities for enhancing the role of TFRK for improving human health and well-being Increasing recognition of TFRK by: • Intergovernmental organizations and policy forums (e.g., Rio Conventions, UNFF, UNESCO); • National governments; • Non-governmental organizations; • Scientific societies Growing awareness and support for principles of sustainable forest management ~ ecological, economic & social sustainability • Social sustainability includes cultural and spiritual values, and requires effective participation of local and indigenous communities
The good news (continued) Conservation of traditional forest knowledge and traditional use practices – local, national, regional and international efforts ; international policy mechanisms – CBD, UNCCD, UNFF, et al.; programs of international organizations, NGOs and Foundations such as UNU’s Traditional Knowledge Initiative, Forest Peoples Program, The Christensen Fund, etc…; • Revitalization of traditional health caresystems • Documentation and TFRK education to prevent further loss and facilitate intergenerational transfer of knowledge; • Biodiversity conservation and sustainable use, with specialemphasis on medicinal plant species conservation and their role in traditional health care systems and livelihoods.
A challenge for forest managers, policy-makers and forest scientists While formal (scientific) forest knowledge is widely respected and used, traditional forest-related knowledge is very often either ignored, or else poorly understood by decision-makers (and most within the forest science community), despite the formal recognition of its actual and potential role in sustainable forest management, livelihood security, health and cultural preservation in communities who depend most heavily on forests.
IUFRO Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge - rationale A product of IUFRO’s increasing involvement in international forest-related processes and commitment to more actively engage in issues that are most important to forest-dependent communities, decision-makers, and the general public. Established in 2005, it seeks to: • address the need for a systematic, global effort to explore and strengthen linkages between scientific and traditional forest knowledge systems; • foster effective synergies in forest management applications
Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge – who we are Core group of regional representatives, includes a balanced representation of natural and social scientists, holders/users of traditional forest knowledge, and other experts from different regions of the world. Regional networks of contributing members representing the forest science community and individuals or organizations who promote the interests of holders and users of traditional forest-related knowledge.
Review and synthesize information and experiences on how traditional & scientific forest knowledge contribute to SFM & livelihood security in different & socio-economic contexts; Promote interdisciplinary research and collaboration between forest scientists and the holders and users of traditional forest knowledge based on trust and mutual respect. Task Force objectives
Topics & Issues • History of the relationship between formal (scientific) forest knowledge and traditional forest knowledge and management practices; • Experiences and lessons learned related to resolution of conflicts regarding TFRK in relation to forest science and forest management; • Local and indigenous community needs & priorities for scientific study (research) in relation to forest resource management; • Development of good practices for including both traditional knowledge and formal science in education, research and forest management activities.
Regional conferences • Europe: “Traditional Forest Knowledge and its Contribution to Sustainable Forest Management and Conservation of Cultural Heritage”~ Florence, Italy ~ June 2006 • North America: “Sharing Indigenous Wisdom” ~ Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA ~ June 2007 • Asia: “Sustainable Forest Management and Poverty Alleviation: Roles of Traditional Forest-related Knowledge” ~ Kunming, China ~ December 2007 • Africa: “Traditional Forest-related Knowledge and Sustainable Forest Management in Africa” - Accra, Ghana ~ October 2008 • Northern Eurasia:“International Conference on Traditional Forest Related Knowledge, Forest Biodiversity and Sustainable Forest Management in Eastern Europe, Northern and Central Asia -Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan ~ June 2009) • Other co-sponsored meetings in Europe and Asia in 2008
Publications • Conference Proceedings: Regional conferences held in Italy, China, Ghana; USA & Kyrgyzstan (forthcoming), and co-sponsored meetings (France & Korea) • Special issues of Peer-review journals:Forest Ecology and Management ~ selected papers from Europe and Asia regional conferences. • State-of-Knowledge report:“Traditional Forest Knowledge: Sustaining Communities, Ecosystems & Biocultural Diversity” (Springer, 2010 with support from The Christensen Fund & other donors)
State-of-Knowledge Report:Traditional Forest Knowledge: Sustaining Communities, Ecosystems & Biocultural Diversity CONTENTS Introduction TFK issues & programs in international organizations & forums TFK, intellectual property rights and benefit sharing Regional Overviews (North America; Amazonia, Southern Cone; Africa; Europe; Northern Eurasia; Northeast Asia; Southeast Asia; South Asia & Himalayas; Australia & Western Pacific) Globalization, local communities and traditional forest-related knowledge Climate change: TFK impacts and adaptation Ethics & Research Methodologies, TFK in forestry education Synthesis and recommendations Status:In production, to be published by Springer in 2010
Conclusions • Traditional wisdom and its associated forest knowledge are critical to both survival of cultural diversity and sustainable forest management in many parts of the world. • The physical, psychological and spiritual health of people in traditional communities worldwide is often tightly connected to their traditional forest-related knowledge, practices and associated social institutions. • While TFRK is under threat worldwide, efforts to preserve and enhance it are increasing.
Conclusions • IUFRO’s Task Force on Traditional Forest Knowledge is working to enhance mutual understanding and trust between the forest science community and the holders and users of TFK in local and indigenous communities. • Through this effort, IUFRO seeks to develop a better understanding of the relationships between forest science and TFRK to enhance its contribution to sustainable forest management, rural livelihoods and community health.
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