THE SYSTEM OF TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN AREA AND ITS CLASSIFICATION WITH REFERENCE TO DIFFERENT SOCIAL GROUPINGS
This report was prepared for the UNCCD secretariat and presented to the ad hoc panel meeting on traditional knowledge in Matera, Italy, 15 to 18 July 1999. It was subsequently presented to the Bureau of the Committee on Science and Technology at the Committee’s session in Bonn from 27 to 28 July 1999.
The Bureau noted the report with satisfaction and requested the secretariat to make it available at the third session of the Conference of the Parties.This report (ICCD/COP(3)/CST/Misc.1) was disseminated at the Conference of the Parties-Committee on Science and Technology held in Recife, Brasil, from 16 to 18 November 1999.
The document was published by Italian Ministry of Environment and Region of Basilicata.
Objectives of the Study
- To define the characteristics of traditional knowledge;
- To study the criteria according to which traditional knowledge should be classified;
- To draw up an inventory of traditional knowledge in the Mediterranean area and indicate the successful techniques;
- To assess the different uses of traditional techniques by adopting modern technologies;
- To put forward proposals and recommendations.
Traditional Techniques or Local Science Systems?
During the second Conference of the Parties that was held in Dakar in October 1998 (COP 2), the Secretariat of the Convention has brought up for discussion to the Committee on Science and Technology the synthesis of the reports on traditional knowledge drawn up by different countries and by the experts who carried out the missions.
The study (ICCD/COP(2)/CST/5) presents the inventory on traditional knowledge in the form of a list of 78 items of techniques or practices divided into 7 different topics:
- Fight against wind or water erosion (8 items);
- Hydric system for water conservation (14 items);
- Improvement of soil fertility (20 items);
- Vegetation protection (9 items);
- Forestry (5 items);
- Social organization (9 items);
- Architecture and energy (13 items).
The inventory has been structured in this way because of the need to synthesize a very wide topic that will be subsequently enriched and supplied with graphs on different techniques and procedures, thus representing a useful manual on traditional knowledge.
However, this classification, based on different goals and functions, could impoverish the topic and could not convey the meaning nor let understand the way in which traditional techniques work. Traditional and local knowledge is part of a complex system, it cannot consist of a simple list of technical solutions and be limited to a series of different applications according to the results to be obtained. Their efficacy depends on the interaction among several factors.
They must be carefully taken into account if the success accomplished throughout history by means of traditional knowledge and its logic are to be understood for a contemporary application. Each traditional practice is not an expedient to solve a single problem, but it is an elaborated and often a multipurpose system that is part of an integral approach (society, culture and economy) which is strictly linked to an idea of the world based on the careful management of local resources. A terracing system is a way to protect slopes, to reinstate the soils and to harvest water. It works within a social organization and a shared system of values that supports this system and in its turn is based on it. During flood periods, in dryland areas what seems to be a network of narrow streets is an important system of flood diversion having different functions according to season changes.
Modern technology tries to be immediately efficacious by using the specialization of knowledge managed by dominant structures that are able to mobilize those resources that are external to the environment. In the long and very long period, traditional knowledge proves to be functional by using shared knowledge created and handed down by different generations and social practices and internal renewable input. Thanks to modern technology pits have been excavated at high depths by pumping ground water, thus obtaining results that can be rapidly checked. However, the local resources can be depleted and sometimes, by fishing in fossil water beds, the aquifers can completely disappear in time.
On the other hand, traditional knowledge uses meteoric water harvesting systems or surface aquifers by using gravity or by adopting catchment systems that enable the reproduction of the resource and its durability in the long run. Whereas modern technological methods use separation and specialization, traditional knowledge applies combination and integration (Tab.1).
According to the modern idea, the forest, the agriculture and the town are three completely separated items because they fulfil different needs, such as: wood, food, house. Each item avails itself of a specialized scientific system: forestry, agriculture and town-planning.
According to local knowledge, the plant heritage is not artificially separated from the forest that provides commercial wood and from the farming land that provides food (Shiva 1993 p. 18). Forests, fields and dwellings are unitary ecological systems. The forest and other marginal and apparently non productive areas, like the steppes and the marshlands, provide considerable amount of food and water, fodder and fertilizers for agriculture. It is also possible to live in these marginal areas.
The traditional town, in its turn, integrates with agriculture thus replacing the forest in desert areas for obtaining fertilizers that are produced by the organic wastes of inhabitants and to produce the water caught on the roofs of the houses. As a result, the humus produced in the fields gives the soil its colloidal quality which is necessary for building houses in towns whose constructions are made up of unfired bricks (adobe towns). The hollow made by excavating the land is used either as a gutter for water, or as a hole for the transformation of dung into humus, or as an orchard surrounded by excavation walls.Therefore, the activities are carried out in this feedback cycle where the result of one activity is the basis for the realization of the other.
The architecture fulfils this need in every single detail. In Shibam, an adobe town located in Yemen, the town-planning is in harmony with the need to collect organic waste separately in two-outlet toilets. These toilets are necessary because they enable to transform the sand into fertile soil. This principle which is very similar to the functioning of nature where each residue of a system is used by other systems, where the idea of waste or the possibility to resort to external resources do not exist, has allowed the survival of people throughout history .
Multipurpose techniques have been successful even in hard times. The collaboration and the symbiosis by reusing what is produced within a system have enabled the autopoiesis, the self-reproduction, the self-propulsive development, which does not depend on exogenous or occasional factors.