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Indigenous and local knowledge is set to play a major role in biodiversity and ecosystem management, a meeting of an intergovernmental body has heard.

At its second meeting — held in Antalya in Turkey, last month (9-14 December) — the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services (IPBES) decided to extend its focused assessments of such knowledge over the full five years of its work programme.

In addition, the platform will provide funding and technical support to help integrate indigenous knowledge into the assessments.

IPBES was established in April 2012 with a mandate to assess the state of the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems, and help policymakers make well-informed decisions. A founding principle is to integrate indigenous and local knowledge into conservation processes.

“What has been done — and what is rather unique — is that IPBES decided at Antalya to firmly place indigenous and local knowledge within its work programme. And it has not been marginalised within it, but feeds into all the different components of the work programme,” says Douglas Nakashima, head of the Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme at UNESCO (the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

Including indigenous and local knowledge holders in decision-making processes will ensure that those decisions are more appropriate for their communities and their sustainable use of resources, says Nakashima.

“If decisions about how biodiversity should be managed are in line with the aspirations, priorities and understanding of local communities, we would hope for an improved biodiversity management process,” he adds.

An ‘innovative endeavour’

Anne Larigauderie, head of the IPBES Secretariat, says that engaging indigenous communities early on so they can shape its work is an “innovative endeavour” that no organisation has attempted before.

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change did not do this, for example. Of course, in the case of biodiversity, indigenous and traditional knowledge is even more relevant because of the local dimensions,” she says.

“IPBES decided ... to firmly place indigenous and local knowledge within its work programme.”

Douglas Nakashima, UNESCO

At the Antalya meeting, IPBES also decided on two fast-track assessments to be completed this year. One will be on pollination and its relationship to food security, the other will review the tools available to predict future changes to biodiversity and ecosystem services based on various social and economic scenarios.

In addition, the indigenous people at the meeting formed a group called the International Indigenous Forum on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IIFBES).

This new forum is intended to allow indigenous and local knowledge holders to coordinate contributions to the work programme by reaching out to existing organisations and facilitating access to IPBES structures and activities, says Joji Cariño, director of the Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO that advocates forest management based on indigenous knowledge.

“For example, the Indigenous Partnership for Agrobiodiversity and Food Sovereignty, which has an Indigenous Peoples’ Pollinators Initiative in India, Kenya and Ethiopia, was linked to IPBES, to facilitate its contributions to the IPBES fast-track assessment on pollination and pollinators associated with food production,” she adds.

At the Antalya meeting, IPBES also decided to develop a capacity building programme, including the provision of fellowships and training programmes, designed to ensure that scientists from all regions of the world are engaged at an equal level. The training and fellowships will be targeted at developing world scientists, including young researchers.

The capacity building plans will “allow input from everyone, not only northern countries where most of the funding resources are, but not the biodiversity itself”, says Larigauderie.

“One important principle is that capacity building activities will not be run independently of the work programme, but will form an integral part of the core implementation of IPBES,” she adds.

Nakashima tells SciDev.Net that the platform’s real challenge will be whether it can use its resources and aspiration to produce concrete results.

And Cariño says: “If successful, this will be a hallmark achievement of IPBES to be truly multidisciplinary, embracing knowledge diversity.”