Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
As hunters and gatherers, the San have a unique way of life and a special relationship with the natural environment on which they have traditionally depended for their survival. As a result, the San have accumulated a wealth of indigenous knowledge about the natural environment unknown to pastoralists, agriculturalists and the children of the industrial and enterprising revolution.
The San act as true stewards of the natural environment – historically, they have not exploited the resources on which they depend, and it was culturally embedded that they protect and heal the natural environment, as well as fellow human beings.
Over time, however, as others have continued to encroach on the land on which they depended, the San have paid dearly for the unselfish sharing of their knowledge and resources with others – in anticipation of a reciprocity which never came.
For years, indigenous peoples and local communities and supportive stakeholders, such as NGOs, have questioned the ability of global instruments such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to adequately respect and promote communities’ ways of life, which have contributed to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
While such international regulatory frameworks are important for dealing with modern global concerns such as biodiversity loss and climate change, their implementation requires careful consideration at the local level to secure the environmental gains and social justice they are intended to deliver.
For instance, there needs to be free, prior and informed consent before any activities are undertaken on indigenous peoples’ lands or regarding access to their traditional knowledge, innovation and practices and they need to be able to ensure that any activities or benefit-sharing agreements reflect their underlying bio-cultural values.
What we learned in Ghana at the Bio-Cultural Protocol (BCP) review conference organised by Natural Justice – and supported by OSISA – is that the BCP process helps a community to outline their core ecological, cultural and spiritual values and customary laws relating to their traditional knowledge and resources.
This process in itself is useful, as it can serve as an aid to help communities think about their identity and vision, and base their decision-making on that. It can also help communities to engage with stakeholders, and to provide clear terms and conditions to regulate access to their knowledge and resources, affirmed also by referencing international and national laws.
The documented BCP will help stakeholders to see the community in its entirety, including the extent of their territories and natural resources, their bio-cultural values and customary laws relating to the management of natural resources, their challenges, and their vision of the way forward.
In consideration of these benefits, the BCP acts as a useful process and product that San communities – as historically marginalised groups – will benefit from. The BCP process will ensure the articulation and documentation of San communities’ identities, challenges and vision in the broader framework of their own ecological, cultural and spiritual values and customary laws relating to their traditional knowledge and resources.
Also, with the support of a framework of applicable national and international laws, and an increased interaction with other communities implementing a BCP process, San communities will be able to better engage with stakeholders regarding access to their knowledge and resources. Furthermore, the BCP process has the potential to act as a useful ‘glue’ for aligning different fragmented community development processes and projects behind the community’s common vision and identity.ShareThis