Progress towards greater recognition and integration of traditional knowledge in Guyana

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The Darwin Initiative ‘Integrating Traditional Knowledge into National Policy and Practice‘ project has been working closely with Indigenous communities associated with protected areas in Guyana since its commencement in September 2017. The focus has been on the valuable role of traditional knowledge for maintaining cultural heritage, and the application of such knowledge, practices and innovations towards improving the management of the country’s natural resources. As highlighted in the country’s Green State Development Strategy: Vision 2040, “Traditional Indigenous knowledge is valid and contains valued information on preservation and use of Guyana’s key natural resources, particularly forests”.

This sets a wonderful platform for a key output of the project; the Traditional Knowledge National Action Plan (TKNAP) intended to stimulate increased awareness, respect and appreciation of Indigenous peoples and increase efforts at the national level to integrate their traditional knowledge into national planning and decision-making. Discussions began in 2018 as project staff began to engage with stakeholders at the governmental and non-governmental level. Those initial meetings served to assess current knowledge and integration of traditional knowledge within existing policies and strategies. These were extremely insightful as it became abundantly clear that most agencies acknowledged and recognized that engagement with Indigenous communities was crucial to ensure proper consultation and overall success in accomplishing their work. However, it also became clear that while most agencies recognised the important role of traditional knowledge in the success of projects and activities, not many have policies and other mechanisms in place to ensure this.

During these consultations, discussions also focused on what actions agencies viewed as important in a national action plan – among the top priorities mentioned were greater knowledge and understanding of Indigenous culture and improving communication between agencies and Indigenous communities. Armed with points from these initial discussions, coupled with evidence collected with Indigenous communities on the challenges and opportunities of traditional knowledge for maintaining culture and biodiversity, the project team began to draft the TKNAP. Priority was given to the preparation of a framework of actions with an accompanying Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) plan. Earlier this year in May, a workshop that targeted government agencies was coordinated to present the proposed actions and ascertain thoughts and recommendations for improving the draft TKNAP.

The latest version was recently presented at our Partners’ Meeting in October where, perhaps most importantly, the Minister of Indigenous Peoples’ Affairs had the opportunity to get a greater sense of what was being proposed, and acknowledge the importance of finalising and taking ownership of the TKNAP. At that meeting, Honourable Minister Sydney Allicock, stressed the importance of many of the actions to strengthen the preservation of Indigenous traditions, cultures and languages, critical for conservation and the management of natural resources.

The TKNAP has since been shared with various government ministries and agencies for another round of feedback. Our next steps are to finalise the TKNAP and then hold national level consultations in collaboration with the Ministry of Indigenous Peoples Affairs and the National Toshaos’ Council. If we get the funding, fingers crossed (!), we hope that these will take place in May/June 2020.

Jay Mistry
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Professor of Geography - Royal Holloway University of London

Jay has more than 22 years’ experience in teaching, researching and building capacity for natural resource management with local communities. Her particular interests include supporting local livelihoods and biodiversity conservation, local environmental governance, action research using participatory video and capacity building for natural resource management.