There is no formally agreed definition of ‘traditional knowledge’, but the commonly accepted view is that the traditional knowledge comprises the ‘knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world, developed from experience gained over centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, which is transmitted orally from generation to generation. It tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, community laws, local language, and agricultural practices, including the development of plant species and animal breeds among others’.
The Hindu Kush-Himalayan region is home to more than 150 million people, who have a vast store of traditional knowledge, contained within a great linguistic diversity. For example, Afghanistan has 47 living languages, Bangladesh 39, Bhutan 24, China 235, India 415, Myanmar 108, Nepal 123, and Pakistan 72. The area also contains all or part of four of the 34 global biodiversity hotspots. Knowledge on biological resources is passed on through the language. In the Himalayan region there is a long history of traditional knowledge related to the evolution of modern food crops and drugs and technology through the use of biological resources. For example, farmers in the Himalayan region domesticated and developed carrots, mustard, gooseberries, apples, pears, apricots, oranges, lemons, and large cardamom for their livelihoods. They still have a (dwindling) knowledge of landraces of staple and other foods suited to specific niches within very small areas of land. Traditional knowledge and practices are extremely important for the livelihood of mountain communities, who are often isolated from mainstream support. It helps them to maintain their health and use the environment in a sustainable fashion. Recently, there has been increasing recognition of the importance and usefulness of traditional knowledge in disaster risk reduction in mountain areas.
Recognising the importance and value of traditional knowledge, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) addresses the knowledge inventions and practices of indigenous local communities and demands the consent of the holders of such knowledge and practices for fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of such knowledge in bioprospecting. Article 8(J) of the CBD calls for the contracting parties to respect, preserve and maintain knowledge, innovations, and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional life styles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. It also calls for the parties to involve the holders of such knowledge, innovation, and practices in the equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of such knowledge innovation and practices.