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Indigenous and local knowledge has important role in biodiversity assessments

23 May 2014

A new study co-authored by Neil Burgess, Head of Science at UNEP-WCMC has proved the scientific value of indigenous and local knowledge collected from community members using focus groups.

Bringing together “western scientific” and “indigenous and local” knowledge is a goal of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The information is needed to fulfil a function of IPBES which is to produce assessments of the state of the planet’s environment, and identify changes over time. However, assuring its usefulness and quality is a challenge of bringing together western science and indigenous knowledge.

To test the utility of focus groups for validating data collected by a local community, UNEP-WCMC collaborated in a study led by Nordisk Fund for Miljø og Udvikling. The Miskito and Mayangna communities who live in the Bosawás Biosphere Reserve in Nicaragua – an area that is a global priority for conservation – participated in community-level focus group discussions on the abundance of natural resources such as mammals, birds and plants.

At the same time, data was collected by trained scientists or members of the local community using transect lines which is a common scientific method. All participants from the local community had considerable experience of hunting and collecting forest products which made them ideal candidates for the accurate identification of the species, and both males and females were represented.

When compared, the information provided by the focus groups was as accurate as the data collected using the more traditional scientific methods. In addition, the focus group approach empowered the indigenous and local communities who generally have limited engagement in such activities.

The results of this study confirm that indigenous and local knowledge is valid source of information for assessment processes such as IPBES. The focus groups were also found to be eight times cheaper than deploying scientists to conduct transect lines so this method could be a cost-effective and efficient way of supplying the increasing demand for environmental information.

Publication information

Danielsen, F., Jensen, P.M., Burgess, N.D., Coronado, I., Holt, S., Poulsen, M.K., Rueda, R.M., Skielboe, T., Enghoff, M., Hemmingsen, L.H., Sørensen, M. and Pirhofer-Walzl, K. 2014. Testing focus groups as a tool for connecting indigenous and local knowledge on abundance of natural resources with science-based land management systems. Conservation Letters Doi: 10.1111/conl.12100.