Checkpoint for monitoring the utilization of genetic resources of the Republic of Belarus

Traditional Knowledge & Nagoya Protocol

Article 8(j) of the Convention on Biological Diversity highlights the importance of preservation and transmission of traditional knowledge as a source of innovation at present and in future, as well as respect for traditional knowledge holders and to ensure equitable sharing of benefits arising from its utilization. Such knowledge applies to the use of animals and plants, which are genetic resources, in traditional ways of life.

Traditional knowledge normally implies a set of empirical observations upon natural phenomena accumulated in a pre-industrial society and made on the basis of practical conclusions, which are transmitted from generation to generation. They cover various spheres of human life (economic activities, production and consumption of food, methods to cure diseases, etc.) and contain unique information about the biological diversity of the ethnic environment.

Traditional knowledge consists of ideas about the surrounding nature and man in it and practical skills of existence in certain natural and climatic conditions. Practical advice is inextricably linked to spiritual actions and beliefs (e.g. rites), which in the mind of a traditional knowledge holder form an organic whole. Knowledge of the plant and animal world and its use by man creates a reliable foundation for ethnopharmacology, agriculture, foodways and the description of a mythopoetic picture of world.

The creators, translators and keepers of such knowledge and skills ‒ traditional knowledge holders ‒ are persons belonging to the local community or closely located to it and of distinctive abilities, skills, knowledge and characteristics (features). Today’s traditional knowledge holders, mostly villagers, who, on the one hand, continue the local tradition recreating past experience, and on the other hand, they enhance such knowledge using different sources –  from appealing to scientific data to the data from popular literature and the mass media.
In the context of access to genetic resources and benefit-sharing, traditional knowledge is considered as knowledge and practices of indigenous and local communities associated with genetic resources.

In Belarus, as in most urbanized European countries, there are no indigenous communities, ethnic groups or tribes, the traditional way of life of which would be related exclusively to the utilization of genetic resources as the only source of existence and life-sustaining. Nevertheless, the Belarusians as a nation, the way of life of which was predominantly peasant at the late XIX-early XX centuries, have accumulated the whole layer of traditional knowledge based on the utilization of a variety of local genetic resources. For centuries, such knowledge has been passed on from generation to generation and mainly verbally and in our time it can be a source of innovation in the manufacture of cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food products, etc.

In the framework of the Project “Strengthening of human resources, legal frameworks and institutional capacities to implement the Nagoya Protocol in the Republic of Belarus”, employees of the Department of Folkloristics and Culture of Slavic Peoples of the Centre for the Belarusian Culture, Language and Literature Research, NAS of Belarus, have carried out comprehensive activities on the collection and study of traditional knowledge of the Belarusians related to traditional and veterinary medicine, pharmacology, botany, zoology and food culture. In view of this, historical and ethnographic literature has been investigated, a number of field expeditions in line with a special program have been conducted and a database has been designed. Audio-visual materials obtained during field expeditions, containing interviews with traditional knowledge holders, are stored in the archive of the K. Krapiva Institute of Art History, Folklore and Ethnography of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus and have the national scientific heritage status. The activity results are compiled in the monograph “Plants in the System of Traditional Knowledge of Belarusians.

The urgent national challenge is not only further study, but also the preservation and transmission of authentic traditional knowledge to next generations. This involves the development and integration of provisions on the definition of traditional knowledge and the legal status of its holders into national legislation that will not only raise the social prestige and status of the institution of folk herbalists and healers, but will also contribute to the sustainable development of local communities in rural areas of Belarus.

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