Taking local knowledge about trees seriously


There has been a sea change in forestry research and development over the last quarter of a century. This has transformed forestry from an ecological discipline, largely about trees and their associated biota, to one which embraces consideration of the people who use forests or want them to be conserved. This change has been forced by practical imperatives. In many developing countries, attempting to keep people out of forests was expensive and largely unsuccessful, so that it became apparent that developing sustainable forest management, either for productive or conservation purposes, required inclusion rather than exclusion of the people in the vicinity of the forest. As a result, local people who use forests are increasingly seen as legitimate stakeholders in planning forest utilization and conservation strategies by both public and private forestry initiatives. Participatory forest development is in vogue. There has also been a slow realization that trees outside forests, and modified forests where people farm, may be important for the well-being of forest ecosystems. Trees on farms have critical importance, both because they can renewably supply tree products that might otherwise be unsustainably removed from forests and because tree cover on regional and landscape scales may affect the conservation value of remaining forest fragments. The main conclusion of this chapter is that forestry research and extension workers need to be able to deal systematically with partial representations of local knowledge systems appropriate to particular purposes rather than attempt to understand entire cultures. This involves creating explicit representations of local ecological knowledge that are dynamic and readily accessible in a cost-effective manner. Knowledge based systems methods and tools have been developed to facilitate this. Where they have been used, generalities in what resource users currently know and what they need to know to improve their management of tree resources have emerged and been found to be both comparable and complementary to scientific understanding. This makes it possible to invest in acquisition of local ecological knowledge at the level at which research and extension activity are planned and policy is formulated.


Sinclair, F.L.; Joshi, L. Taking local knowledge about trees seriously. In: Lawrence, A. (Ed.). Forestry, forest users and research: new ways of learning. European Tropical Forest Research Network, Wageningen, Netherlands (2000) 45-61. ISBN 3-9501392-0-6

Taking local knowledge about trees seriously

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