Traditional Knowledge

29-03-2024

GS III

Sub-Categories:

Science and Technology

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1 min read

Prelims: Current events of National & International importance.

Mains: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, Nano-technology, bio-technology and issues relating to intellectual property rights.

Traditional knowledge or indigenous knowledge is developed by local indigenous communities that are well-developed and whose long-standing customs and practices are followed by these communities from generation to generation. Studies into the origins, behaviour, and development of humanism in both prehistoric and modern societies led to the recognition of traditional knowledge. The adoption of traditional knowledge by international organisations, like the UN, has resulted in its widespread appreciation and recognition.

Meaning and Ways of Expression of Traditional Knowledge

Traditional knowledge (TK) refers to the knowledge, know-how, skills, and practises developed, maintained, and passed down from one generation to another. These practices are frequently integral to the community's cultural or spiritual identity.

  • Meaning: Traditional knowledge can be found in a wide range of fields, such as agriculture, science, technology, ecology, medicine, and biodiversity-related topics.
    • TK includes both the knowledge itself and conventional cultural expressions, such as signs and symbols. It comes from intellectual activity within a traditional context.
    • It includes the traditional use and management of lands and resources by using indigenous agricultural methods.
    • It also includes traditional medicines (herbs and spices) and medical practices. For example, traditional medical practices like Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha, and Naturopathy are recognised in India.
  • Ways of expression: Traditional knowledge is frequently passed down orally from generation to generation and is developed from experience gained over many years and adapted to the local culture and environment.
    • It belongs to everyone as a group and is preserved through tales, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, etc.
    • Indigenous peoples follow oral traditions, including dances, paintings, carvings, and other artistic expressions, that have been practised and passed down through millennia.

Traditional Knowledge as Intellectual Property

Though patent, trademark, geographical indication, trade secret, or confidential information protection are available for innovations based on traditional knowledge, they are not fully covered by conventional intellectual property (IP) laws. Despite the wide range of policy concerns surrounding traditional knowledge, there are two main themes that emerge when discussing these concerns:

  • Defensive protection: Defensive protection is a group of methods that are used to prevent third parties from acquiring unauthorised or unjustified intellectual property rights(IP) over traditional knowledge.
    • These actions include modifying the existing IP laws of the countries, including India, and the International Patent Classification System and the Patent Cooperation Treaty Minimum Documentation, both of which are administered by WIPO.
    • WIPO has also created a toolkit that will help holders of traditional knowledge properly document their knowledge.
  • Positive protection: Positive protection is the act of providing traditional knowledge holders with the right to take necessary action and seek remedies against the misuse of the knowledge base.

Threats to Traditional Knowledge

Traditional knowledge has faced centuries of discrimination and exploitation through various means such as colonisation (earlier), capitalism (through MNCs, etc) and ever-increasing consumerism. Some of these threats include the following:

  • Language threat: Indigenous languages and dialects preserve enormous amounts of traditional knowledge, such as Ayurveda in Sanskrit.
    • These languages have been at the receiving end of colonial exploitation and modern lifestyles.
  • External pressures: The traditional methods of preserving or transmitting knowledge to future generations are also threatened by external pressures.
    • These include migration,environmental pressures, the impact of modern lifestyles, disruption of traditional ways of life,and the impact of globalisation, etc.
  • Biopiracy: Biopiracy is the commercial exploitation of biochemicals or genetic materials that occur naturally.
    • Generally, traditional knowledge consists of many biological features and genetic diversity of the natural environment and is transmitted from generation to generation.
    • One prominent example is the multinational corporation’s patenting of the medicinal qualities of the turmeric plant, even though the plant has been used for thousands of years in Indian Ayurvedic medicine.

Need to protect Traditional Knowledge

The preservation of traditional knowledge is crucial because it plays a crucial role in the social and physical environment of a community.

  • Protecting Indigenous culture and identities: Traditional knowledge and languages are a significant way to maintain and preserve Indigenous cultures and identities and promote well-being.
  • Protecting livelihoods: Traditional knowledge is one of the sources of livelihood for indigenous people, which must be protected.
  • Health benefits: As traditional knowledge is connected with environment and spirituality, they are important to well-being. Further, traditional medicines can provide health benefits to a large population, like in India.
  • Ecological benefits: Traditional knowledge presents enormous opportunities to conserve forests and biodiversity.
    • For example, sacred groves or forest temples are one of the methods to conserve biodiversity.
    • Indigenous people and their traditional methods have been beneficial in conserving biodiversity, for example, the Maldhari tribe of Gujarat and the Bishnois of Rajasthan.
  • Attaining SDGs: It may provide helpful solutions to issues like tackling inequality, combating climate change, and food insecurity, among others, that we are attempting to address through the Sustainable Development Goals.
    • There are six specific references to indigenous peoples in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. These include pledges to guarantee that indigenous children have equal access to education and to double the agricultural output of indigenous small-scale farmers.
    • Countries have also committed to empowering and engaging indigenous peoples in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Traditional Knowledge and the UN

Recognising the importance of traditional knowledge, the right of indigenous peoples to promote, maintain, and safeguard their traditional knowledge is enshrined in several international normative and policy instruments.

  • UNDRIP: The UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) emphasises the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their traditional knowledge (Article 31).
  • UN CBD: The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) acknowledges the close ties of indigenous peoples and communities to biological resources and the contributions that traditional knowledge can make to sustainable biological diversity.
    • The CBD has established a working group to address the implementation and protection of traditional knowledge to this end.
  • LINKS programme: The Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) programme of UNESCO encourages the integration of local and indigenous knowledge into global climate science and policy processes.
    • In order to better comprehend the effects, adaptation, and mitigation of climate change, LINKS works at the local, national, and international levels.
  • Other initiatives: Other UN entities also have relevant policies and programmes that recognise the role of traditional knowledge in securing the rights of indigenous peoples, as elaborated in the UN Declaration.
    • The UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII) 2019 session aimed to contribute to the increasing recognition and respect for the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples, based on their right to self-determination and to decide their own development priorities.

India’s Initiatives to Protect Traditional Knowledge

To preserve, protect, and increase awareness of traditional knowledge, India has come across various steps, as discussed below.

  • TKDL: The Department of Indian Systems of Medicine and Homoeopathy (ISM&H, now Ministry of AYUSH) and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) jointly established the Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), a prior art database of Indian traditional knowledge, in 2001.
    • For example, TKDL has helped India successfully block two patent claims of US consumer goods major Colgate-Palmolive, which wanted intellectual property rights (IPR) cover on two oral compositions made from Indian spices and other herbs.
  • Biological Diversity Act 2002: The Biological Diversity Act of 2002 mandates the formation of Biodiversity Management Committees (BMCs) at local bodies of all levels significantly for the conservation of biodiversity.
    • A Public Biodiversity Register prepared by BMCs comprehensively covers information on the availability and knowledge of local biological resources in their jurisdiction and their medicinal or any other use of traditional knowledge associated with them.
  • Ministry of AYUSH: The Ministry of Ayush was formed in 2014 with a vision of bringing back the knowledge of our ancient systems of medicine and ensuring the maximum development and propagation of the Ayush systems of healthcare.
  • National IPR Policy 2016: Traditional knowledge and the interests of the "less-visible intellectual property generators and holders" have found a place in the new National IPR Policy.
    • The policy acknowledges that the "monetisation of knowledge" is not a part of Indian culture but contends that this is incompatible with the global regime and calls for the conversion of knowledge into intellectual property assets, for which "value" and "economic reward" could be attained through commercialisation.
  • Indian Knowledge System: At AICTE, New Delhi, the Ministry of Education's (MoE) Indian Knowledge Systems (IKS) innovative cell is located.
    • Its goals are to advance the interdisciplinary study of all facets of IKS and preserve and share IKS for use in future research and for societal applications.
    • It will actively work to disseminate the nation's rich cultural heritage and traditional knowledge in the fields of literature, agriculture, basic sciences, engineering, architecture, management, and the arts.
    • Also, a centre of excellence for the Indian Knowledge System is going to be set up at IIT Kharagpur.
  • National Education Policy (NEP) 2020: The vision of NEP 2020 contains the incredibly important component of fostering Indigenous traditional knowledge (ITK).
    • NEP 2020 refers to traditional knowledge of India as both sustainable and striving for the welfare of all.

PYQs on Traditional Knowledge

Question 1: Consider the following statements: (UPSC Prelims 2023)

  1. In India, the Biodiversity Management Committees are key to the realisation of the objectives of the Nagoya Protocol.
  2. The Biodiversity Management Committees have important functions in determining access and benefit sharing, including the power to levy collection fees on the access of biological resources within its jurisdiction.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (c)

Question 2: How is the Government of India protecting traditional knowledge of medicine from patenting by pharmaceutical companies? (UPSC Mains 2019)

Question 3: With reference to the 'National Intellectual Property Rights Policy', consider the

following statements: (UPSC Prelims 2017)

  1. It reiterates India's commitment to the Doha Development Agenda and the TRIPS Agreement.
  2. Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion of the nodal agency for regulating intellectual property rights in India.

Which of the above statements is/are correct?

(a) 1 only

(b) 2 only

(c) Both 1 and 2

(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Answer: (c)

Question 4: India’s Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which has a database containing formatted information on more than 2 million medicinal formulations is proving a powerful weapon in the country’s fight against erroneous patents. Discuss the pros and cons of making this database publicly available under open-source licensing. (UPSC Mains 2015)

FAQs on Traditional Knowledge

What is traditional knowledge?

Traditional knowledge (TK) refers to the knowledge, know-how, skills, and practises developed, maintained, and passed down from one generation to another. These practices are frequently integral to the community's cultural or spiritual identity.

Why is traditional knowledge important?

The preservation of traditional knowledge is crucial because it plays a crucial role in the social and physical environment of a community. It may provide helpful solutions to issues like tackling inequality, combating climate change, and food insecurity, among others, that we are attempting to address through the Sustainable Development Goals.

What steps has India taken to preserve and protect traditional knowledge?

To preserve and protect traditional knowledge, India has established a centre of excellence for the Indian Knowledge System, given importance to traditional knowledge in the new education policy of 2016 and also established a traditional knowledge digital library.

How is traditional knowledge passed down from one generation to the next?

It is verbally transmitted and passed down through the generations through rituals and cultural practices. Language, naming and classification systems, and resource use are all associated with these sets of understandings, interpretations, and meanings.

How can we protect traditional knowledge?

A patent, trademark, geographical indication, trade secret, or confidential information protection may be available for innovations based on traditional knowledge.