The term Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and innovation systems refers to a distinctive body of knowledge and skills, including practices and technologies, that have been developed over many generations outside the formal educational system and which enable
communities to survive.
Indigenous knowledge (IK) and innovations are a significant resource, which could contribute to the increased efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the development process in Africa. It is a key element of rural communities‘ social capital and constitutes
their main asset in their efforts to gain control of their own lives (Mascaren has, 2004). Full recognition and utilisation of IK may reduce the risk of creating dependency, which is often the result of developmental projects. Therefore, mobilisation of IK and
innovations will assist Africa to attain the following goals:
Kayumba (1999) argues that African governments and their international aid efforts to achieve sustainable development since political independence in the 1950s and 1960s have failed. This is attributed to a number of factors related to the marginalisation and/or
distortion by imported western technologies of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and innovations. Most development models have tended to rely on western development paradigms and structures. Hence, there was a mismatch between what local people know (IK) and western development models. Western values and technological interests are perpetuated by the existing education systems in Africa and their western-style curricula. There was also a lack of understanding and appreciation by African governments and development agencies of the pertinent local issues and no development of a common approach by stakeholders, i.e. a participatory model, which takes into consideration local communities‘ interests and knowledge systems.
Another factor is that some African elites suffer from colonised minds and do not appreciate the role of Indigenous Knowledge and
innovations in sustainable development and community livelihoods. It is important to note that there is increasing realisation among researchers, academics, policy-makers and development agencies within and outside Africa that development efforts which ignore local circumstances tend to waste an enormous amount of time and resources. Compared to modern technologies and approaches to sustainable community livelihood, Indigenous Knowledge and innovations have been tried and tested by the local people themselves.
They are effective, inexpensive, locally available, culturally appropriate, and based on preserving and building on the patterns and processes of nature. It is in recognition of this important role of IK and innovation systems in sustainable development, especially in
R&D, that IKS were identified as one of the flagship programme areas of the NEPAD Science and Technology. Indigenous Knowledge (IK) and innovation systems are important because they are cumulative and represent generations of experiences, careful observations, and trial and error experimentation. They are also dynamic because new knowledge is continuously being added through local innovations as people struggle to survive in their specific environments.
In this process of innovation they use and adapt external knowledge to suit the local situations. Experience shows that African local communities have over centuries used these knowledge systems as the basis for decisions pertaining to food security, human and animal health, education, natural resources management, conflict transformation and other vital activities. IK and innovations are a key element of the social capital of the poor and constitute the main asset in their efforts to gain control of their own lives.