Development of the Institute

The United Nations University is exploring the feasibility of establishing a UNU Traditional Knowledge (TK) Institute in Australia. The Institute will focus on research and training in many aspects of the TK of indigenous and local communities from a global perspective.

The UNU TK Institute will promote and strengthen research on traditional knowledge through joint research projects with Australian and international universities and other institutions. The TK Institute will have a global focus, but will be grounded in the local experience of Indigenous peoples and local communities.

In particular, the Institute will contribute to:-

  • developing the application of TK in a broad range of contexts (e.g. ecosystem management and biotechnology);
  • developing strategies for the preservation and maintenance of TK;
  • facilitating the development of the capacity of indigenous communities to conserve and apply their knowledge in an increasingly globalised economy; and
  • increase the recognition and importance of TK globally and within the region in which it is hosted, especially within the academic community.

The Institute will provide an important opportunity for Indigenous peoples to make a focused, constructive, effective and solutions-oriented contribution to discussions taking place within the United Nations and in other international and domestic fora. By informing all parties to discussions with independent and well informed data and policy analysis, it is intended that the Institute will enhance the quality and rigour of debate on TK issues at the international level. Although small, it is intended that the Institute will become a think tank for the UN system on these issues and an international centre of excellence and reference for information about TK within the UN system.

Rationale behind the Institute

TK refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world. Developed from experience gained over the centuries and adapted to the local culture and environment, TK is largely transmitted orally from generation to generation. It tends to be collectively owned and takes the form of stories, songs, folklore, proverbs, cultural values, beliefs, rituals, customary laws, local language, and agricultural practices, including the development of plant species and animal breeds. Traditional knowledge is often of a practical nature, particularly in such fields as fisheries, health, horticulture, and forestry. This knowledge is valuable not only to approximately two-thirds of the world’s population who depend on it in their daily lives, but also to modern industry, agriculture and natural resource managers.

Awareness of the value of TK, particularly its potential contribution to sustainable development and poverty alleviation, is growing at a time when such knowledge is being threatened as never before. The causes of this loss are complex and profound. Nevertheless, research into TK and related capacity building efforts will make an important contribution to addressing these problems.

In an effort to make effective, important and sustainable contributions to global efforts to address the threats to TK and indigenous communities, the establishment of the new UNU TK Institute through its targeted research and training programme will (i) explore the threats to TK, methods to maintain TK, resilience of TK systems; and (ii) consider the links between conventional and indigenous scientific systems and important questions raised regarding research and capacity development.

This initiative is the result of a comprehensive UNU feasibility study including extensive stakeholder consultations which concluded that establishing a UNU TK Institute in Australia is widely supported, is timely and feasible and can make an important contribution to the challenges facing TK.