For the vast majority of human evolution ethnobotanical knowledge has been an essential component of human capital relied upon for nutritionally balanced, stable, and locally adapted supplies of foods and medicines from wild plant sources. While traditional ethnobotanical knowledge (TEK) is still critical in a few regions where indigenous cultures and native ecosystems co-exist, in the past three centuries, this knowledge base has gradually eroded and gone extinct in many others. In still other regions, it lies dormant in the memories of elders – mostly women – who retain both skills and knowledge specific to the ecosystems in which they live or were raised.
As increasingly recognized by the sustainable development community and as part of the Post-2015 Development Agenda, protecting all forms of local ecological knowledge is a key solution to the challenges over food security and the genetic foundation of modern agricultural systems. In a new manuscript prepared for an ethnobotanical journal as part of CSE’s Post-2015 project we argue that it may be necessary not only to protect the knowledge base of communities who engage in ethnobotany in a dynamic or active sense, but also to revive this knowledge where it is not extinct, but merely dormant.
In the manuscript, we first discuss the nexus between ethnobotanical knowledge and food security from the perspective of household non-market food production and the commercial agricultural sector as a whole. We then present the concept of dormant ethnobotany and the process of dormancy and justify their inclusion in the research agenda. We conclude with a review of possible approaches and tools for cataloging this knowledge and reactivating ethnobotanical skills and knowledge in communities where it can play an important role in sustainable development.
For our report and related materials, please click here to visit the project page.