Traditional Knowledge is a living body of knowledge passed on from generation to generation within a community. It often forms part of a people’s  cultural and spiritual identity.

Traditional Knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world. Developed from experiences gained over the century and adapted to the local culture and environment, Traditional Knowledge is transmitted orally from generation to generation.

Sometimes Traditional knowledge is referred to as an oral tradition, for it is practiced, sung, danced, painted, carved, chanted and performed down through millennia.

“Traditional knowledge” is employed to mean “knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity”.


Traditional Knowledge role and value:  There is today a growing appreciation of the value of traditional knowledge. This knowledge is valuable not only to those who depend on it in their daily lives but to modern industry and agriculture as well. Many widely used products such as plant based medicines health products and cosmetics, are derived from traditional knowledge. Other valuable products based on traditional knowledge include agricultural and non – wood forest products as well as handicraft. traditional knowledge makes a significant contribution to sustainable development as well.


Traditional Cultural Expressions (TCEs)  also called “Expressions of Folklore” may include music, dance, art, designs, names, signs and symbols, performances, ceremonies, architectural forms handicrafts and narratives and many other artistic or cultural expressions.


Traditional Cultural Expressions and IPR: For many communities, TCEs, TK and associated Genetic Resources form part of a single integrated heritage. Yet, because TCEs raise some particular legal and policy questions in Intellectual Property, they receive a distinct focus in many national and reginal IP Laws and in WIPO’s work.


Genetic Resources (GRs & IPR) GRs as encounter in nature are not creations of the human mind and thus they cannot be directly protected as intellectual property. However, there are Intellectual Property issues associated with GRs.

  • Inventions or Plant Varieties based on or developed using GRs (Associated with TK or not) may be patentable or protected by Plant Breeders Rights. (PBRs)
  • In considering Intellectual Property issues associated with GRs, WIPO’s work complements the frame works for Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) provided by CBD and Its Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA of the UN, FAO.


Genetic Resources (GRs) : refer to Genetic Material of actual or potential value. Genetic Material is any material of plant, animal, microbial or other origin containing functional units of heredity.

Examples of GRs are : Material of plant, animal, or microbial origin such as medicinal plants, agricultural crops and animal breeds.


Article 16: Access to and Transfer of Technology: Each contracting party recognizing that technology includes biotechnology and that both access to and transfer of technology among contracting parties are essential elements for the attainment of the objectives of this convention, undertakes subject to the provisions of this article to provide and, or facilitate access for and transfer to other contracting parties of technologies that are relevant to the conservations and sustainable use of biological diversity or make use of genetic resources and do not cause significant damage to the environment.

Article 08 (J) : Traditional Knowledge, Innovations and Practices : states: that : each contracting party shall as far as possible and as appropriate subject to national legislation, respect, preserve and maintained knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyles relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and promote their wider application with the approval and involvement of the holders of such knowledge, innovations and practices and encourage the equitable sharing of the benefits arising from the utilization of such knowledge, innovations and practices.


The CBD also contains 3 other provisions besides Article 8(J) which deal with the interests of indigenous and local communities, which are: Article 10 ( c ), Article 15.5, Article 17.2, Article 18.4.


Article 10 ( c): Requires Parties to “protect and encourage customary use of biological resources in accordance with traditional cultural practices that are compatible with conservation or sustainable use requirements”. Such customary uses can be considered to be Synonymous with the practices referred to in Article 8(j), when both are relevant to or compatible with the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources.


Article 15.5: Refers to prior informed consent with respect to access to genetic resources. Access to genetic resources and benefit sharing arising out of the use of genetic resources can not be separated from the traditional knowledge of indigenous and local communities. Traditional Knowledge can be highly valuable in identifying sources of new products derived from genetic resources. It is important that Article 8(J) and Article 10( c) are read in conjunction with Article 15. Article 8(J) indicates that the wider application of indigenous and local communities’ knowledge, innovation and practices should take place with the approval and involvement of its holders.


Article 17: provides for the exchange of information. Article 17.2 obliges the parties to facilitate the exchange of information, inter alia, indigenous and traditional knowledge as such and in combination with the technologies.


Article 17.2: provides for the repatriation or return of information which is of important to indigenous and local communities embodying traditional lifestyle relevant for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity.


Article 18.4: lays down the requirements for technical and scientific cooperation, provides that parties shall encourage and develop methods of cooperation for the development and use of technologies including indigenous and traditional technologies in pursuance of the objectives of the convention.


This allows for the same obligation and status as other technologies that can contribute to the conservation of biodiversity and to subject them to the technology transfer obligations of Article 16 that ensure proception of the rights knowledge holders.

This obligation compliments the general Article 8(J) which promotes the wider application of the knowledge, innovations and practices of the indigenous and local communities.


Gender Related Aspects:


The formal recognition of the role of indigenous and local communities and their women folk is finally occurring. The CBD address the role of both women and local communities in the conservation and sustainable use of Biological Diversity.

In the Preamble of the CBD, the contracting parties recognize the vital role of women in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and affirming the need for the full participation of women at all levels of policy – making and implementation for biological diversity conservation.




Plant Breeders Rights News