UWI hosts Cropper Foundation Lecture Series on the Environment

via UWI St Augustine International Consultant Mervyn Claxton discusses Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development

Biodiversity and sustainable development are very closely linked, and our eco-indigenous agricultural knowledge could provide the key to managing both.

“The indigenous knowledge systems of the peoples of the South constitute the world largest reservoir of knowledge of the diverse species of plant and animal life on earth,” said Mervyn Claxton, international consultant, researcher and author.

He was delivering the Third Lecture in The Cropper Foundation’s Distinguished Lecture Series on the Environment. Themed “Indigenous Knowledge and Sustainable Development”, this free and public lecture took place on September 1st at The UWI Faculty of Engineering Lecture Theatre 1, Block 13.

“Ecological agriculture, organic agriculture, and conservation agriculture are the names employed by modern science to describe the methods, techniques, and practices which the indigenous peoples of the South have applied for many centuries. Ecological agriculture, or to use its original name, indigenous agricultural knowledge, is recognized by a growing number of scientists as the most effective method of promoting sustainable development,” he said.

Held in collaboration with The Ministry of Housing and the Environment and The University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, the lecture was meant to contribute to public awareness and education on the multiple dimensions and issues of sustainable development. Claxton identified industry, conventional agriculture, deforestation and transport as the four major sources of greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change, and he explained that ecological agriculture sequesters carbon from the atmosphere more cheaply and more effectively than CCS.

“Eco-indigenous knowledge should possibly be considered the essential factor in solutions for the problems of preserving biodiversity, promoting sustainable development, and mitigating climate change. Those three problems, arguably, constitute the most important challenges that confront mankind today,” he said.

Claxton was a college teacher in West Africa for five years, a diplomat with the Trinidad and Tobago Foreign Service for twelve years, and an international civil servant for nineteen years with UNESCO, where he served in a number of senior positions, including that of UNESCO Representative to the Caribbean. He put forward a compelling argument for the preservation of the co-indigenous knowledge of these societies and cultures of the South.

“By concentrating almost exclusively on the physical cultural heritage while almost totally ignoring their non-physical heritage, countries of the South are selling themselves short. They deprive themselves of the enormous developmental potential of their eco-indigenous knowledge systems. What is required, therefore, is a redefinition of the international community’s working definition of culture to include eco-indigenous knowledge. With such a redefinition, the parameters within which international or national action is taken would be adjusted accordingly. Because eco-indigenous knowledge is passed down orally, from generation to generation, it risks being lost forever if it is not transcribed or recorded for posterity. Preserving that extremely important fragile knowledge from extinction deserves, at the very least, the same amount of resources and energy currently being invested in the protection, restoration and conservation of monuments.”

The evening also included the launch of “Moving Right Along”, by Professor Funso Aiyejina, Dean of The UWI St Augustine Faculty of Humanities and Education. “Moving Right Along” is an anthology of short stories from participants in The Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshops, held between 2000 and 2008. The anthology is dedicated to the late John Cropper, co-founder of The Cropper Foundation.

For more information, please contact Mrs. Indira Ousman, Administrative Assistant, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, at Indira.Ousman@sta.uwi.edu or (868) 662-2002 Ext. 3903.