Indigenous and traditional knowledge in Nepal and its role in scaling up climate action


Nepal's many Indigenous communities already live sustainable lives

The Kathmandu Valley in the morning
Teaser Image Caption
The Kathmandu valley, home to traditional irrigation and the Guthi system

The Nepalese government recognized 59 Indigenous communities in 2002. According to the 2011 National Census, the total number of Indigenous Peoples in Nepal is 9,267,870, accounting for 35.6 percent of the overall population. With over 92 mother tongues spoken by many Indigenous nationalities, it is a country rich in cultural diversity. Because the majority of Nepal's Indigenous Peoples still rely on forests for their livelihoods and have a symbiotic relationship with the forest and natural resources, sustainable forest and biodiversity management is critical for preserving their distinct identity and customary practices, as well as their ability to pass them down to future generations.

Forest and Biodiversity

For hundreds of years, Nepal's Ngisyangwas community has followed traditional leadership and instruction in conserving and managing forests, arable land, and pasture fields. The forests are crucial for the health and well-being of the community in more than way, including as a source of medicinal plants. Since ancient times, Nepal has utilized the Amchi system of medicine, which unlike Western medical practice taught in universities, is hereditary and knowledge is passed down from one generation to another. It is said to have begun sometime between the 7th and 12th centuries. This medical system is founded on spiritual practice, invoking the fundamental medical treatise which assumes that an imbalance of three humors (wind, bile and phlegm) has an effect on the disease pattern, too. Medicinal herbs, minerals and natural products from the Himalaya form the basis for medical products and alternative, curative treatment.  It is useful for good health and the recovery from different acute and chronic disorders. By counter-acting the environmental impact of allopathic antibiotics and its misuse, proper utilization, preservation, and promotion of these medicinal plants can aid in recovery of people and the planet.

In Nepal, community forestry is an effective participatory strategy for forest protection and management. To date, Nepal's forests have been handed to up to 11,000 forest user organizations, totaling around 850,000 hectares. The Indigenous system of forest management not only conserves forest biodiversity but also generates money for the community. In addition, gifting a Chiuri (Bassia butyraceous Roxb) plant as a wedding gift to their daughters is an ancient Chepang tradition that helps to protect biodiversity linked with the plant species.

Water Resources

In Kathmandu, there are around 300 Hitis (stone spouts) and ponds that respond to climate change impacts by recharging groundwater and assisting in the fight against water scarcity. Because their engineering was in touch with nature, the Hitis have lasted for 1500 years in Nepal and are still being used. Farmers in Nepal have created traditional irrigation systems and water allocation mechanisms. Sancho, a device made from a tree trunk that is inserted in an irrigation canal to distribute water to smaller canals that service farming plots, is a good example. The promotion of local and Indigenous water management knowledge, technologies, and practices open up possibilities for incorporating them into climate change adaptation strategies, particularly in terms of making irrigation systems more resilient to support local livelihoods and food security in the face of increased climate change stress.

Social Network

In the Kathmandu valley, Guthi, a loose social network with an inherited or voluntary membership of the Newar society system, is linked to a type of land tenure system, religious and philanthropic endowments, foundations, trusts, and oil-processing cooperatives, and has jurisdictional, social, and celebratory functions. The origins of the Guthi system are unknown. Different Guthis in the Bhaktapur district are in charge of irrigation canals, water delivery systems, community buildings, and temples. Its governance system encourages a sense of community ownership and places decisions in the hands of an experienced person to maintain the institution's credibility. As social, economic, and environmental systems evolve, the Guthi has been instrumental in exploring and promoting strategies to maintain social capital. Relying on the credibility of the Guthi, the local community's trust is assured, and the network can be imaginatively used to suit local adaption demands.

Other Ancestral Practices

Eco-friendly woven baskets are important craftwork of the Tharu community in Nepal's lowlands. Traditional Tharu houses are one of the more sustainable designs for the Terai region's various climates, as they are better in terms of thermal performance and earthquake resilience. Some Indigenous and ancestral knowledge that is prevalent in many communities includes using cattle urine as pesticides, manufacturing rope from tree bark, pottery making, drying foods to save for the future to prevent food insecurity, and so on. These practices and traditions contribute directly to the reduction of plastic usage and the promotion of a green economy. Honey hunting is an ancient traditional knowledge used by many Indigenous communities in Nepal's mountainous regions. Honey is a nutrient-dense product that can be used to treat a variety of ailments. The bees are necessary for maintaining ecological balance and biodiversity in nature. Traditional wisdom is used by villagers to build routes for humans and animals in rural regions, as well as to preserve slope stability by calculating the width and height of steps. Communities also construct drywall and biological barriers to protect communities from flooding, landslides, erosion, side-cutting, and slope failure. Communities' capacity to tolerate new stressors and adapt to the disaster impacts that climate change may increase can be enhanced by this knowledge base and practices.

Nepal's Indigenous and local people are working together to use Indigenous, traditional, and local knowledge to address climatic and non-climatic stresses. These initiatives have aided the evolution of various types of adaptation techniques in response to climate change susceptibility and repercussions over the centuries. Indigenous and local initiatives can help in limiting the consequences of climate change and improving the resilience of community-based development plans and programs within a limited range. Because Indigenous peoples' traditional knowledge and cultural practices have a tight symbiotic relationship with nature, encouraging and maintaining them will help to ensure a more sustainable environment, livelihoods, and development. Adverse impacts on traditional livelihoods and the ecosystem will also mean loss of traditional knowledge, innovations, and practices associated with these livelihoods and ecosystems.