Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge

Volume 12 of the series World Forests pp 563-588


The Unique Character of Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge: Threats and Challenges Ahead

  • Ronald L. TrosperAffiliated withFaculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia Email author 
  • , John A. ParrottaAffiliated withResearch and Development, U.S. Forest Service
  • , Mauro AgnolettiAffiliated withDipartimento di Scienze e Teconolgie Ambientali Forestali, Facoltà di Agraria, Università di Firenze
  • , Vladimir BocharnikovAffiliated withPacific Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Science
  • , Suzanne A. FearyAffiliated withConservation Management
  • , Mónica GabayAffiliated withSecretariat of Environment and Sustainable Development, Directorate of Forestry
  • , Christian GamborgAffiliated withDanish Centre for Forest, Landscape and Planning, University of Copenhagen
  • , Jésus García LatorreAffiliated withFederal Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment and Water Management
  • , Elisabeth JohannAffiliated withAustrian Forest Association
    • , Andrey LaletinAffiliated withFriends of the Siberian Forests
    • , Lim Hin FuiAffiliated withForest Research Institute Malaysia
    • , Alfred Oteng-YeboahAffiliated withDepartment of Botany, University of Ghana
    • , Miguel Pinedo-VasquezAffiliated withCenter for Environmental Research and Conservation (CERC), Columbia UniversityCenter for International Forest Research (CIFOR)
    • , P. S. RamakrishnanAffiliated withSchool of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University
    • , Youn Yeo-ChangAffiliated withDepartment of Forest Sciences, Seoul National University

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This chapter reflects on the major findings of the lead authors of this book regarding traditional forest-related knowledge (TFRK) using five criteria for distinguishing the unique character of traditional knowledge: (1) its attention to sustainability; (2) relationships to land; (3) identity; (4) reciprocity; and (5) limitations on market involvement. Following an explanation of these criteria, we discuss the definition of “traditional forest-related knowledge,” with some remarks about its resilience. We then consider threats to the maintenance of TFRK, how other definitions of sustainability differ from that used in TFRK, and how relationships that holders of this knowledge have to their land have been weakened and their identities challenged. We highlight how the key role of reciprocity, or the sharing of the utilization of land, is undermined by individualistic motives which are promoted by the global expansion of modern markets (for commodities, ecosystems services and for knowledge itself), which also challenge the policies of traditional knowledge holders to keep market influences under control. We then focus on two notable, but often ignored, contributions of TFRK (and the holders of this knowledge) to forest management today, specifically the preservation of biodiversity, and traditional knowledge-based shifting cultivation practices and their importance for both sustainable management of forests and food security. Finally, we consider enabling conditions for the preservation and development of TFRK, and examine the role of the scientific community in relation to TFRK and principles for successful collaboration between traditional knowledge holders and scientists.


Biodiversity Cultural diversity Forest management Forest science Local communities Indigenous peoples Sustainability Traditional knowledge