Preserving Indigenous Knowledge in Rural Communities for Sustainable Development

Preserving Indigenous Knowledge in Rural Communities for Sustainable Development

Ibrahim Ali Makawi Ahmed

Rural development expert

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Enhancing Knowledge Management Systems at the Village Level for Sustainable Development

Nowadays Knowledge Management (KM) has become a very important issue that is raised at all levels of management such as Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The interest in KM is due to its vital and essential role in the development and change process towards a better future. On the other hand, rural communities have a huge fortune of knowledge and experience that forms the basis of development. This base of knowledge is the primary concern of all those involved in development.

For knowledge to have a tangible impact on development, there should be an effective knowledge management system at all levels of any project or organization. And that can’t be done unless we discover the existing experience and skills (of those who have a role in KM) and develop it by training and creating awareness about KM.

Types of Knowledge Management KM systems:

The vast fortune of knowledge. 

Despite this diversity, we find that almost all these communities generally have the same KM system. The differences may be in the way the system is run. Below is a model of the most common KM system we can find at the village level in Sudan.

Knowledge creation and capture:

This happens through the adoption and application of individual personal and community experiences in different fields of activity in daily life. For example, farmers, from practicing agriculture, come up with new farming system techniques, a new way of controlling pests, or a new coping strategy against environmental stresses/conditions.

Knowledge sharing:

  • Knowledge documentation: 

Most rural communities depend on verbal passage and memorization (headkeeping) of information and knowledge. For instance, in every village, we find that there are one or two people, always the eldest, who are the resource canter for the village. Few of these communities have a better education level, where we find documentation of their knowledge on papers, pictures, or cassettes.

Knowledge Codifying and Repackaging: 

Rural communities have different ways and styles for codifying and repackaging knowledge to become more valuable, practical, accessible, easy to share, and applicable to different users.

Some common examples/ “tools” are:

  • Poems.
  • Folklore songs and dances.
  • Fantasy stories (Ahaji or folk stories for children).

There are many traditional tools that rural communities use for sharing knowledge:

  • Fantasy stories: 

It is a technique usually used by grandmothers to transfer knowledge to the next generation (children), and it is the most exciting tool for children. That is why these stories live forever in their minds and the community.

  • Social occasions and events: 

Like wedding days or funerals where people gather and chat together.

  • Exchange visits: 

Between individuals and villages, mostly for social events where they exchange their experiences and knowledge.

  • Seasonal migration: 

When villagers migrate to towns in the summer for work, they take their rural knowledge with them and bring back some of the urban area’s knowledge.

  • Poems:

Poems capture in their words the community’s values, knowledge, and good manners.

  • Folklore songs and dances:

Which also expresses the precious values of the community. They are performed in different ways and have different names according to the area of the community:

  1. Coffee songs and dances
  2. Mardoum
  3. Jarrary

Where in (2) and (3) men and women stand in two rows facing each other dancing and the men say an instant (adlib) song directed to the women and the women reply back with a which matching song

Knowledge applying: 

Rural communities are very careful and aware of what knowledge fits and doesn’t. So, they carefully choose and apply the best knowledge that doesn’t conflict with their religion, culture, and traditions. The knowledge base is reviewed periodically to abandon the aspects that don’t match the community criteria at a particular time and to adapt to the new aspects of changing life.

If we look at the system mentioned above, we find that, in most of its stages, it is not planned beforehand and happens automatically or spontaneously without concrete knowledge about knowledge management as a system (and its importance). That is why a lot of the knowledge of the rural communities is not documented, and some of it might get lost.

Examples of Indigenous agri-food practices:

  • At field level:
  1. Rural farmers innovated a new method of controlling pests (for example, mice) from attacking the fields of millet and ground nuts after cultivation by mixing Tombac (a type of dry Tobacco that has a very nasty smell) with the seeds, which works as a repellent. This practice is normally shared during the period of cultivating crops when farmers gather together to help poor farmers cultivate their crops so they don’t miss the season.
  2. In the season of Harvest, one of the smart agriculture practices used by farmers is the process of selecting the best seeds. They choose the well-grown and established plants from which they store the seeds for the next season. This practice is done by old and knowledgeable farmers. In addition, they use The Neem tree leaves as pesticides to control store pests. This practice is shared during the seasonal migration or the exchange visits.
  3. Other Smart-agriculture practices farmers use are intercropping, which they mainly use to reduce the risk of cultivating one crop, especially in fragile areas, diversify their food, and maintain soil fertility. For example, they cultivate legumes with millet and watermelon.
  • At home level:

Where there is a scarcity of water, they use empty bottles and gallons as a tool for drip irrigation on fruit trees. In addition, for the vertical bag farming technique, they use plastic sacks and fill them with soil to cultivate vegetables for family consumption. This is shared during social events like house-to-house visits and coffee gatherings.

To secure food and increase family income to meet agricultural expenses, they breed small ruminants and poultry, which also use their waste for soil fertilization.


The biggest challenge is the lack of awareness about knowledge management among rural communities.

The lack of infrastructure (electricity, networks, technologies) that enables rural communities to learn and improve their practices of knowledge management (KM).


  • Build the capacities of rural communities
  • Establishing and improving KM systems at the village level.
  • Make knowledge resources accessible and useable for rural communities.
  • Providing and improving suitable infrastructure at the community level.

If this is achieved, we can guarantee a smooth flow of knowledge between all levels and a narrowing of the KM gaps. This creates consistency in KM systems at all levels, which, in turn, reduces the burden of KM in the organizations and institutes that deal with and care about KM, and that, in the end, will lead to the desired KM sustainability.


To achieve this goal, we need great effort, coordination,  collaboration, and common consensus between all those concerned with KM and development, especially governments, donors, NGOs, community organizations, and research institutes.

Further reading

The Role of Women in Promoting Positive Food Practices in Africa

The Potential for Combining Hydroponics and Crop Circle Farming with Traditional Practices


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