Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems


CIKS Research Programmes

CIKS Focus Areas

The identification of CIKS focus areas was influenced by existing national challenges of healthcare provision, food security, environmental degradation, including climate change and transformation of education system. The ecological location and existing IKS capacity of CIKS partner institutions, namely, University of KwaZulu-Natal, North-West University, University of Limpopo, University of South Africa and University of Venda provided the basis for the CIKS thematic focus areas.

The focus areas include traditional medicine, food security, biodiversity and environmental management, including climate change adaptation and mitigation and IKS curriculum development.

There has been a noticeable shift in IKS research and postgraduate training IKS dominance from the Humanities to Natural, Applied and Health Sciences as a result of CIKS advancing its research focus areas.  This has enhanced multi-transdisciplinarity in institutional research and productivity.  CIKS research has involved experiential learning for CIKS students through partnership with organisations involved in integration of IKS in their core businesses. For instance: CIKS partnership with EThekwini Municipality, Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland and GreenCamp Gallery Project, Durban, South Africa. Integration of IKS in Urban Organic Farming value chain as an Innovative Solution to Unemployment and Food Insecurity.

Traditional Medicine

Most of the CIKS partner institutions are located in predominantly rural provinces characterised by limited modern healthcare services. The majority of the people depend on traditional medicine (TM) for primary healthcare. The CIKS partner institutions were before its inception (2014) engaged in the promotion of TM in terms of research, teaching and community engagement. The CIKS realizes that there is a symbiotic relationship between African Traditional Medicine (ATM) and conservation of biodiversity through sustainable harvesting to prevent biodiversity loss. Therefore, it collaborates with African Traditional Health Practitioners (ATHPs) in research, human capital development and promoting sustainable harvesting of medicinal plant species, to protect, promote and preserve ATM and associated biological resources and knowledge systems. The CIKS also recognizes the importance of interfacing TM with other knowledge systems including the pharmaceutical sciences to meet the global challenges of public healthcare such as dread diseases (HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria, Diabetes, etc.)

Indigenous Food Security

The CIKS advances the promotion of community-based knowledge systems as a viable solution to mitigate against national and global ecological challenges affecting sustainable food security, biodiversity, human and environmental health.  This is based on the argument that local and global strategies that work in harmony with nature are more accessible, affordable and hence sustainable. In South Africa and Africa at large, smallholder farmers, the majority being rural women, depend on their IKS including locally available resources for food security and environmental management. They have been able to produce food with minimal conventional practices. This implies that the promotion of IK-based food security strategies and biodiversity need to be taken seriously in agricultural policy development, with the active participation of IK-holders and practitioners themselves.

Environmental Management and Climate Change

In their pursuit for African human and other natural resources, the colonizers in Africa engaged in exploitation these resources without much consideration of the IKS including value and belief systems, which formed the symbiotic relationship between African people and their natural environment.  The CIKS recognises the role played by Indigenous ways of knowing and value systems in environmental management and biodiversity conservation  as reflected in their cultural beliefs and practices (e.g.: role of ancestral spirits, taboos and totems). The CIKS acknowledges the impact of climate change on environment and biodiversity through the loss of biological species and knowledge systems. The CIKS promotes the holistic approach to climate change adaptation and mitigation by realising the symbiotic relationship between human livelihood and the natural environment, including the spiritual world. These community-based knowledge systems need to be taken seriously in the design and adaptation of modern mitigation and adaptation policy strategies. The CIKS partner institutions in collaboration with community knowledge holders and other stakeholders from within and outside South Africa are active in research and human capital development to promote IKS associated with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

IKS in Curriculum Development

One of the major challenges facing IKS development in the lack of critical mass of human capital conversant with IKS worldviews (ontology), ways of knowing (epistemology), research methodologies and value systems (axiology). CIKS acknowledges the increasing realization that indigenous peoples and communities throughout the world have for millennia sustained their unique worldviews and associated knowledge systems in relation to the environment, even while undergoing major social upheavals because of transformative forces beyond their control. The depth of these knowledge systems rooted in the long inhabitation of a particular ecosystem offers lessons that can benefit everyone, from educator to scientist, as we search for a more satisfying and sustainable way to live on this planet. Therefore, the CIKS has since its inception recognized that one strategy of building a critical mass of IKS human capital and ensuring the transformative sustainability of IKS is to integrate it in the educational system at all levels. CIKS recognizes that a significant –paradigm shift” is under way in which indigenous knowledge is recognized as constituting complex knowledge systems with an adaptive integrity of their own.

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