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Protecting Traditional Knowledge Through Cooperation Promoting Cooperation to Protect Traditional Knowledge through a Defensive Strategy in China and Other Countries in Asia

China has a long history and a complex culture. The traditional knowledge that is deeply intertwined with the land, resources, and ecological systems in China has been carried down for centuries. The genetic resources that are associated with traditional knowledge are closely related to the production and lifestyle of communities. The relationship between peoples and resources in China plays a positive role in the conservation of local biodiversity and provides great potential for the sustainable development of the global biotechnology industry.

Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture (referred to as "Xiangxi") is a major region inhabited by the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups. Local communities have cultivated a wide variety of traditional medicines, crops, livestock, and other plants over the centuries. These resources have become the material basis for their local, ethnic cultures and their sources of livelihood.

Local cultures and traditional forms of knowledge impart wisdom that help us understand how our lives are shaped by our relationship to nature and offer valuable insight that can help guide the future. The traditional knowledge related to genetic resources in Xiangxi is widely used in the daily lives of local people, festival celebrations, weddings, funerals, religious ceremonies, and the tradition of conservation of biological diversity. However, due to changing cultural attitudes and ways of life, valuable traditional knowledge is at risk of disappearing in the modern world.

Kujia, the song of crying marriage of the Tujia in Xiangxi

In order to protect traditional knowledge, China is developing a project with the Republic of Korea and other Asian countries through the facilitation of the Bio-Bridge Initiative. The project aims to share best practices between Asian countries regarding official documentation of invaluable traditions, techniques, and cultural practices of local communities that offer insight for the advancement of biological diversity. The main activities of the project include documentation of traditional knowledge, case studies on the utilization of traditional knowledge, and a joint workshop.

The Nanjing Institute of Environmental Sciences of the Ministry of Ecology and Environment of the People's Republic of China (referred to as "NIES") spearheaded the project earlier this year. The China Institute for Environment and Resource Protection of Minority Areas of the Minzu University of China (CIERPMA) have since then contributed significantly to the project. NIES and CIERPMA are currently conducting field studies to document the traditional knowledge of the Xiangxi in the Hunan Province, China.

A joint workshop held in Nanjing, China on May 31st, 2018 offered a platform through which key institutions from China and the Republic of Korea, as well as Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, and Nepal, began to develop a collaborative strategy to promote the protection of traditional knowledge. Documenting traditional knowledge, techniques, and methods of local communities provides valuable insight for understanding how to live in such a way that promotes biological diversity and the sustainable use of resources. Fifteen categories of traditional knowledge of the Tujia and Miao ethnic groups in Xiangxi have been documented thus far.

The fashion industry is at present an industry with one of the largest carbon footprints; however, learning about the traditions of local communities in the Hunan Province teaches methods concerning the sustainable production of clothing. The technique used for blue calico printing and dying involves purely natural materials extracted from certain plants. This process does not use any chemical substances and the natural indigo dye repels insects and disinfects the body. By documenting this technique, which is typically passed down orally, China can better promote the sustainable use and protection of these plants.

Indigo Dye

The experts conducting case studies for the project visited six counties and a city in Xiangxi where they carried out field studies to understand the specific modes of acquisition, as well as to understand access and benefit-sharing of genetic resources. Through field studies, workshops, expert consultations, interviews with key figures, data surveys, case analysis, and questionnaires, experts have developed robust research and case studies regarding the development and sustainable utilization of Xiangxi traditional knowledge. The case studies reviewed the legal issues related to access and benefit-sharing, such as the concepts of "Prior Informed Consent" and "Mutually Agreed Terms" concerning all relevant stakeholders. Other specific methods related to access and benefit-sharing, as well as existing problems and monitoring mechanisms were surveyed in these case studies. To date, five case studies have been completed.

Understanding the mutual relationship between culture and nature is an integral aspect of biodiversity. For instance, the people of Xiangxi have the custom of worshiping and protecting the tree of the Baojing Golden Tea as a fairy. The respect that they have for the Baojing Golden Tea Tree has effectively promoted the protection of this tree in its place of origin. The preservation of the disease-resistant varieties of Baojing Golden Tea is the result of long-term breeding by local Miao people and is closely related to their traditional production methods.

Baojing Golden Tea picking in Hunan Province

The joint workshop that was held on May 31st, 2018 in Nanjing, China is an important component for the implementation of this project. The workshop offered a platform through which key institutions from China, the Republic of Korea, Vietnam, Thailand, and Nepal can develop a collaborative strategy for promoting the protection of traditional knowledge. To this end, the workshop, "International Workshop on Traditional Knowledge Protection Experiences between China and Other Countries in Asia", was organized by NIES. This workshop promoted an in-depth exchange of views among experts and their peers, and those contributions have laid a solid foundation for China to actively carry out exchanges and cooperate with other Asian countries in this field.

By working collaboratively, key institutions from Southeast Asian countries will develop projects and methods that will promote the protection of valuable traditional knowledge within their countries.

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