Indigenous Knowledge as Resource to Sustain Self-Employment in Rural Development

Indigenous Knowledge as Resource to Sustain Self-Employment in Rural Development

Ladislaus M. Semali (Mwenge Catholic University, Tanzania)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-4197-4.ch008
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This chapter explores the ways African rural youths and women seek opportunities to innovate and adapt indigenous knowledge as a locally developed resource of community resilience in the attempt to reduce household poverty. The two case groups discussed in this chapter engaged in self-employment enterprises. They drew upon their ecological and cultural knowledge, enabling themselves through shoestring budgets to sustain their livelihood and community wellbeing. The chapter shows that unemployment affects young people and rural women from all occupations and ethnic groups, a situation that puts them in a vulnerable and precarious living condition. The analysis showed that for most of youth found on the Tanzania's streets and urban municipalities, a secondary education has not proven useful in practical knowledge, skills, values or attitudes necessary to enter the world of work or to become self-employed.
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This chapter draws analysis from a case study of African youth and women’s emerging self-mobilized social learning processes in the recollection and application of agricultural knowledge to overcome household poverty. In this example, the youth draw upon their cultural knowledge as a resource of community resilience by enabling themselves to sustain their livelihoods and community wellbeing. Concurrently, local knowledge can serve as a resource of desperate members of the local community by drawing on resilience that enables people to sustain their livelihoods and adapt to new economic realities (Shava, Tidball, O’Donoghue, & Zazu, 2010).

The present study pulls from data collected from rural youth and women in Tanzania. These two groups engaged in self-employment to alleviate household poverty. Today’s advocates, educators, policymakers, researchers and theorists are grappling with new and changing understandings of the causes of poverty, and priorities to overcome incidences of poverty (Bagachwa, 1994; URT, 2005).

More importantly, the term “poverty” has gained many meanings, suggesting diverse, and sometimes, conflicting priorities for action. In common usage, however, is the distinction made between economic or financial poverty, relative poverty and extreme poverty. First, economic poverty refers primarily to financial poverty that reflects insufficient incomes or per capita consumption (Carter & Barrett, 2006; Ravallion, 2001). Second, relative poverty (meaning subjectively experienced poverty) is a potentially crucial determinant of political identity, organization and action (Cooskey, 1994; Foster, 1998).

This chapter builds on work that addresses locally developed resource-use practices in overcoming poverty in the context of complex adaptive systems and their capacity to deal with uncertainty and surprise related shocks of economic and relative poverty (Berkes, Folke, & Colding, 2000; Olsson & Folke 2001; Berkes & Folke 2002). Uncertain times are often imposed on the most vulnerable segments of society when disaster strikes: for example, when war breaks out, shifts in climate and severe weather resulting in drought or flooding, and so on. The immediate consequences of these disasters often are displacement of people, disruption of agriculture that disable existing food cultivation and storage systems. This situation inevitably results into economic and relative poverty. However, nations, people and societies are resilient and always have traditional mechanisms to aid them recover even though it may take a long time.

To illustrate how management practices can contribute to resilience, Berkes and Folke (2002) relate traditional resource-use practices to the heuristic model of adaptive renewal developed by Holling (Holling 1986; Holling, & Gunderson, 2002). The model claims that systems pass through a period of accumulation and consolidation called the “frontloop.” This situation is disrupted by a period of rapid change, called the “backloop,” that is characterized by release, renewal, and reorganization.

These perspectives were adopted in this study to analyze the entrepreneurial dynamics of rural youth called Bodaboda Boys and Jitahidi Women of Tanzania, who form the majority of the rural population. The author examined the roles youth and women played in adopting local knowledge for their advantage to manage and augment their low incomes to reduce household poverty. In some instances, groups of youth and women were self-employed and on other occasions, they collaborated to establish local enterprises such as raising pigs, growing vegetables and fruits, and reversing the common use of motorcycles as private means of transportation to vehicles of public mass transportation of humans and goods.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Capability Approach: A novel way of thinking about well-being, development and justice that gives abilities and the opportunities to people to do or manage their own affairs.

Self-Employment: A means to be both an employee and the employer of oneself; one renders and controls services. To be self-employed or to aspire to become one requires special aptitudes and talents, such entrepreneurial skills, innovation, discovery and desire to solve problems.

Social Change: A process that aims to transform individuals and embraces the capability approach to augment years of gender discrimination, socio-economic inequalities, disempowerment, and poverty.

School-to-Work Transition: A recent development, associated with change, waiting, and uncertainty. The route from schooling to employment is often depicted nowadays as long and perilous, unlike the short and direct routes presumed available to previous generations.

Empowerment: The ability to make choices in one’s life and to overcome inequality and address resource gaps in education, employment, and political participation.

Community Organizing: To let grassroots people set the agenda and destiny of their affairs, not setting it for them.

Indigenous Knowledge: Also referred as traditional ecological knowledge, is an invaluable resource to overcome challenges of uncertainty and disturbances in many local communities. It is the cumulative body of knowledge, practices, and beliefs about the relationships of living beings, including humans, to one another and to the environment.

Poverty Trap: A situated cycle of limited access to resources that impedes investment in productive assets or technology, and thus prevents households with poor backgrounds or initial meagre endowments from reaching higher-levels of sufficiency to make a comfortable living.

Self-Reliance: A mindset to engage people of all ages in programs for economic development instead of relying on outsiders and to be willing to work hard for their own improvement.

Women Entrepreneurs: A group of social agents who engage other women in the business they conducted every day at the markets and through their practices endeavor to define the possibilities for other women in developing nations seeking poverty reduction, or working to increase literacy levels and desiring to master and apply post-literacy skills for social change.

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