Memory Web Project; A Concept Paper

Background and Objectives

The memory web will build on the results of memory banking -- the documentation of indigenous knowledge associated with traditional crop varieties and related soil and water management practices -- in three SANREM CRSP major research sites (in the Philippines, Ecuador, and Burkina Faso), and possibly the American Southeast (through the Southern Seed Legacy), and the American Southwest (through Native Seed Search and the Rio Grande Bioregions Project). The research project will systematically preserve local beliefs and practices pertaining to agriculture and natural resource management in a relational data base, train local youth in recording their elders' memories, and enable farmers from participating sites to exchange relevant sustainable technologies as well as control access to such information.

Rationale and Significance

Memories are priceless and fragile. Ill-conceived, aggressive introduction of crop varieties and agricultural technologies weather and erode not only the biodiversity on which sustainability in large part depends but also the very fabric of cultural adaptability that allows diversity to flourish. Moreover, migration and other types of human displacement bring about dissonance between familiar management practices and new environments and seriously strain and distort a sense of place as well as a sense of worth. Yet there are pockets of memories that remain vital mainly through the marginality of its bearers from wholesale commercialization of production or their persistence in maintaining a way of life that nurtures plants, water, and soils due to values that are difficult to quantify.

Through the memory web we will create cultural corridors that will facilite the exchange of knowledge from one "memory reserve" to another and thus strengthen and revitalize these pockets of memories. This will be analagous and complementary to ecologists' efforts to establish biological corridors to enhance the movement of life forms from one area to another and in the process stabilize those areas against the loss of biodiversity. The idea is integral to SANREM's philosophy of landscape/lifescape integration through local participation. By carefully documenting indigenous knowledge and training local people to preserve their own memories, this effort will likewise address international issues on plant genetic resources particularly the debate on intellectual property rights and related questions of authorship and compensation.


The memory web will be based on the systematic documentation of local knowledge pertaining to agriculture and natural resource management. The process will be (and has been in the case of the Philippines) initiated by researchers (see Memory Banking Protocol, Nazarea-Sandoval, 1994) but in the subsequent phase the lead role will be passed on to the local youth. A model for this undertaking can be found right in the American South in a project called Foxfire that was started by Elliot Wigginton and his students in the Appalachian mountains of North Georgia in 1966.

The local youth will be trained in the philosophy and methodology of memory banking and also introduced to a user-friendly menu- and icon- driven program that will allow them and their elders to record and retrieve information using a relational data base to be developed at the Journalism (Telecommunications) Department of UGA. Upon obtaining local consent, the information will be placed on the Web, with layers of access that will be controlled by the local population. This will enable efficient, worldwide sharing of knowledge but also attribute authorship to local people and foster self-determination. It will, in addition, allow local populations and researchers to actually keep track of who accesses the information on the Memory Web.

The computer information system will, however, be only one part of the memory web. Cultural corridors will also be cultivated and strengthened through more traditional means of communication including oral histories, rituals related to planting and environmental conservation, poetry, drama, and visual arts. An important part of the project will be to thoroughly research these traditional means of information exchange in each area and to find out which ones will be most effective in sharing sustainable local technologies both within site and across sites. Farmer exchange visits among the sites can be another potent mechanism for establishing the cultural corridors.

Potential Partners

Ethnoecology/Biodiversity Laboratory, Department of Anthropology, UGA, Telecommunications Laboratory, Journalism Department, UGA, SANREM CRSP, SARE/ACE, and Lessons Without Borders Southern Seed Legacy, Native Seed Search, and Rio Grande Bioregions Project Local schools and universities Local community groups (Youth, Farmers, Mothers, Elders, etc.) in each site Community-based NGOs

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