SRISTI – Society for Research and Initiatives for
Sustainable Technologies and Institutions – came into existence in 1993, as a
result of the felt need for institutional support to the activities of the
Honey Bee Network. This network, with presence in more than 75 countries, is populated
by innovators, farmers, scholars, academicians, policymakers, entrepreneurs and
non-governmental organizations (NGOs). At the core of this network is the
belief that a knowledge system, in order to become sustainable, has to be just.
Hence, while collecting knowledge from the knowledge holder or the grassroots
innovator, the network has made it a norm to acknowledge their contribution
with name and reference, unless the individual prefers to be anonymous. Further,
from any proceeds that accrue from the value addition of local traditional
knowledge and innovation, a reasonable share goes back to the knowledge
holders.

The inspiration for the network can be understood from this
point of view: While there are numerous public/private channels for diffusing
innovations produced in the formal sector, similar channels with regard to
informal innovations are not available. Despite all claims about participatory
research and action, seldom are creative innovators and traditional knowledge
holders provided with equitable opportunity to do research themselves as well
as in partnership or by hiring formal researchers. Further, people’s knowledge
has been utilized in some cases for developing value-added products. In most cases,
the beneficiaries of value-added products were not the same as the providers of
the knowledge. Thus, the knowledge asymmetry reinforces the subsequent
asymmetry in communication, power, benefit and reward sharing.

So far, Honey Bee Network claims to have documented more
than 100,000 ideas, innovations and traditional knowledge practices.

From creation to
fulfilment

Based in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, SRISTI is a registered
charitable organization under Bombay Public Trust Act, 1950. The defining goals
of SRISTI are to: validate and add value to local innovations through
experiments (on farm and on-station) and laboratory research for generating
nature-friendly sustainable technologies; systematically document, disseminate
and develop grassroots green innovations; conserve local biodiversity through
in-situ and ex-situ gene banks managed by local people; protect the intellectual
property rights of grassroots innovators and to generate incentive models for
recognizing and rewarding grassroots creativity; and provide venture support to
grassroots innovators to scale up products and services through commercial or
non-commercial channels. SRISTI Innovations has, in fact, developed many herbal
formulations, the use of which is expected to cure certain diseases suffered by
human beings, animals and agricultural crops.
 

In many cases, the insights learnt from local innovations
can help extend the frontiers of modern science. In the case of herbal
medicine, the studies have shown that as many as seventy-four per cent of the
human plant-derived drugs are used for the same purpose for which local
communities and tribal people use these plants (Farnsworth 1981). What modern
science did was to make the methods of extraction, formulation, storage, and
delivery more efficient, or in some cases generate a synthetic analogue of the
active compounds. Unfortunately, in almost no case, modern private or other
public sector organizations have ever shared any gain from this knowledge with
the local communities or individual innovators.
 

A critical part of the linkage is ensuring access to
information. Most of the grassroots innovators do not have access to relevant
information, which compromises their ability to raise resources and explore
opportunities in different markets. It is equally important that the
information be available in local languages and in a manner that people can
understand. Thus far, six regional language versions of the Honey Bee
newsletter have been in circulation: in Tamil, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam
and Oriya.
 

The Honey Bee Network of grassroots innovators has proved
that technological and institutional innovations developed by individuals and
communities can provide a new way of thinking about conservation of diversity,
generation of sustainable alternatives for natural resource management through
self-supporting and viable economic and non-economic options, and augmenting
self-reliant livelihood strategies.