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 organisation 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 recognising 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 organisations 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.