“Traditional knowledge is rooted in the traditional life of Aboriginal people. Certain issues are firmly grounded in traditional knowledge, such as harvesting, use of lands and resources for traditional purposes, cultural well-being, heritage resources, and others. Although the basis for traditional and local knowledge and science-based knowledge can differ, they may on their own or together, contribute to the understanding of these issues.”

Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency
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Photo: Stanford Zent, Copyright 2012

The Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge is the first quantitative measure of trends in retention or loss of traditional knowledge.

Traditional environmental knowledge (TEK) is a fundamental expression of the biocultural links between people and nature, and is a key to human survival and adaptation. But there is growing concern that rapid socio-economic change is undermining the intergenerational transmission of TEK in many parts of the world. TEK loss threatens the security, well-being, and identity of indigenous peoples and local communities. It also threatens the conservation of biodiversity, as recognized in the policies and programs of international bodies such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).However, while there is an abundance of qualitative observations and a few quantitative studies on the persistence and loss of TEK, what has been missing is a consistent, replicable methodology for measuring trends in TEK in many different locales and at different scales, and therefore for assessing the global status and trends of TEK. The Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge (VITEK) is just such a tool.

Knowledge transmission.  Photo: Stanford Zent, Copyright 2012

For the first time, the VITEK offers a robust, yet practical methodology for gathering and analyzing TEK data and for building a locally appropriate, yet globally applicable, indicator of trends in retention or loss of TEK over time. The VITEK assesses the vitality of TEK within a given group, giving priority to the state of knowledge and practical skills that are directly involved in sustainable use, and that therefore are logically associated with biodiversity conservation. The VITEK assessment involves measuring the differences of knowledge and practices between people of different generations. The results of the test are used to calculate the vitality measure, which can then be employed to compare the status and trends of TEK across communities, regions and countries.

Principal Investigator

Dr. Stanford Zent

Centro de Antropología
Instituto Venezolano de Investigaciones Científicas (IVIC)
Apartado 21827, Caracas 1020-A,
República Bolivariana de Venezuela

email: szent [at] ivic.ve

Test the Vitek Methodology:

The methodology is available to researchers and community members for pilot testing. Download the VITEK Quick Step Methods Guide:

VITEK Quick Step

Download the full version of the VITEK report, including references and bibliography:
VITEK Report -full


2012 VITEK “Conservation Campus” Session at WCC 5, “How to Measure the Loss and Retention of Traditional Knowledge? The Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge”, organized by IUCN, held at the 5th World Conservation Congress in Jeju, Korea, September 2012. read more –>

2011 Application of VITEK recommended by IUCN (participant in the CBD Ad Hoc Technical Expert Group on Indicators for the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020) as an indicator for the Aichi Targets of the Strategic Plan.

2010 VITEK presented in plenary at 1st National Conference on Biodiversity, Gender and Indigenous Knowledge. Agriculture Training Institute, Benguet State University, La Trinidad, Benguet, Philippines, October 6-8, 2010, followed by 1-day workshop on VITEK for indigenous participants.

2009 VITEK presented at Workshop on Indicators of Indigenous Peoples’ Well-Being and Sustainable Development Focussing on Traditional Knowledge, organized by Tebtebba Foundation and Convention on Biological Diversity. Nairobi, Kenya, 1-3 October 2009. Presentation of Terralingua’s Vitality Index of Traditional Environmental Knowledge and Index of Linguistic Diversity.

What others are saying:

“One of the promising areas of work of Terralingua is the development of an index of vitality of traditional ecological knowledge. Especially since the CBD came into force almost two decades ago, the value of traditional ecological knowledge has been increasingly acknowledged; but there is also global awareness that it is rapidly disappearing. Yet no systematic approaches have been developed to measure and assess the processes of change in the vitality and functionality of traditional ecological knowledge. Unless this gap is filled, there is no solid way of tackling the problem of its erosion and loss. Terralingua’s contribution in this field is critical to many programmes that focus on or integrate traditional ecological knowledge as part of conservation and sustainable livelihood approaches.”

~Gonzalo Oviedo continue reading–>

Photo: Stanford Zent, Copyright 2012