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The “climatic” story of Africa as told by the Indigenous Peoples

March 21, 2014

For centuries, the griots have been the custodians of the history of the sub-saharan African population. Are they on the verge of losing the monopole as knowledge-holders? The Bororo herders are now telling and mostly writing their "climatic" history, or even, more simply, their history. A performance made possible thanks to Participatory 3-Dimensional Modelling (P3DM). This way of approaching land use management reconciles traditional and modern meteorological knowledge systems with advanced technology (GPS, satellite, software...) to encourage dialogue among peasants, researchers and decision-makers with the aim to document and share knowledge and more importantly, to influence policies in rural development.

In 2012, Babokoum located in the southern part of Chad at the borders of Cameroon and Central African Republic,the professional Training Centre welcomed some rather peculiar visitors. The visitors came from Niger, Kenya, Tanzania and other regions within Chad, to participate in a workshop on a sensitive topic: conflict prevention between herders and farmers and the development of a 3D model of the area. The workshop is co-organised by LAssociation des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT) and the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee (IPACC), with support provided by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation EU-ACP (CTA).

The men, with greying beards and mostly wearing turbans, and the women wrapped in veils or printed cloths, wander into the large yard of the Centre. By their side, a cartographer, Barthlemy Mambi Mboika, equipped with his GPS, and a specialist in participatory approaches, Dr. Nigel Crawhall. In groups of eight or twelve, they pulled out tufts of grass, branches, collected stones . all in good spirit. But what treasures are they looking for and for what purpose?

Applied research laboratory

Answers to these questions are partly found in one of the classrooms that have been transformed into a laboratory. Each group creates, with whatever has been collected in nature, a miniature version of the Training Centre and its immediate environment: hills, trails, fields...What seems to be childs play therefore allows for creative legend-making to the uninitiated, most of who speak neither French nor English. Each dot represents a village; a line represents a road or a river depending on the colour, etc.

This representation is the prelude to a series of other exercises that will enable participants to produce a 3D model to professional standards with woollen threads, glue, paint, GPS and computers. The pastoralists therefore, bit by bit, write the story of their region, of its streams, roads, fields, hills, cattle grazing routes, etc.

Linguistic sophistication

Producing this type of 3D model is a performance that is both technical and socio-linguistic. In order to make these populations become key players in the production of this model, their languages must be used. This can sometimes prove immensely surprising. Did you know for instance that in Bororo, there are several terms to describe different types of streams as well as their perennial or temporary nature? Words or expressions can vary to describe water, trees, and pastures according to their use and when best to use them. Therefore, at certain times of the year, pastoralists tend to use laingl or streams as water supply for their cattle instead of going all the way to the mayel or river, difficult to access due to the fields which block the cattle corridors. Nigel Crawhalls skill is to assist the participants in reviving some of these terms and to find the corresponding words in French and English. It can sometimes be a complicated exercise as the Bororos display extreme linguistic sophistication when it comes to biodiversity. There are sometimes unnoticed slight differences for the uninitiated between mayel, mayeel, tchelol and ilaangol which define a large river, a river, the arm of the river, a creak or a swamp respectively. Debates on the meaning of words call the attention on the disappearance of some terms or expressions because what they actually describe does not exist anymore. In this context, the participatory mapping as a system and tool for land use represents an excellent indicator of the risks that certain languages face: as plants become extinct, words are forgotten and dialects dry out and die.

Democratic forum

In the classroom, transformed into a geographical institute, discussions flowed. Women and youth, generally sidelined in public debates in their hamlets, participated actively. The implementation of the model creates awareness for everyone with regards the degradation of flora, the extinction of wildlife, and the rights which are recognized or denied depending on the type of users, on the lack of resource, management or assignment to a particular type of activity Hindou Oumarou, the Co-ordinator of AFPAT, is positive about this appropriation of public space by women: They know their environment. They are the ones who fetch water and wood. They take care of the cattle and small farming. They share with their men their knowledge and how to adapt (in terms of climatic changes editors note) and negotiate new roles in the development of their households, their environment By offering these women the opportunity to develop their skills, to debate with men on strategic topics such as the use of natural resources, human rights, citizenship, to value and consider their opinion, an ordinary model, as it is being built, becomes a powerful tool for promoting gender.

Dialogue with the authorities

Within ten days, and with the help of part of the Babokoum population, a carpenter and students, the model is ready. Its multiple colours, reflections of the lush nature of this part of Chad, form a masterpiece. Debates over its construction give it the status of school of knowledge and of citizen dialogue. In fact, the model building not only enables the sharing of knowledge among generations but also encourages the disenfranchising of development stakeholders by offering them an exchange platform on sensitive topics that are rarely brought up. This is precisely what happened on the day when the model was presented to local and regional authorities. On that day, in the crowded yard of the Babokoum Training Centre , pastoralists were in the spotlight. After receiving their certificates rewarding them of days and nights of hard-work, they presented their work. The model in front of them, they told the history of their living environment, impressing the authorities with their depth of their knowledge. They explained the decrease in soil fertility, the drying up of streams, the decrease and even the disappearance of transhumance corridors, some of which date back to the colonial period. The governor of Eastern Logone province and the President of the Comit Provisoire des Gestion des Revenues Ptroliers (CPGRP) do not miss a single word of the spokespersons brilliant explanations. Afterwards, it was time for the Q&A. What is the current state of the forests?, What is the impact of the expansion of cassava fields on the environment?, Where are the transhumance corridors? Officials questioned the herders who answered assertively. Isnt there a saying in Africa that states that the sound of the flute is more melodious coming from the mouth of the musician? It is hard to find more knowledgeable and better defenders of nature than the Bororo herders as their lives depend closely on that of the wildlife, flora and water courses, they have become their most watchful sentinels.

An appeal tool for decision-makers

Zoning, land-use planning, taking into account everyones interests, pacific co-existenceThe 3D model deals with the concerns of public authorities of many African countries. It allows decision-makers, farmers and herders to deal with all these topics. This role of appeal to the authorities is vital according to Barthlemy Mboika. The decision-makers act as referees while taking into account the rights of each and everyone. They are also the ones meant toengage in sustainable planning,and to develop a zoning plan so that the rights of others are not marginalised and that there is no overlapping usage of the territory. The governor confirms: Our mission is to ensure social peace and pacific co-existence. Investments need to be done for both communities and also to ensure the sustainable use of natural resources.

Great advocacy tool

In the context of development work, the use of maps is not new. Generally, these are what technicians refer to as Orthophoto maps, which they teach ordinary people to interpret. These types of maps are usually limited to one village. They mark the boundaries of the territory, of the fields, point to water streams and sometimes the degradation of the flora. Participatory 3D Modelling is innovative in many ways. Not only is it the work of farmers who create it and make it usable by updating it at regular intervals, but it also categorizes an area and can serve to extrapolate the results to an entire region with similar agro-ecological characteristics in view of raising awareness and to start actions at a regional and national level. It also facilitates the mobilisation of national and international support organisations which have more leverage compare to the village groups in terms of policy dialogue in order to bring about desired institutional and legal changes.

Taking the opportunity of the closing ceremony for starting an advocacy campaign in the presence of officers from the regional administrations (technicians, police force, local administration) may represent an effective strategy, especially if there are plans for follow-up actions giving a second life to the map. The Babokoum Head of Livestock service noted: There are existing frameworks for dialogue: the association of farmers and herders, the association of mediation. Both can use this 3D map as a planning tool.

The 3D model helps communities face six big challenges: to better understand their environment, document their traditional knowledge, resolve conflicts between communities and live peacefully in order to manage more efficiently natural resources which are progressively decreasing, to decide on the development of their region, to start a dialogue with public authorities so as to influence decisions that directly impact on their lives. In order to achieve this, the 3D model must reach out beyond Babokoum. This is exactly what the video does. The movie produced on this original experience has been broadcast to the COP 17, in Doha, Qatar in November 2012, thus getting interest from NGOs from other continents and making charitable organisations aware of the struggle African indigenous people are facing while dealing with climate change adaptation. Freely accessible online, the movie ensures global visibility to this case.

Issues under debate

The 3D model is obviously a great advocacy tool at local, national and international levels. However, it may raise expectations that may not be met. Barthlemy Mboika agrees that The limitation is that the map in itself is not a solution to the issues at hand. The map is simply a tool to facilitate dialogue and that highlights the various issues at play. And Hindou Oumarou adds: The mapping needs political support. A commitment from policy-makers. We need implementing provisions for this map .Without such support, the hope that stems from this map can become just a series of questions that remain unanswered. How can we simply ensure that as soon as it is finalised, the model does not remain stored away in a drawer? What is to be done for instance to allow the passage of cattle along their transhumance roots passing through agricultural without threatening the fragile social peace? How could national laws coexist with local conventions without stepping into illegality? And then, as a Sahelian living in the flat land of Burkina, I ask myself this: when will there be a participatory mapping adapted to the savannah? Who will bring me this answer? However, these questions should not detract us from the main point: the developing world possesses a great tool that can contribute to the good management of natural resources, promoting peace and mitigating the impact of climatic changes.

For more details, contact: Giacomo Rambaldi, Senior Programme Coordinator, CTA

Email: Rambaldi@cta.int