Walking through fields Mali

The power of indigenous knowledge in strengthening climate resilience


Walking through fields Mali

© © Curt Carnemark / World Bank


A new CTA publication on ‘Indigenous knowledge systems and climate change management in Africa’ was enthusiastically received at its recent formal launch in Johannesburg, South Africa during the 4th Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture on 28-30 November 2017.

At the launch, the publication’s co-editors, CTA’s Dr Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator and Professor Mafongoya, at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, explained the importance of documenting knowledge accumulated by generations of indigenous people to effectively address the climate challenges faced by smallholder farmers in ACP regions. 

For centuries, smallholder farmers have had to rely on local or indigenous knowledge (IK) to conserve the environment and maintain their livelihoods. As a result, rural communities have learnt to read nature’s early warning signs of impending disasters and have developed a strong understanding of different disaster prevention and mitigation techniques from their past experiences. The wealth of knowledge built up over time, as these communities have encountered the effects of climate uncertainty in their daily lives, is a valuable resource for development practitioners and decision- makers. In recent years, IK has increasingly become recognised as integral to the formulation of effective climate adaptation strategies.

The extensive information provided in this publication is split into 15 chapters, which examine case studies from across Africa on the different uses of IK for seasonal predictions of local climates, and the use of IK practices for climate change adaptation. These predictions are based on IK practices using several indicators including tree phenology, animal behaviour and astronomical observations, and facilitate the decision-making of local communities to manage and adapt to climate risks. However, as climate change impacts the reliability of some of these indicators, such as tree phenology, it is important that farmers are supported to integrate their knowledge with scientific seasonal forecasting to enable them to make fully informed decisions. The current threats to IK and the policies and actions that could help to conserve it, are examined by the case study authors, as well as ways to encourage the co-creation of climate knowledge by rural communities and development practitioners. “At CTA, in addition to helping carry out development programmes in the field, we also encourage farmer innovation and the co-creation of knowledge, which we want to make more accessible. So this book was born out of these concerns,” Dr Ajayi explained at the launch.

Indigenous knowledge is still relevant in contemporary situations

The book has also sought to respond to a number of key questions about the different IK practices that are still used by smallholder farmers to manage climate change in Africa and assessing the extent to which this knowledge is still relevant and useful in contemporary situations. With a good understanding of IK, policymakers and development practitioners can integrate this valuable knowledge with scientific research to instigate development initiatives that are environmentally and socially appropriate to the local area, and therefore more sustainable in the long term.

The chapters cover a range of topics from Using indigenous knowledge for seasonal quality prediction in managing climate risk in sub-Saharan Africa to The challenges of documentation and conservation of indigenous knowledge for natural resources management. As CTA director, Michael Hailu, asserts in the foreword, “The present book represents CTA’s commitment to highlighting the contribution of IK to building climate resilience.” To this end, the case studies described under the various headings ultimately demonstrate the clear benefits of supporting the participation of local people at all stages of an intervention intended to improve the lives of rural communities in Africa.

To conclude the authors discuss The future of indigenous knowledge systems and climate sciences, suggesting that IK will play a prominent role in climate science and facilitating the adaptation of smallholder farmers to climate variability. In fact, Dr Ajayi and Professor Mafongoya assess that IK is already seen as pivotal in various development fields, including agroforestry, biodiversity conservation and natural resource management. To expand the use of this valuable knowledge resource to its full potential the publication makes several recommendations, including the documentation of IK systems in databases to prevent any further loss of information; the introduction of laws to safeguard the intellectual property rights of indigenous people; the incorporation of IK systems into national policy and development documents; the integration of IK with modern scientific knowledge; and the public popularisation of IK by teaching it in schools, colleges and universities, among other advocacy activities.

The book is an essential read for all those who are involved in planning climate change projects in Africa, policy makers and those who wish to pursue further studies in this exciting field.

---> To download a copy of Indigenous knowledge systems and climate change management in Africa.

Walking through fields Mali

Walking through fields Mali

© Curt Carnemark / World Bank

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