Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change

in Africa

What do African herders observing about their weather, what are they knowing and learning about their climate, and what are they doing to adapt to change? Semi-arid areas such as those occupied by pastoral peoples across sub-Saharan Africa are already subject to variable and unpredictable weather/climate, a condition that will be exacerbated due to climate change. Capacities of national authorities to monitor and predict extreme climatic events, to convey this information to remote areas and to engage in a meaningful dialogue with rural populations can be improved when all relevant knowledge, including indigenous knowledge, is made available.

Supported by Sweden and the Japanese Funds-in-Trust to UNESCO, two components contribute to the programme:

  • Empowerment and capacity building of pastoralists to engage in science-policy dialogue
  • Transdisciplinary research that bridges indigenous and scientific knowledge on climate change to reinforce community resilience

 

The project focuses on the Peulh/Fulani pastoralists of Seno Province in the Burkina Faso's Sahel region, the driest region of the country. Sahelian agro-pastoralists communities, practice transhumance, moving people and animals in search of water and pasture.

Fulani read the stars to inform both their farming and pastoralist endeavors. The stars help determine the beginning of the crop season. At the time of the year when the stars have the shape of a hoe, the community starts preparing fields for crops. Years of drought have become more frequent and more severe leading to heavy animal losses, the disappearance of pastures and the rapid depletion of retained water. The increasingly late onset of the rainy season and the prolonged ‘lean season’ affect the animals and therefore the pastoralists. The project aims to strengthen capacity of communities in their dialogue with national weather services, at the same time, it will help improve dialogues between the pastoralists and farming communities, and it will look at technologies such as community radio as a means to share and disseminate forecasts.

The project proponents are traditional leaders of their Peulh community. As president of the Sahel Traditional Breeders Association (Dawla Sahel) and as part of the Burkina Breeders Federation (FEB), the main partner has over fifteen years’ experience bringing his community together with climate scientists and the National Weather Service, including via the West African Seasonal Forecast (PRESAO) initiative.

The project will be conducted in Chad with the M’bororo, specifically a subgroup called ‘Mbimbé Woïla' one of the few pastoralist communities that are fully nomadic.

The M’bororo people is famous for herding red longhorn cattle and for their practice seasonal movement of people with their stocks. They developed a large array of traditional practices and weather forecasting based on their interactions in their living environment. During the dry season, the group can be found near Lake Chad and may travel across the borders of Chad-Cameroon-Nigeria if the season is bad. Their movement over large distances provide an opportunity for understanding how their decision-making is influenced by different factors, including availability and quality of pasture. Seasonal calendar and the observation of the stars, for instance, are commonly used to predict rainfall trends and seasonal changes. By bringing this knowledge to the fore, decision-makers and the community can work together to understand how to increase local-level resilience.

The project proponents are M’bororo women working with their communities and who have also prior experience working with their national meteorological service and relevant ministries.

The study will be conducted in Aba'ala district in the Zone two of Afar regional state in Ethiopia, among the Afar, the second largest pastoral community in Ethiopia. Spatial and temporal climate variability is a characteristic feature of the Afar landscape. Climate and its variability is very important in Afar pastoralists' livelihoods that traditionally the Afar have meticulous seven season calendar identifying exact dates and localities of rainy periods including rainy periods of Segum, Karma, Konayto, Datrob, Debaba, Zeza’e, and Gilal. A common Afar proverb- "Rain discriminates between two horns of an ox'' also indicates how Afar emphasize the importance of spatial climatic variability. Afar have three words: "Abara", "Adalsa" and "Hagaya" describing different temporal subtleties of droughts. While these traditional weather calendars and systems, involving climate foretellers, have been very important in guiding the pastoral livestock production system in Afar, increased climate variability and recurrence of drought have made the Afar to develop variants of these systems and seek support from other sources such as the formal climate information system. However, since most Afar households have no access to updated formal weather information and many cannot effectively interpret it, the traditional systems are still important.

This project will document and appraise a locally pertinent knowledge system, and by doing so, will help in its integration with formal climate knowledge system for the development of a locally relevant climate information and adaptation policy. The methods to be used will include focused group discussions, individual interviews, and case studies involving clan leaders, elderly women, 'Edo' scouts (traditional rangeland scouts experienced in assessment of rangeland condition and weather), traditional weather foretellers (magicians) and Adda elders (customary leaders), and ordinary pastoral households. The researcher is an assistant Professor at Mekelle University in Ethiopia and has over a decade of experience working with Afar pastoralists. His previous publications include Encomium of the Camel: The Oral Sung Poetry of the Afar Pastoralists of Ethiopia.

Bahima pastoralists are Bantu speaking ethnic group which depend on livestock production mainly the Ankole long horn cows. Similar to other pastoralist groups in Africa, the Bahima are a strictly patriarchal society. Men are the sole owners and inheritors of household assets including cattle. Due to increased population pressure and pastoral land dispossession for the purpose of private ranching and other private investments, there is a great deal of rangeland degradation and deforestation in the Bahima land. The project seeks to understand the knowledge of herders in relation to their cattle, in particular the indigenous Ankole breed.

The project proponent is a Program Officer with the Pastoral and Environmental Network in the Horn of Africa (PENHA), an international NGO led and inspired by Africans, committed to addressing issues of pastoralist concerns from a regional perspective. She has been described by Worldwatch Institute as one of 25 inspiring women who have made a commendable contribution to food, agriculture and development on the African continent.

Karamoja is an arid/semi-arid region -- 28,000 sq km in area, located in Uganda's north-east and inhabited by 1.2 million people distributed among 11 different ethnic groups (Sagal and Grade, 2012). The region has two rainy seasons and an intense hot and dry season from October to April. December and January are the driest months, typically with strong winds. The single rainy season peaks in May and July (Grade, 2012).

Transhumant pastoralism is practiced in Karamoja, with men and livestock moving across the landscape in search of pasture and water during the dry seasons.

Indicators

According to Ismael Ocen, the Karamojong knowledge on weather includes the use of indicators such as

northerly winds and the presence of large wild game indicating drought;
rainbows appearing frequently indicate the end of the rains;
rain coming from the south marking a good year ahead; and
tamarind trees bearing fruit signaling a bad year ahead.

Karamoja calendar helps observe weather changes

Sagal and Grade (2012) document Karamojong month names and meanings in their paper on 'Potential Tool to Support Climate Change Research in Karamoja, Uganda: Historical Month Names and Meanings'. They how that while the month names have not changed, the weather and climate indicators associated with these names have shifted for 10 out of the 12 months. For example, lomaruk or 'white mushrooms' is the name of a month for most of the Karamoja groups. This refers to a period in March or April when white mushrooms appear. The communities reported, however that since 1985, these mushrooms now appear in July and August.

In recent years, the Karamojong community has become increasingly exposed to a variety of natural and man-made disasters, including floods and drought. Due to the combined effect of drought, flooding, conflicts and change in land use and land administration types, the traditional pastoral life of the Kamarajong is changing.

The project will work among the Karamoja in Teso sub-region to document early warning mechanisms of weather forecasting. Ismael Ocen, the project holder is Karamojong and the Lobby and Advocacy manager of the Climate Change Adaptation programme of the Disaster Risk Reduction Platform for Teso.

The initiative will be conducted among Maasai pastoralists of Terrat village, Simanjiro district, northern Tanzania. Their traditional system of livestock keeping includes highly flexible and sustainable mobility under season pastures.

Despite the decline of mobility over time, Maasai pastoralists still practice a communal life having permanent and temporary residences with extended families living together. Families daily and assiduously communicate information about the local meteorology, fodder availability and tribal politics. It is perceived among the Maasai that drought has increased both in intensity and frequency. Through mutual learning exchanges, the project will build capacity among three groups: elders with traditional knowledge on weather and climate change coping mechanisms; activists working on pastoralists’ issues and concerns; as well as policy makers and other scientists working with the government of Tanzania. In doing so the project will connect between community elders who hold rich, undocumented knowledge on weather patterns and on how to cope with impacts of climate change with members of the community who work towards policy formulation and lack comprehensively described and well documented evidence to support their arguments about the contribution of traditional knowledge and practices in climate change adaptation.

The project proponents work with Maasai in northern Tanzania to document their knowledge and concerns on climate change. Their organization, the Association for Law and Advocacy for Pastoralists (ALAPA) is focused primarily on using research and publications to lobby and advocate for pro-pastoralists legal and policy frameworks.

 
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