Pastoralists and meteorologists meet in Nairobi to find joint solutions to better adapt to climate change

26 June 2018

UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (LINKS) Programme convened an African expert meeting on indigenous knowledge and climate change in Nairobi, Kenya, from 27 to 28 June 2018. The meeting involved African indigenous pastoralists groups from northern Kenya, northern and southern Uganda, Chad, northern Tanzania and northeast Ethiopia – all of which are prone to extreme weather events and protracted droughts – as well as meteorologists and policy specialists from West and East Africa and international agencies.

Ann-Therese Ndong-Jatta, UNESCO Director for East Africa, welcomed scientists and pastoralists to the two-day dialogue noting that: ‘Along science, there are other knowledge systems, including here in Africa. I am proud that UNESCO is able to bring scientists and traditional knowledge holders together to work on climate change and adaptation.’ 

For many Africans, climate impacts are a matter of life and death. Those who rely on pastoralism have the benefit of their mobility. Their traditional knowledge can help them forecast precise or general patterns of weather and climate, and as Elifuraha Laltaika, a Maasai member of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (PFII), researcher and legal specialist from Tanzania, says: ‘Predictive capacity is key to the survival of pastoralists.’

Kenyan senior meteorologist and author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Joyce Kimutai, noted that: ‘This is valuable information. If we know the pastoralist seasonal calendars, their landscape use and how they forecast, we can help scale our meteorological information to support their decision-making’.

Kimutai is convinced that climate adaptation and resilience planning should be informed by rural communities and should help serve their needs for climate services. 

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim from the Association of Fulani pastoralists of Chad and Co-Chair, International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change, recalled that the 2015 Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change mentions indigenous peoples five times and calls on governments to mobilize indigenous knowledge for adaptation to climate change.

UNESCO has supported pastoralists through a research grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and  the Japanese Fund in Trust to document their traditional systems of weather forecasting. The research demonstrates that pastoralists across the rangelands of Africa use their observations of nature to predict climate variability. They employ various means to forecast when rain will fall, the quantity and duration, as well as the drought.

The aim of this UNESCO project is to enable pastoralists and meteorologists in Africa to understand how their respective knowledge systems can work together to better predict weather patterns and improve decision-making, which reduces risks, protects lives and protects the environment. 

As Africa develops its National Adaptation Plans (NAPs), there is an opportunity to involve indigenous and rural communities as knowledge holders and experts.