How to adapt to climate change: ask the locals

T. V. Padma

T. V. Padma
South Asia regional coordinator, SciDev.Net

The one group conspicuous by their absence in the Planet Under Pressure conference is the local communities who, one would presume, have the highest stakes in all the developments and debate on climate change.

The reason is obvious: no one invites indigenous communities to conferences straddled by international and national policy experts and scientists. But it turns out that local communities are finding their own ways of coping with increasingly erratic weather changes, without the top-down ‘expert’ inputs, so thank you. And some experts suggest scientists could learn a thing or two from them.

Tirso Gonzales, professor at the department of indigenous studies in the University of British Columbia, described today (Wednesday) how for local communities who have been living in the Peruvian Andes for 8000 years, climate change is not a new phenomenon. They have the local knowledge to deal with erratic weather patterns, but neither scientists nor policy experts care to talk to them.

A session on ‘resilient communities: local pathways to meet the energy, climate and resource depletion challenges’ on Tuesday heard several case studies about how local farming communities in Nigeria, Senegal and India are devising their own methods of coping with the impacts of changing weather, even as their governments grapple with policy announcements and implementation.

Ranjay Singh, scientist at the Central Soil Salinity Research Institute, Karnal in northern India, cited several examples of local communities devising their own solutions, from cross-breeding yaks to  domestication of wild species with drought or flood tolerance, to intercropping to adapt to the changes they see around them.

“Most of the community knowledge led initiatives are based on incremental learning and natural adaptive capacity,” Singh says.

What’s missing is the will and interest of natural and social scientists to include this informal traditional knowledge into their research strategies, share experiences and knowledge, says Gonzales.

The day, for now, has not yet dawned.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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