20.07.2018 - UNESCO Office in Nairobi

African Pastoralists and Meteorologists need each other to tackle Climate Change

Group photo of the meeting Indigenous Knowledge and Climate Change in Nairobi, Kenya (c)UNESCO

UNESCO’s Local and Indigenous Knowledge Systems programme convened an African expert meeting on indigenous knowledge and climate change in Nairobi, Kenya, 27 and 28 June 2018. African indigenous pastoralists groups, meteorologists and policy specialists from West and East Africa and from international agencies gathered to improve knowledge-sharing for better policy making and climate change national adaptation strategies.

The pastoralists included elders and community researchers from Chad, northeast Ethiopia, northern Kenya, northern Tanzania, northern and southern Uganda – all of which are prone to extreme weather events and protracted droughts.

Ms. Ann-Therese Ndong-Jatta, Director of UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa welcomed scientists and pastoralists to the two-day dialogue, stressing that “Long before science, there were 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 life and death matter. 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.

“As African pastoralists, we have strong weather forecasting capacity, but how do we apply this in responding to climate changes and extreme weather events? “Jennifer Koinante, a Yiaku leader from Laikipia District in Kenya highlighted.

Adam Ole Mwarabu, a Parakuyo Maasai from Tanzania gave a presentation on Maasai cloud taxonomy and patterns for storms and rainfall. Kenyan meteorologist Joyce Kimutai commented that pastoralists knowledge is valuable information, and “We can help scale our meterological information to support their decision-making”. Kimutai is an author with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). She is passionate that climate adaptation and resilience planning should be informed by rural communities and should help serve their needs for climate services.

Elifuraha Laltaika, a Maasai researcher and legal specialist from Tanzania said: “Predictive capacity is key to the survival of pastoralists.”

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, from the Association of Fulani pastoralists of Chad noted that the 2015 Paris Agreement of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change mentions indigenous peoples five times and calls on government to mobilise indigenous knowledge for climate adaptation.

As take-aways from the meeting, the importance of respecting indigenous and local knowledge about weather and climate change was underscored, as well as the need for indigenous populations to continue working with the science community to tackle jointly the impacts of climate changes. Indigenous populations should be part of a weather and climate observatory to help national climate adaptation. Knowledge about adaptation strategies and practices need to be strengthened thanks to the invaluable contributions of the indigenous populations. This will ensure resilience of communities and strengthening of risk-adaptation planning.

Moreover, the meeting drew special attention to the different roles played by women and men in the communities, shading light on a new understanding on the roles of predicting weathers, coupled with traditional and cultural practices.

Finally, the value of keeping traditional knowledge alive through documentation, and inclusion in educational curricula was underlined.

In view of climate change, the positive and essential role of pastoralism in improving climate change adaptation plans and policy making was accentuated.

Pastoralists have been supported by UNESCO through a research grant from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) to document their traditional systems of weather forecasting. The research shows that pastoralists across the range lands of Africa use their observations of the movement of the stars, the moon, wind speed, dust-obscurity, signs from the behavior of wild and domestic animals, blooming of flowers and insect movements as ways to predict the seasons. They use various means to forecast when rain will fall, in what quantity and for what duration. The aim of the UNESCO projects is that pastoralists and meteorologists in Africa understand how their respective knowledge systems can work together to predict weather better, to improve decision-making which reduces risks, to protect lives and to protect the environment. As African develops its National Adaptation plans (NAPs), there is an opportunity to involve indigenous and rural communities as knowledge holders and experts.

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