Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Indigenous People Can Show Us How to Adapt to Climate Change

                      A farmer harvests rice on a paddy field in Chau Khe village, outside Hanoi, November 10, 2011.

Indigenous communities around the world are highly vulnerable to climate change but instead of seeing them as victims, policy-makers should tap into their centuries-old knowledge of adapting to extreme weather patterns, aid workers say.

In Iran, which has some 700 nomadic tribes, pastoralists have been successfully adapting to climate fluctuations for 12,000 years, development expert Catherine Razavi told an international conference on climate change.

In recent years they have adjusted their migration patterns and switched to more drought resistant strains of livestock, said Razavi who is executive director of Iran’s Center for Sustainable Development (CENESTA). 

In central Iran, where much pastureland has been destroyed by drought, she said pastoralists were now planting drought tolerant crops on previous grazing land. These crops include pistachios and fodder barley which can be used to feed livestock.  

The story of Iran’s nomads was highlighted during the sixth International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change, hosted in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Indigenous communities are vulnerable to climate change partly because they are marginalised and poor and have little access to information and services.

But far from watching passively as their ancestral lands and traditions are threatened by climate-related hazards, many such communities are actively adapting to new conditions, the conference heard.

In Bac Kan province, a few hours north of Hanoi, nearly 80 percent of the inhabitants are ethnic minorities. They are now cultivating drought resistant rice, banana and green bean varieties as well as cold resistant potato.

They have also adapted their farming techniques, for example, intercropping banana and local ginger, said Tran Van Dien from Thai Nguyen University of Agriculture and Forestry.
Intercropping improves a farmer's chances of getting at least one good crop and can improve soil quality.

In parts of Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, indigenous farmers have introduced both upland rice and lowland rice at the same time to reduce the risk of crop failure from drought or floods, according to Nasiri Sabiah of the Malaysian community organisation PACOS Trust. Lowland rice is generally grown in flooded paddies. Upland rice is more drought tolerant.


"Climatic changes are now taking place on a scale, severity and frequency beyond living memory," said CENESTA’s Razavi, showing a photo of a mountain with almost no snow cover. “We’ve never, never seen (this) mountain without snow before these (last) few years,” she told AlertNet during the conference which finished on Sunday.

Another picture showed a dried, cracked waterbed. It used to be the biggest river in Iran, she said, before climate change and ill-conceived dams and agricultural projects severely reduced ground and surface water.

Razavi said indigenous communities had inherited techniques from their ancestors for predicting weather patterns and hazards and were well-versed in monitoring and assessing how many livestock their pasturelands could support in a given year.

“We believe and we work really hard to explain to the government that some of the indigenous practices are applicable (to other places) and are worth learning (from),” she said, adding that CENESTA has been observing the practices of pastoralists for three decades.

Razavi said the Iranian government was wrong to try to get the country’s pastoralists to settle in one place. They have adapted to climate change for the past 12,000 years and should be allowed to continue to do so, she added.

Other panellists in the discussion on indigenous communities said there was also a need to consult young people.

Maxwell Mkondiwa from the University of Malawi said while half the country’s population was under 18, young people were rarely consulted on climate policy. The increase in formal education and lack of documentation also meant young people were losing traditional knowledge.

Mkondiwa said the university had recently launched an initiative for young scientists to research and document indigenous knowledge.

By Thin Lei Alertnet

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