C4.2.2 African indigenous knowledge systems (Chapter 9, Section 9.6.2)
The term ‘indigenous knowledge’ is used to describe the knowledge systems developed by a community as opposed to the scientific knowledge that is generally referred to as ‘modern’ knowledge (Ajibade, 2003). Indigenous knowledge is the basis for local-level decision-making in many rural communities. It has value not only for the culture in which it evolves, but also for scientists and planners striving to improve conditions in rural localities. Incorporating indigenous knowledge into climate-change policies can lead to the development of effective adaptation strategies that are cost-effective, participatory and sustainable (Robinson and Herbert, 2001).
C18.104.22.168 Indigenous knowledge in weather forecasting
Local communities and farmers in Africa have developed intricate systems of gathering, predicting, interpreting and decision-making in relation to weather. A study in Nigeria, for example, shows that farmers are able to use knowledge of weather systems such as rainfall, thunderstorms, windstorms, harmattan (a dry dusty wind that blows along the north-west coast of Africa) and sunshine to prepare for future weather (Ajibade and Shokemi, 2003). Indigenous methods of weather forecasting are known to complement farmers’ planning activities in Nigeria. A similar study in Burkina Faso showed that farmers’ forecasting knowledge encompasses shared and selective experiences. Elderly male farmers formulate hypotheses about seasonal rainfall by observing natural phenomena, while cultural and ritual specialists draw predictions from divination, visions or dreams (Roncoli et al., 2001). The most widely relied-upon indicators are the timing, intensity and duration of cold temperatures during the early part of the dry season (November to January). Other forecasting indicators include the timing of fruiting by certain local trees, the water level in streams and ponds, the nesting behaviour of small quail-like birds, and insect behaviour in rubbish heaps outside compound walls (Roncoli et al., 2001).
C22.214.171.124 Indigenous knowledge in mitigation and adaptation
African communities and farmers have always coped with changing environments. They have the knowledge and practices to cope with adverse environments and shocks. The enhancement of indigenous capacity is a key to the empowerment of local communities and their effective participation in the development process (Leautier, 2004). People are better able to adopt new ideas when these can be seen in the context of existing practices. A study in Zimbabwe observed that farmers’ willingness to use seasonal climate forecasts increased when the forecasts were presented in conjunction with and compared with the local indigenous climate forecasts (Patt and Gwata, 2002).
Local farmers in several parts of Africa have been known to conserve carbon in soils through the use of zero-tilling practices in cultivation, mulching, and other soil-management techniques (Dea and Scoones, 2003). Natural mulches moderate soil temperatures and extremes, suppress diseases and harmful pests, and conserve soil moisture. The widespread use of indigenous plant materials, such as agrochemicals to combat pests that normally attack food crops, has also been reported among small-scale farmers (Gana, 2003). It is likely that climate change will alter the ecology of disease vectors, and such indigenous practices of pest management would be useful adaptation strategies. Other indigenous strategies that are adopted by local farmers include: controlled bush clearing; using tall grasses such as Andropogon gayanus for fixing soil-surface nutrients washed away by runoff; erosion-control bunding to significantly reduce the effects of runoff; restoring lands by using green manure; constructing stone dykes; managing low-lying lands and protecting river banks (AGRHYMET, 2004).
Adaptation strategies that are applied by pastoralists in times of drought include the use of emergency fodder, culling of weak livestock for food, and multi-species composition of herds to survive climate extremes. During drought periods, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists change from cattle to sheep and goat husbandry, as the feed requirements of the latter are lower (Seo and Mendelsohn, 2006). The pastoralists’ nomadic mobility reduces the pressure on low-capacity grazing areas through their cyclic movements from the dry northern areas to the wetter southern areas of the Sahel.
African women are particularly known to possess indigenous knowledge which helps to maintain household food security, particularly in times of drought and famine. They often rely on indigenous plants that are more tolerant to droughts and pests, providing a reserve for extended periods of economic hardship (Ramphele, 2004; Eriksen, 2005). In southern Sudan, for example, women are directly responsible for the selection of all sorghum seeds saved for planting each year. They preserve a spread of varieties of seeds that will ensure resistance to the range of conditions that may arise in any given growing season (Easton and Roland, 2000).