Indigenous knowledge strategic in bolstering uptake of climate information services in Africa
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09 June 2017 Author :   Busani Bafana
An indigenous weather man in Western Kenya

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (PAMACC News) – Science is essential to adapting to climate change, but indigenous knowledge systems can complement the wide use of climate information services (CIS), researchers say.

Only by complementing scientific facts with indigenous knowledge upon which generations of communities have relied on to understand and manage the risk of changes in the climate and weather patterns, can Africa alter its narrative on climate information services, researchers highlighted this during discussions at conference on knowledge management hosted recently by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) in the Ethiopian capital.

While science has been relied on for facts and figures on climate change impacts, the cultural and social understanding of the weather patterns provides a wealth of knowledge that can best inform development plans. Africa has experienced negative impact of climate change.

The Paris Agreement The Paris Agreement, which went into force in November 2016 following  ratification by 55 countries and by countries representing at least 55 percent of global emissions, offered new hope to reduce global emissions. However, critical debate on the impediments to climate change efforts is missing because Africa is not widely using information on climate services, said James Murombedzi, Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) under UNECA.

Murombedzi said the lack of climate data and capacity to process available data on climate change has meant that climate information services remain peripheral to development strategy in Africa. He said there is need to popularize CIS products and their use through clear knowledge management and communication strategies.

“Knowledge management is a key activity in the integration of climate information services and we need to improve the understanding of CIS in the political circles for effective policy formulation and implementation,” Murombedzi said.

Murombedzi said Africa’s increasingly variable weather and climate threatens its development. Weather related shocks demand effective use and sharing of climate information and indigenous knowledge was a strategic tool in adaptation to climate change.

Researchers are agreed that indigenous knowledge systems can reinforce the current knowledge base on climate change and provide sustainable solutions within communities where resilience has been deeply rooted in the lifestyle.

Indigenous knowledge, defined by the United Nations Educational and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as the ‘local knowledge that is unique to a culture or society which is passed  from generation to generation, usually by word of mouth and cultural rituals, can help build resilience against climate change risks and promote sustainable development. IKS have for generations, been used as the basis for agriculture, conservation, food preparation, health and education that ensure the well-being of communities.

Professor Joseph Matowanyika, Director of the Institute of Life Long Learning and Development Studies at the Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT), said indigenous knowledge systems need to be incorporated into development planning, noting that Africa has structural challenges in adequately using information that is available on climate issues.

“We do fail to fully utilize information in many other spheres of our livelihoods and economies," Prof. Matowanyika said. “Could it be that most of the information is not generated by us at our bidding and within the frame of our needs so that we do not end up using what is structured for non-African interests? We need to examine this.”

Underscoring the need to use what we know of the environment, Prof. Matowanyika said IKS comprises assets people owned and generated as a matter of need and daily livelihoods. Therefore a mind shift was important to recognize IKS and then apportion appropriate value to it.

The benefits of IKS are there to see in many examples in Africa. Short term weather predictions are a case in point. Using indigenous institutional arrangements in handling adaptation to disasters are another, Prof. Matowanyika said.

Indigenous knowledge is a new way of thinking and doing things, colonialism has created the idea that there is only one science, but knowledge is culturally placed and African ways of knowing can contribute to knowledge especially in dealing with challenges such as climate change, says Prof. Hassan Kaya, Director of the DST-NRF Centre in Indigenous Knowledge Systems at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa.

“We are living in world of knowledge systems that are not necessary competitive but now we are promoting that cultural diversity is an instrument of richness and where you share knowledge,” Prof Kaya said. “There is a problem of climate change and African ways of knowing can contribute to solving that problem.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a UN scientific body for assessing the science related to climate change, has rated Africa as one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change especially its agriculture production, a key source of livelihood, food and income.

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