Ecologically Nothing Ever Really Dies

EcoLogically Nothing Ever Really Dies, Only transformed from one useful form to another...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Climate science Vs the old lady with sensitive limbs?

We have an old lady in my village who has mastered the art of weather forecasting to a tee. Her methods are unconventional but she is well respected and trusted in the community. As it turns out, gogo Chagweda can tell the weather to as far ahead as 4 weeks based of her own health.  “Ndinonzwa mitezo yangu yorwadza, ndoziva kuti mvura yave pedyo kuuya” (I can tell that the rains will be upon us soon when my limbs start to ache). Of course anyone would be forgiven for laughing this off.  Think about it. Limbs and rainfall…really! How would you react to such a claim? Would you not scoff at this statement?

However, whether we believe in the old lady’s methods or not is immaterial. Her community does. For as long as gogo Chagweda continues to make her “forecasts,” scientific forecasts have no value in my village, more so when they do not tally with her predictions. Now that’s quite a pickle for conventional science. Years of scientific research has no chance against an old lady armed with her sensitive limbs, huh? While my village case is a little extreme and slightly cynical (just to illustrate a point of course) example of Indegeneous Knowledge Systems (IKS) , similar situations will most likely exist in African villages. Here communities trust their age old IKS (of which old ladies like gogo Chagweda may be custodians) to conventional science.  
Panel discussion on indegeneous knowledge and climate change at COP 17.

So long as science continues to shy away from recognising (and I say this with the greatest amount of care) the value of local knowledge of weather and climate, the work of scientists may continue to be shunned by local communities. Scientific work will continue to play second fiddle to IKS. Given the present and potential future challenges that climate change poses especially to local resource-poor communities, isn’t it vital that conventional science and IKS find some level ground? Shouldn’t they at least start to have a conversation to that end? The way I see it, science needs to do the courting not the other way around. The Maasai certainly think so. Speaking at a side event organised by CTA at COP17, Mosses Ndiayine, Director of the Indigenous Heartland Organisation in Tanzania, a Maasai and full time livestock header said "It’s unfortunate we haven’t been able to put this knowledge in books, films and tape, we could share our knowledge with the world." “We can tell scientists that this is what we have to share and maybe they can learn from us” He continued. See video as Mosses speaks about the use of animal sounds and vegetation for weather forecasting by the Maasai.

I think the ability of scientists to approach such knowledge and community wisdom with respect and understanding can be the difference between successful community use of scientific information and failure. Yet this is as rare as a 3 dollar bill. As scientists, we learn to be suspicious of anything which cannot be verified scientifically, quantified or “reasonably” explained. But by ending there, we may miss out on the inspiration that we need in order to bridge between science and community application and acceptance of our work.

At the same COP17 side event, the director of Indegeneous people of Africa coordinating committee IPAAC, hit the nail on the head when he said “Locals have an intimate relationship with their local landscape, traditional knowledge should therefore be taken into account in policy frameworks.” We need to start having these conversations with open minds. In these deliberations lie the answers to the successful application of science at community level. Given what is at stake, shouldn’t we be trying? I know the African Young Scientists Initiative on Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AYSICCIKS) are. There are more initiatives out there i should think and it would be interesting to follow the progress they are making in their work.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It’s not all sad stories and begging baskets in Africa

Talk about ordinary people doing it for themselves, taking things into their own hands and pulling themselves from the jaws of poverty.  Happy Shongwe is one such person. Having lived for a greater part of her life under difficult circumstances, Happy has shown an impressive will to uplift herself and her family.
Happy Shongwe and Sam Sithole

In a space of less than a decade, Happy has transformed her life from lack into a well-established award-winning farmer and agro-business woman. She is a clear example of what one can do if they apply themselves to a vision wholeheartedly. Happy now owns  a productive farm, and seed business in Swaziland. She also co-ordinates women from her community in a bid to empower them to be self-sufficient as well. Being a rural African woman, Happy  is typically hardworking, she was raised that way. She is also very community-focused and wants her community to rise from poverty to comfort.

Notably, this kind of story is quite typical in African villages. These qualities of our people should be celebrated and upheld.  Unfortunately most of these stories are hardly ever reported. Thanks to FANRPAN, Happy is able to tell her story to the world and inspire other woman and communities around the continent. Maybe this is the catalyst that we need to loosen our dependence on food aid on a continent which has such natural potential to feed itself. Fancy working up each morning to the daily paper leading with a new story of such inspirational persons. Imagine the effect it could have.

I had the opportunity to meet yet another example of this hardworking, resourceful African woman in Lydia Sasu of Ghanan (in Video).  Yet another typical African mother if I ever saw one.  Hardworking, caring and very humble. And yet her work and mobilisation of local women around farming in Ghanaian villages has earned her worldwide recognition. She is clearly flattered and surprised by all the accolades. She would do it sans awards anyway.  This is what she does, this is the life she knows and loves.  She wouldn’t do anything else. What a blessing that our young African brothers and sisters are raised and learn from these women.

“A farmer doesn’t rest. He is always trying this or that thing. "Mr Isaiah Sithole defined the typical African farming man in response to the question “Why do you do so many things at once” at the recent side event hosted by FANRPAN at COP17. Sithole is yet another clear example of the self-empowering African. A humble, unassuming and soft spoken man, Sithole has been able to make the best of humble beginnings to become a self-sufficient  farmer who deals in crops, poultry and livestock all in one. He is a self-made agro-business man in Swaziland and like Happy was able to tell his story and inspire other African farmers at a FANRPPAN side event at COP17’s Agriculture and Rural Development Day(ARDD).

There are many other such stories out there. Stories of ordinary rural African folk making it happen for themselves and their communities. May they be a shining example of what ordinary people can do for themselves and their communities. Kudos to all those organisations like FANRPAN, CONNECT4CLIMATE and CTA who are trying to bring these stories to the rest of the world!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Fitting tribute to Wangari Maathai at COP17: Now to take her vision forward

 Just had an inspiring day. The kind that makes you want to go out there and do something significant. Sign your name to a large portion of the earth, to remain there for eternity. I sat through a session that did just that for me today. The Forest Day 5 at COP17 in Durban South Africa gave a fitting send off and tribute to Wangari Maathai. A touching 8 minute video documented her vision and some of her achievements (based on the video below). Speaker after speaker showered unending praises for her visionary work. It got me thinking.
Wangari Maathai:

Just how much of a difference can a single person or a “not-so-empowered” group of people with an idea to serve make? In Wangari’s words, “Grass roots people can change the world.” That she did. A single and simple idea to plant a tree and get the rest of the world doing the same started movements on the continent and all over the world which have changed the lives of ordinary people, the way we see and appreciate the environment and demonstrated how much well organised pressure from ordinary people can force politicians into action. Whats more, all this she did from humble beginnings. 

The Forest Day 5 sessions focused on REDD+ and how to operationalize it (among a few other related issues). Most ideas thrown around by delegates circled around community ownership of land, community-led reforestation projects, and incorporation of agriculture and gender issues. Interesting, especially considering that this is exactly what Wangari thought and set out to do when she started the Green Belt Movement(GBM) in Kenya in the year...wait for it…wait for it… 1977! Suprisingly, more than 3 decades later, the world’s leading thinkers, policy-makers and civic organisations are still debating such a “no-brainer.” The results of Wangari’s approach are self-evident in Kenya,and the mobiliation of global movements. Yet, progress on REDD+ is still very slow.

How did she do it? She was fearless, she got involved, rolled her sleeves and dug in (see video). Wangari challenged the powers that be and forced them to do that which needed to be done. She started small with what was around her and scaled up. Without taking anything away from current well-meaning efforts to get REDD+ working, it looks to me like there is lots to be learnt from Wangari Maathai and GBM. Sealing the REDD+ deal would be a fitting tribute to her. The question is, how? Are we willing to take the stand that she did and can we get the “powers that be” to do what obviously needs to be done, in the way it needs to be done?

At COP17 Forest Day 5 with M Dhlamini (CANGO-Swaziland) and E. Chivhenge (Gottingen University- Germany)