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.

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