In adapting to climate change, the decision makers of today can find great wisdom in the traditional knowledge of indigenous people. Traditional farming practices can offer a huge potential for resilience and adaptation to climate change. In Kenya, for example, traditional varieties of plants are more genetically diverse than modern varieties, and are better able to withstand more environmental stress.
Yet climate change has resulted in a double threat to these varieties: first, communities have suffered loss of the plants themselves; second, they have suffered the loss of traditional knowledge associated with the success of those plants. Given the large potential for traditional knowledge in building resilience, organizations like Caritas are working to resurrect local and traditional knowledge that can spread the seeds for climate resilience.
Another example can be found in the rain shadow of the Himalayas. The Lo people of Nepal–equipped with traditional knowledge on how to manage local irrigation–have transformed their arid, dry village into green agriculture fields they use during the summer. The village of the Lo people is 3,000 to 4,200 meters above sea level, with temperatures that drop to as low as -20 degrees Celsius in the winter. Transforming these harsh environments to lush, green fields is certainly a talent worth learning.
Traditional knowledge relevant to adaptation can also help individuals better predict weather patterns. Further, using traditional knowledge gives a voice to the people on the ground when searching for solutions to climate change. Women in particular have a major role when it comes to this traditional knowledge.
At COP 21, the parties recognized the need to strengthen knowledge, technologies, practices, and efforts of local communities and indigenous peoples when it comes to climate change. The COP thus established a platform for the exchange of experiences and the sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation in a holistic and integrated manner.
But the COP could go much further in operationalizing this language. And that’s exactly what the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) and others have called for the COP to do. The COP thus needs to continue to think globally, but start “doing” locally. Relying on traditional knowledge is one way to bridge that wide gap.