Start With Local

Feb 12th, 2014 | By | Category: Adaptation, Nepal

19796Republica: There is now a clear evidence of increasing impacts of climate change in Nepal. An average annual temperature rise of 0.06 0 C has been observed for the past few years, which is much higher in the high altitudes resulting in rapid glacier melting. We also are experiencing more extreme monsoon rains, causing flash flood havocs like the one in Mahakali River that destroyed Darchula last year. It is clear that Nepal—a mountainous, fragile, poor and climate vulnerable country—has no choice but to adapt at a rapid pace and massive scale to climate, socio-economic and global changes.

The aim should be to build resilient communities, institutions, infrastructures, and development planning and implementation process. The big question is where to start? The answer can be found in indigenous, traditional and local knowledge and practices popularly known as ITK. We can find ITK if we simply step out of offices and talk to our farmers, forest users, local elders, women, and indigenous communities. The more remote and disadvantaged the communities, the more innovative and practical adaptation measures one may find.

Building resilient communities entails a complex integration and holistic management of available ITK. ITKs are passed on from one generation to another and are refined and adjusted as the challenges demand. This process is the practical and cost effective way to respond to both the slow and fast pace of climate and other changes in Nepali villages and towns. It can help mankind strike a balance between increasing human demands on environment and eroding capacity of ecosystems which in turn can help improve both the livelihoods and climate resiliency of vulnerable communities.

Traditional Knowledge
Anthropologist Dennis Michael Warren defines indigenous knowledge as “local knowledge unique to a given culture or society.” Other experts describe it as basic information available to local people for peer learning and decision-making. Indigenous information systems are dynamic, and are continually influenced by internal creativity and interaction with external systems.

Nepal’s indigenous and local communities have been managing their scarce land, water, forest, biodiversity and other local resources in an integrated manner for generations. However, we have not done the systematic collection, documentation, and screening of these useful indigenous and traditional knowledge and practices (ITKP) so as to utilize the valuable knowledge in making our development plans and programs more robust and sustainable and prepare for self adjustment and course correction. In the fast changing pace of climate change and inadequate response from the government, local knowledge can help the local community to cope with the dire situation if ITKP can be properly applied and made use of in building resilient livelihood and related community institutions. Indigenous practices in Nepal can be found in forest and pasture management, drinking water and irrigation systems, medicinal plants-based primary health care (Auyrveda, Amchi, Yunani) development of climate compatible houses, and suspension bridges, and local trails and treks improvement. These practices are crucial for the subsistence and survival of local people since they are based on accumulation of observation, interaction, and adjustment with the local environment.

Revitalizing ITK
A number of scattered studies from the perspectives of promoting indigenous knowledge in community forestry, farmers’ managed irrigation and traditional agriculture exist. We find a number of documents highlighting the application of ITK in forest, pasture, and water resources management that have made Nepal the world leader in community forestry, farmers’ managed irrigation system, and biodiversity conservation areas. However, empirical research covering different ethnic/social groups and different agro-ecological regions create strong evidence on how ITK do not exist.

Agriculture, water, biodiversity, disaster and local livelihood systems are the sectors most directly impacted by climate variability and change. Indigenous knowledge used in sustainable management of natural resources can easily be used in adapting to climate change. It is evident that the indigenous and traditional knowledge use “effective management” systems which are based on the capacity of the rural people to develop locally suitable managing practices. Sherpa and Limbu communities are known for their ITK-based natural resources management practice. Local people in many Midhills started protecting and managing their forests, farms, and animals through a complex forest and farming improvement approaches long before the formal system of community forestry and high yield crops were introduced. The Tharu communities in Tarai are recorded to have been managing their irrigation system by a set of social norms and practices which dates back to Buddhist era. The outlying communities of Jumla and Baglung constructed suspension bridges long before Swiss helped us build modern bridges. In fact, many of these bridges still exist and some of the local knowledge has been co-opted by modern bridge engineering methods. Local people without outside guidelines also made complex institutional arrangements for the protection and management of local practices, as can be seen in our Guthi and Parma systems.

Indigenous practices are also found to be gender sensitive and socially inclusive. Females collect branches of trees and twigs, grass and leaves as fodder and leaf litter for animal beddings, whereas males collect wood for timber, big tree branches, firewood, poles for house building as well as for construction purposes. Men dig and maintain irrigation channels and women supply food and collect branches and twigs to build trash dams.

Worldwide, ITKPs are being used in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in different ways. In many Asian and African countries it is becoming common. In Nigeria, China and India, local farmers have been using their indigenous knowledge systems to make their agricultural practices more climate resilient. However, local knowledge has been rarely taken into consideration by the government in the design and implementation of national adaptation policies, strategies, and action plans. As a result, these knowledge systems are vanishing.

The Chepang and Bankariya people in Chitwan are discontinuing their traditional practices due to economic hardships and chronic food insecurity, and adopting exotic and environmentally unsustainable practices. There is, therefore, an urgent need to promote ITK and practices in both local and national development and adaptation policies, plans, and programs in Nepal. We can prevent the loss of forest cover, biodiversity, agricultural productivity, and ecosystem services by properly identifying local perceptions, knowledge, and involvement of local people in the selection and implementation of interventions, and devise locally adaptive measures integrating climate change and disaster management concerns. The indigenous cultures of the Andean community in Latin America have helped them adapt to the increasing uncertainties and risks posed by climate change. Traditional knowledge is compatible with scientific knowledge, and in fact we can merge the two to create fusion knowledge to meet emerging challenges.

Future Hope
Realizing the value of ITKP in Nepal’s climate change adaptation and resilience building efforts, the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (MoSTE), included a Study on Indigenous Practices in Climate Change Adaptation in Nepal as one activity under the Mainstreaming Climate Change Risk Management in Development Project (Pilot Program for Climate Resilience PPCR) financed by the Climate Investment Funds and administered by the Asian Development Bank. A joint team of ISET-Nepal and IDS-Nepal is implementing the research and systematically collecting ITKP in 17 districts covering some of the key sectors impacted by climate change.

The aim of the study is to conduct a focused study on the prevailing ITKP that is relevant to Nepal’s climate change adaptation policies, programs, and projects. The overall aim is to strengthen climate resilience and adaptive capacity of the Nepali people, their infrastructures and institutions. The PPCR sponsored research on indigenous adaptation practices is expected to provide knowledge and insights that would help the government of Nepal integrate climate change adaptation into core development planning and financing within the broader context of climate resilient development and growth. The study may also help develop comprehensive knowledge solutions to build resilient development planning and programs in Nepal and contribute to better design of Adaptation Plans. Indigenous and local knowledge can help us to live in harmony with nature by protecting, conserving and sustainably managing our natural resources. Collaborations between indigenous and traditional institutions and scientists can improve not only the understanding of climate change but also lead to make local strategies and options to deal with the vulnerability and risks of future climate change in Nepal.



Started in year 2010, ‘Climate Himalaya’ initiative has been working on Mountains and Climate linked issues in the Himalayan region of South Asia. In the last five years this knowledge sharing portal has become one of the important references for the governments, research institutions, civil society groups and international agencies, those have work and interest in the Himalayas. The Climate Himalaya team innovates on knowledge sharing, capacity building and climatic adaptation aspects in its focus countries like Bhutan, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Climate Himalaya’s thematic areas of work are mountain ecosystem, water, forest and livelihood. Read>>

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