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Implication of local traditional knowledge in sustaining agriculture under climatic risk in South Asia

Even though local traditional knowledge is the basis for many local-level decisions in rural communities, it is rarely considered in the design of modern climate change adaptation strategies. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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Jul 23, 2012




By Marta Rivera-Ferre, Di Masso, Mailhos, López-i-Gelats, Gallar, Vara, and Cuellar

Local traditional knowledge (LTK) refers to institutionalized local knowledge, the know-how accumulated across generations, guiding human societies in their interactions with their environment. LTK is the basis for local-level decision-making in many rural communities and ensures the well-being of people through its multipurpose functions, including food security. However, LTK is rarely considered in the design of modern climate change (CC) adaptation (and mitigation) strategies. Adaptation is about changing policies, behaviour or infrastructures, and thus, depends on cultural factors, institutions or social networks. Incorporating LTK can be of great interest to develop such strategies in conjunction with local people. A study was performed focused on the most common LTK strategies for agriculture (LTKA) found in the IGP region and its potential capacity to CC adaptation and food security.Farmer's fields with tree boundaries in Orissa, India (photo credit: Pade and Akkerman)

The study shows that LTKA is efficient at enhancing food security in climate variable conditions, due to: (i) its enormous ability to provide high-quality information of the reality as a complex socio-ecological system in which all components are interrelated; (ii) its high capacity to enhance resilience in the long-term and under changing conditions, since it is the product of centuries of coevolution of the community with their environment, it has been largely tested, and has demonstrated its capacity of guaranteeing the livelihood of the community; and (iii) its enormous aptitude for learning, due to a horizontal distribution of knowledge among all members, which makes it more effective and guarantees larger social justice. Adaptation strategies based on LTKA are fundamentally based on three principles: risk aversion, shared risk, and resilience. In many occasions farmers consider reducing risk from droughts and floods to be more important than maximizing production to ensure food security. Flexibility, diversity and solidarity are three common characteristics of most of the practices revised.

The strategies found in the IGP to ensure food security and adapt to CC allow addressing situations such as water scarcity, decreased crop productivity, desertification or increased livestock diseases and mortality. They aim at minimizing crop/animal failures and include strategies related to water management (sophisticated forms of water harvesting and recycling, local irrigation systems), soil fertility (application of manures and compost, cropping patterns), soil erosion (terraces, agroforestry), livestock management (mobility, diversity of breeds/species, social collaboration), pest and disease control (weeding, biological or mechanical control), as well as food security (food storage or changes in crops and varieties) or weather forecasting. These practices are not used in isolation; they are part of a community strategy of survival in which the role played by traditional institutions is crucial. For instance, in Jharkhand, indigenous cultivation practices identified included 10 for soil management, 3 for weed managemNirwalu in Mulkhow to divide water in equal portions for two downstream users (photo credit: ICIMOD)ent, 2 as plant protection measures, 6 for management of seed, and 5 for post harvest activities. However, there is increasing threat of erosion of this knowledge. Some socio-economic drivers identified included processes of modernization (replacement of knowledge, resources and people); the operationalization of top-down policy-making that neglects traditional institutions and customary practices; breaking knowledge transfer; land conversion for non-agricultural uses; and social changes (migrations, rising population, urbanisation, increasing integration in the market economy).

The results show that the revaluation of traditional systems and recovery of LTKA can become an effective tool to keep resilient agricultural systems which have been designed by rural communities. Efforts to study, research, document and promote LTKA should consider local strategies of adaptation to climate change, agroecosystem management as well as social processes. In addition, a deliberation between LTKA and formal/scientific knowledge is needed to establish partnerships on climate change.

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This blog post was written by Marta G. Rivera-Ferre, Di Masso, M., Mailhos, M. López-i-Gelats from the Center for Agro-food Economy and Development-CREDA-UPC-IRTA (Spain), and F., Gallar, D., Vara, I., Cuellar, M., from the Institute of Sociology and Peasant Studies. University of Cordoba (Spain). To get more updates on our research in South Asia follow us on Facebook and Twitter @Cgiarclimate.