African Indigenous Knowledge Systems in Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation
The publication of this work by the African Young Scientists Initiative on Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge Systems is based on the understanding and acknowledgement that African Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIKS) that have been locally tested and are culturally acceptable have sustained the lives of African people over centuries against adverse effects of climate change such as drought, floods, famine, diseases, etc. This great contribution tends to be neglected in the current global search for sustainable solutions to climate change. There is, however, a growing global recognition that the effects of climate change are serious, urgent and growing. Simultaneously, the role of African community-based knowledge systems, African young scientists and the youth in general are becoming increasingly prominent. It is on the basis of these assumptions that Africa’s responses to and actions with regard to this global challenge will be judged by history. If Africans fail to meet this challenge boldly, swiftly and in unity, they risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe. No country, however large or small, wealthy or poor, can escape the effects of climate change. Rising sea levels threaten every world coastline; powerful storms and floods threaten every continent; and frequent drought conditions and crop failures create hunger and conflicts in areas already threatened by poverty. Experience shows that for too many years, humanity have been too slow to respond to or even recognize the magnitude of the threats of climate change. It is also true that for many years we have failed to recognize the important role that African indigenous knowledge systems and African young scientists and youth in general can play with regard to the promotion of sustainable solutions to climate change. Research studies in different parts of the developing world including Africa’s own experiences have demonstrated that in local communities, the world over, community-based knowledge systems in weather forecasting have been used as the basis for local-level decision-making. These local knowledge systems have value not only for the local cultures from which they arise, but also for scientists and planners striving to improve conditions in rural and poor localities. African local communities and farmers in their respective environments have over the years developed intricate systems of gathering, predicting, interpreting and decision-making in relation to the weather. Community knowledge-holders base their seasonal predictions on close observation and understanding of weather patterns, and the behaviour of plants and animals before the onset of rain. Prediction of impending disasters has been an integral part of their adaptation strategies. In spite of all these and related benefits, there is a need to acknowledge that the role of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems in climate change is hampered by several limitations that pose a great challenge to African young scientists involved in this field. The challenges include among others: A lack of proper documentation: As the old people who hold this valuable knowledge pass away, their knowledge and insights, which has been accumulated for many years, are lost. The old pass their accumulated knowledge orally from one generation to the next. A lack of coordinated research to investigate the accuracy and reliability of indigenous knowledge forecasting: Indigenous Knowledge weather forecasting is constrained because it applies over a small area (local specific) and cannot be extrapolated to other areas. Therefore, the applicability of such knowledge in other localities to complement scientific weather forecasting needs to be investigated. As the developmental engines of the 21st century in Africa and in their fight against the challenges of climate change, African young scientists and youth in general must not allow the old divisions that have characterized the climate change debates for so many years to block progress. The developed countries which have caused much of the damage to our climate over the last two centuries still have a responsibility to lead and support sustainable initiatives to prevent climate change. These countries should also continue to do so by investing in renewable energy, promoting greater efficiency and slashing emissions to reach the targets set for 2020 and the long-term goals set for for 2050. It is very encouraging to see that the articles contained in this publication demonstrate that African young scientists from different parts of the continent have already taken up the challenge to document, publish and share their research experiences with the international community. They gathered at the Kopanong Conference Centre in Johannesburg from August 29-31 2011 for the International Student Conference on Climate, and at the COP17 UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban (2011) in the Round Table Discussions on the Role of Indigenous Knowledge Systems and African Young Scientists on Climate Change. This global stage is a challenge for them because they are from African local communities and many are versed overwhelmingly in the cultures of their communities. The impetus driving this initiative is also based on the observation that African Indigenous Knowledge Systems were marginalized during Africa’s colonial past because the logic of colonialism was mainly to exploit Africa’s indigenous natural and human resources for the benefit of the colonial powers. The relevance and sustainability of indigenous African ways of knowing contradicted the colonial world views of domination and exploitation. Unfortunately, in the era that succeeded colonialism we have inherited certain colonial practices and views which have perpetuated the marginalization of African Indigenous Knowledge Systems (AIKS) as primitive and unscientific. This legacy limits our search for sustainable solutions to development, including the challenges of climate change. In spite of their relevance to local community conditions and livelihoods, until recently, AIKS have not formed part of the national educational curricula of most African countries and are not taken seriously in their national and provincial sectoral developmental policy-making processes. The marginalization of AIKS reflects the marginalization of African rural communities and other poor communities in general, the majority of whom depend on AIKS for survival. The neglect of these community-based knowledge systems, therefore, has had consequences vis-à-vis the lack of control of Africa’s own development. Moreover, a large proportion of the African population is under 25 years of age compared with western countries where ageing populations are the norm. Therefore, Africa cannot afford to be governed with the same government mechanisms and strategies as those of western countries. This means that African policy-making processes and policy implementation mechanisms and strategies have to reflect the integration of the youth in that context, otherwise Africa will fail to reach its potential. This is the challenge. Further, climate change is a multi-sectoral challenge and cannot be approached in mono-sectoral perspective. This reflects the importance of AIKS, by which Africa can contribute to global scientific knowledge, and which links science and technology to Africa’s public policy processes. If Africa cannot do that, it will not reach the values of developmental ownership and it will repeat the colonial and existing post-colonial ideas and practices that marginalizes AIKS in the search for sustainable development. However, this publication emanating from the African Young Scientists Initiative on Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge Systems testifies to the growing realization, both within and outside Africa, that Africa’s investment in the future and in sustainable development must focus on young people. African young scientists are challenged to facilitate the production of knowledge that will be relevant to African communities by learning and working directly with them, in particular with their knowledge holders. The importance of promoting the role of African young scientists and youth in sustainable development, including climate change adaptation and mitigation, has also been emphasized in the African Youth Charter of the African Union in its various articles and The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD, October 2001) in its sectoral priorities. NEPAD’s Section B5 on Culture states that it gives special attention to the protection and nurture of indigenous knowledge systems for sustainable development in Africa. The publication will make an important contribution to further research and also provides reference materials for the teaching of AIKS and climate change, at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.