Involving local people in climate change adaptation

Maasai grandmother, Roof Rain Water Harvesting
Copyright: Dieter Telemans / Panos

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I have always wondered why local communities are often neglected or not engaged in the developing innovations and technologies that provide solutions to challenges facing them such as climate change.

 As I attended the 9th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA9) held in Kenya last month (27-30 April), I pondered over many issues.

Why do local communities feature on the lower scale of innovation and technological development although they are important actors in advancing research and new technologies or innovations?

Ntutu persuaded me to believe that working on the hearts of the people and what they value — their culture — is vital in engaging them in activities that promote climate change adaptation.

Gilbert Nakweya

Why are local communities neglected when they are the key players in climate change adaptation programmes and strategies? What are the benefits of involving local communities in climate change adaptation for long-lasting solutions? How do we communicate and engage communities for wider participation in climate change adaptation efforts?

In seeking answers to these probing questions, I engaged a local pastoralist from rural Kenya’s Narok County, who was at the conference’s exhibition centre. Stephen ole Ntutu works with the Maasai people to protect the environment through their community-based organisation, Medungi Conservation. The initiative, supported by donor agencies and local tourists who visit the area works, with Maasai communities to adopt environment-friendly lifestyles and engage in economic activities that support their livelihoods guided by cultural and spiritual traditions.

Ntutu persuaded me to believe that working on the hearts of the people and what they value — their culture — is vital in engaging them in activities that promote climate change adaptation. For instance, the Maasai use some trees for medicinal purposes, value sacred shrines and highly regard honey as medicine and food.

This is the basis of Ntutu’s crusade on promoting culture and the environment. He has involved the local men in planting red cedar and brown olive trees around water catchment areas, convincing them that such actions protect their medicine and shrines. These trees, he revealed, were under threat because of their use for timber, cosmetics and medicine.

Concurrently, women are involved in bee-keeping activities in the woodlands. They are convinced to plant more trees to increase production and earn income from the sale of honey. Since Medungi Conservation’s establishment in 2011, over 6,000 Maasai people have been involved in the protection of water catchment areas, beekeeping and the planting and protection of trees, according to Ntutu.

With increased biodiversity conservation courtesy of a swarming population of bees helping in the pollination of plants to boost agricultural production, Ntutu remains upbeat. I could not help but agree with him that putting local communities at the heart of climate change adaptation is crucial to finding sustainable and lasting solutions to the questions that were puzzling me before I gathered this information.

Perhaps, researchers, scientists and policymakers need to reach out to the people, understand their cultural beliefs and lifestyles and then educate, interact and involve them fully in climate change adaptation and environmental conservation programmes.

The world’s rural poor and the most vulnerable require climate change adaptation support that is well-managed, localised and participatory in nature.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.