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Indigenous knowledge can help drive climate action plan

By Jacqueline Mogeni | April 30th 2021
Devolution minister Eugine wamalwa it, lead some governors in planting trees at Loitokitok yesterday.The CS have launched the nationwide drive to plant 2 Million trees ahead of the 7th Devolution Conference in August.[PETERSON GITHAIGA]

Climate change has been a global issue over the last 100 years. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels, coastal erosion and extreme weather events like floods, landslides and severe droughts are some of the manifestations of climate change in Africa.

Kenya has not been spared from the devastating effects of the changing climate. Rainfall patterns have become unpredictable and the long rains have been declining continuously in recent decades. Droughts and floods have become more intense leaving behind a trail of destruction and deaths. Specifically, droughts and floods have contributed to: displacement of persons; an upsurge of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever; cholera outbreaks in some counties; loss of livelihoods; local conflicts over resources and food insecurity.

The Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) are even more vulnerable to the impact of climate change since they are dependent on a livestock economy and local tourism. 

Studies have shown that women face higher risks and greater burdens from the impact of climate change. When floods and drought occur, women’s role as primary caregivers and providers of food and fuel gets compromised. Armed with this evidence on the effect climate is having in Kenya and recognising that the economy is very dependent on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture, water, energy, tourism, wildlife, and health, the national and county governments will have to put more consideration into the application of Indigenous Knowledge (IK) in climate action.

By relying on biodiversity and natural resources for many centuries, indigenous communities have acquired immense and extensive knowledge of the resources (food, forest, medicine and water) around them and also on wildlife, plants, land-use patterns, seasons, climate, water and soil. But often, governments and their partners have ignored IK in development of climate change programmes and projects. 

The Ogiek community have for centuries relied on forest honey and herbs for food and medicine. There are traditional rain makers who are able to predict rain patters with precision. The Samburu community for instance possesses rich IK on wildlife species. Additionally, IK remains the engine in many rural livelihoods as a source of food, medicine and fuel.

In August 2017, Chika Ezeanya-Esiobu the author of ‘Indigenous Knowledge and Education in Africa’, gave a powerful TED Talk on how Africa can use its IK to make progress in agriculture.

One example she cited is Niger’s Tassa technique, an indigenous irrigation practice that she showed to be far more effective in the region than Western irrigation methods. Tassa is a traditional soil and water conservation practice stemming from the Sahel region of Africa where farmers hand-dig small pits uniformly across a field to collect rainwater and place manure at the bottom of each pit to increase soil fertility. 

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The infusion of traditional knowledge with modern technologies in climate action is critical. It guarantees that traditional resources, ideas, goals and aspirations of local communities are recognised when the national and  county governments are designing climate action programmes and projects.  

The national and county governments should consider the following strategies: codification of IK budgets; setting up clear structures of integration that will facilitate identification of the traditional knowledge holders and link them with the policy-makers; increasing the capacity of policy-makers so that they can appreciate the important role IK plays in climate action and establishing mechanisms that will support regular and systematic documentation of IK in order to secure inter-generational transfer of this knowledge. 

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