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The value of indigenous knowledge in climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the African Sahel

It is increasingly realised that mitigation and adaptation should not be pursued independently of each other but as complements. Integrating mitigation and adaptation into climate change concerns is not a completely new idea in the African Sahel where the local populations in this region, through their indigenous knowledge systems, have developed and implemented extensive mitigation and adaptation strategies that have enabled them to reduce their vulnerability to past climate variability and change. However, this knowledge is rarely taken into consideration in the design and implementation of modern mitigation and adaptation strategies.

This paper highlights indigenous mitigation and adaptation strategies that have been practiced in the Sahel, and the benefits of integrating indigenous knowledge into formal climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. It explores ways in which local populations in the Sahel have integrated mitigation and adaptation into their livelihood strategies to reduce their vulnerability to droughts. The Sahel generally refers to the semi-arid and arid region of Africa and constitutes significant portions of Senegal, Gambia Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, and the Sudan.

The paper makes the following observations about indigenous mitigation and adaptation strategies in the Sahel.

  • Local populations in the region have developed and implemented extensive mitigation and adaptation strategies that have enabled them reduce their vulnerability to past climate variability and change.
  • The Sahelians have successfully achieved some level of sustainable livelihoods by adapting continuously in their farming, livestock keeping, and other income-earning activities.
  • Any meaningful attempt at implementing or strategies to reduce the vulnerability of the people in the Sahel to the impacts of future climate change should start by examining how the communities in the region had successfully reduced their vulnerabilities and coped with past impacts.

The paper recommends the following steps to integrate indigenous knowledge into formal climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

  1. Acknowledge that indigenous knowledge provides communities with the capability of dealing with past and present vulnerabilities to climatic extremes and other stresses.
  2. Adopt the bottom–up participatory approach that encourages the highest level of local participation.
  3. Consider the local communities as equal partners in the development process to build on what already exists, to utilise and strengthen existing capacities.
  4. Avoid developing indigenous practices in climate change mitigation and adaptation as substitutes of modern techniques but pick the ‘best practices’ for mitigation and adaptation from the modern and indigenous spheres.