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FEATURE: Local knowledge and the role of knowledge brokers in India

A new film depicts how a women’s organisation in India’s northeast provinces is helping local communities share and strengthen their knowledge for dealing with the impacts of climate change.

Adapting effectively to climate change requires a mind shift in how we approach climate knowledge, according to Greeshma Hegde and Sahil Sasidharan from the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. Climate change adaptation cannot be based on scientists producing and disseminating knowledge in a linear way. A mindshift is needed—they say—toward a more iterative and inclusive way of creating and diffusing new knowledge.

A recently-released video by Hegde and Sasidharan for the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project identifies how non-state actors are working as ‘knowledge brokers’ in India to develop and share new forms of adaptation knowledge.

Experience from India’s northeast provinces

In northeast India, climatic patterns are changing: rainfall is decreasing and the monsoon rains are less reliable. These shifts make life more difficult for natural resource-dependent communities.

Several communities are already farming and using non-timber forest products in ecologically sustainable ways, which are helping them to cope better in the changing climate – according to Seno Tsuhah of the North East Network. The Network works in a ‘knowledge brokering’ role to raise awareness and understanding of best practices across the states of Assam, Nagaland and Meghalaya.

The Network uses methods such as participatory video to help local people document sustainable natural resource management practices. It has also revived traditional millet and biodiversity festivals, helped communities to form collective enterprises such as seed banks, and trained young people in sustainable practices.

The Network brings farming communities, researchers and policy advocates into a ‘learning circle’ to blend local ecological agriculture knowledge systems with modern knowledge – says Ms Tsuhah. For effective adaptation, “we cannot play with one system,” she says; “but it has to be different systems, put together to address the climate crisis.”

The gender angle

A large proportion of farmers in the northeast provinces are female, and women have leading roles as both custodians of traditional, ecologically sustainable practices, and as knowledge pioneers in adapting and evolving new climate adaptation approaches.

It pays for knowledge brokers such as North East Network to be constantly aware of gender dynamics – cautions Ms Tsuhah. Knowledge brokers must bear in mind the possibility of social and gender differentiation which can emerge as different knowledge systems evolve.

Watch the film on local knowledge and the role of knowledge brokers in India here:

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