Indigenous knowledge meets science

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

For generations, the Nganyi people of western Kenya have served as rainmakers, helping local communities decide when best to prepare their land and sow their seeds. By observing subtle changes in nature that would be unnoticeable to most people - in air currents, the flowering and shedding of leaves of certain trees, the behaviour of ants, bird songs, even the croaking of frogs and toads - they have been able to interpret weather patterns and provide valuable advice.

But even the Nganyi have been flummoxed by climate change and the alternating cycles of droughts and floods it is inflicting.

“Climate change has come on so fast. People don’t know how to adapt or what to plant,” says Obedi Osore, a traditional Nganyi weatherman. “Our traditional crops are disappearing because they cannot handle the new conditions.

“We need new strategies to handle climate change.”

A British-Canadian project is doing just that. Launched last year, it aims to combine indigenous knowledge with modern science to build up climate change intelligence and disseminate it more widely in a community whose existence depends almost exclusively on farming.

Before the project, the credibility of the Nganyi, part of the Luhya community in far western Kenya, was being undermined both by the more extreme weather as well as by their lack of access to the satellites and computer systems used by official forecasters. “Predicting intense weather is hard because it happens so suddenly,” says Thomas Osare, another traditional forecaster. “We cannot usually know in time for people to really prepare.”

Government meteorologists, meanwhile, were struggling to be heard or believed. Now, each season they meet the traditional weathermen and together produce a consensus forecast. Once agreed, the Nganyi relay it back to the villagers – through ceremonies, public meetings and person to person, established methods of communication in communities where many cannot read or write.

“It brings me great joy because I know I am doing something useful,” says Mr Onunga, a Nganyi community elder involved in the project. “I think the two sciences are equally valid. We are marrying our energies to help people better.”

The meteorologists are also pleased with the collaboration.

“The results have been surprisingly good – the community concurred that the forecast was accurate,” says Gilbert Ouma, a University of Nairobi lecturer. “Another major breakthrough is the dissemination aspect. We have been able to deliver the message in practical, usable terms – not so much meteorological terms.”

Dr Ouma is leader of a project supported through Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA), a research and capacity development programme, backed by the UK’s Department for International Development and Canada's International Development Research Centre. At the time of its launch in 2006, it was the single largest research and capacity building initiative focusing on adaptation in Africa. Currently supporting some 46 research projects across the continent, 11 of them in Kenya, it aims to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable individuals.

It is hard to overstate the threat that global warming presents to countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Kenya. Increasingly harsh weather conditions are compounding the difficulties of communities that are often already struggling with extreme poverty.

Africa is both the continent the least responsible for climate change as well as the one with the fewest resources to combat it. The African Union estimates that the carbon emissions of Africa’s 1 billion people are equivalent to those of Texas’s 30 million.

A report published by the International Food Policy Research Institute in September concluded that, on present patterns, the number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa will jump from 33 million in 2000 to 52 million in 2050, with more than half of the increase caused by climate change.

While much of the focus in the industrialised economies has been on limiting future global warming through emissions cuts and energy efficiency, for many developing countries helping communities already affected by climate change, such as those in western Kenya, is a more immediate priority.

Professor Laban Ogallo, leader of the Nganyi project, says: “Poverty reduction is clearly related to managing the extreme weather of the region.”

“Through this project, we hope to learn what it is that we can share together to live today and to adapt to tomorrow.”

Suggested Topics
The sun rises over St Andrews golf course, but will it be a new dawn for the Royal and Ancient Golf Club?
sportAnd it's Yes to women (at the R&A)
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
tvSeries celebrates 20th anniversary
Yaya Touré (left) and Bayern Munich’s Spanish defender Juan Bernat
footballToure's lack of defensive work is big problem for City
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style

ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week