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By Giacomo Rambaldi
I first met Bouba Mal Yaya, a herdsman from the Fulani-Mbororo peoples in Chad, in early 2011. At that time, he and his fellow herders were in a state of great distress.
They saw their traditional way of life and livelihoods slipping away from them. The very core of their time-honoured way of farming had been shaken. The authority of the trusted elders who had always been relied upon to provide accurate strategies to cope with meagre resources and manage seasonal weather patterns had been seriously undermined with the increasingly unpredictable climate and weather conditions of recent years.
As with many challenges, the affected parties often work in isolation and are unaware of other potential solutions. This is also true of the impacts of climate change in Chad.
On the one hand, the Mbororo people have a deep understanding passed down through generations of their land and its climate conditions. They know how to read the signs offered by nature.
Scientists, on the other hand, hold the key to interpreting the impacts of the latest research. If these two groups could come together and pool their combined expertise, perhaps the M’bororo people could maintain their traditional way of life and the scientists would gain from a more profound understanding of the areas.
This was, in fact, the first stage in a process to address the climate change challenge and its far-reaching effects in Chad. A meeting was held in November 2011 in N’Djamena, Chad, brought together meteorologists and community representatives from Chad, Niger, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa.
This gathering, hosted by the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC), the Association des Femmes Peules Autochtones du Tchad (AFPAT) and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), encouraged Bouba Mal Yaya and his fellow participants to see how traditional knowledge and atmospheric science could be combined to respond to the climate change risks.
Bouba and the other pastoralists were profoundly affected by this experience. “Not only do we have a better understanding of why things are changing for us, but the knowledge of our elders and our ancestors has been given true recognition. It will help us and others to improve our way of life in the future,” he said.
The workshop in N’Djamena resulted in the ‘N’Djamena Declaration on traditional knowledge and climate adaptation’, which was presented at the 17th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Durban in 2011.
It was, however, a participatory mapping exercise in August 2012 that has had the most lasting effect on Bouba and the M’bororo people. Participatory mapping or Participatory 3D Modelling, is a process that assembles members of the community to pool their indigenous knowledge to highlight land use, traditional routes of cattle migration, ecosystem features and biodiversity information on a physical 3D relief map.
Over 12 days the participants worked together to construct a 3D model of the Ba?bokoum area of Chad. Bouba and his colleagues made a significant contribution identifying six tree species protected under M’bororo customary law.
These trees have both medicinal and ecosystem functions and have acted as navigation reference points over the years. Herders were also able to highlight different types of surface water on the map – seasonal, permanent, swamp and flowing.
Government ministers formally closed the workshop, emphasising the significance of the event and what had been achieved. For Bouba Mal Yaya and his fellow herders the experience was life changing.
“To have our voices heard and our experiences witnessed by those in positions of power who can really make a change is indescribable,” he said. The process has also recognised, respected and protected their traditional knowledge and way of life and is giving the pastoralists a renewed sense of pride and belief in their cultural heritage and a new hope for the future.
Moreover, the government has invited the M’bororo people to advise them on issues such as the protection of threatened forest spaces in mountains outside Ba?bokoum, ensuring their voices continue to be heard in the corridors of power.
Giacomo Rambaldi is the senior programme coordinator for information and communication technology at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA). CTA’s mission is to advance food and nutritional security, increase prosperity and encourage sound natural resource management in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. The organisation will be hosting Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day on Dec. 3, held in parallel with the climate change negotiations in Doha, Qatar. See a video of the project here.