Cooperation between indigenous and modern science required

2009-10-29 12:25

SPEAKERS at a Climate Justice conference held at the Goedgedacht

farm yesterday stressed the need for a combination of indigenous knowledge and

modern science in looking towards mitigating the effects of climate


Current SAB Environmental Journalist of the Year, Monica Graaff,

said human survival has throughout time been impacted by periods of climate

change, and so indigenous knowledge – knowledge that is acquired over

generations by a group of people living in a particular environment – should be

investigated and incorporated into climate change strategies.

“There have been many dramatic changes in the past, for reasons

such as the tilt of the earth, and there will be more again in the future,”

Graaff said.

Evidence of significant leaps in human thought and development

following periods of crisis meant that the coming shifts in climate could be

used to spark innovation and advance as a species. Cognitive adaptation was seen

after the rapid rise in sea level in the form of geometrically engraved ochre

and stone tools, somewhere between 70 000 and 80 000 years ago.

Graaff said as South Africans we were “lucky” in that indigenous

knowledge had been largely preserved and there were still elders who knew the

subtleties of living in harmony with the environment.

The automatic response of people to turn to more recently acquired

knowledge and science could do so with the added benefit of “communal memory”

that enabled people to adapt and survive over millennia.

An example of adaptation to climate change working together with

science was the case of the rooibos farming community of Suid Bokkeveld in the

Northern Cape. Huge losses were experienced after a drought between 2003 and

2006, which left most of their crops and livestock dead – except for a type of

wild rooibos that grew in the area, which seemed more resilient than ever.

Scientists are studying strains of the plant at the University of Cape Town in

order to help the small-scale farmers adapt their methodologies to changes in


The farmers are also being given equipment, such as thermometers, with

which to keep “climate diaries”, the content of which will be presented at

climate change workshops every three months.

Bettina Koelle, director of Indigo Development and Change, a

non-profit organisation specialising in facilitating local action around social

and environmental justice among marginalised communities, said: “Synergies

fostered between natural science, local knowledge and social science will allow

us to find solutions to complex problems.”

– West Cape News

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