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Perspectives from Chad, Africa: COVID-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge

REPUBLIC OF CHAD, Africa – While COVID-19 has forced most of the world into lockdown, we are fortunate to report that our “Trails of Regeneration” video series is alive and well. Over the last few months we’ve focused on reporting the effects of the pandemic on farmers and ranchers and indigenous peoples from around the world. 

In our latest “Trails of Regeneration” episode, “Perspectives from Chad, Africa: Covid-19, Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge,” we proudly feature Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, an award-winning environmental activist and indigenous woman from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad, which practices nomadic cattle herding.

Ibrahim is an expert in adaptation and mitigation of indigenous peoples and women in relation to climate change, traditional knowledge and the adaptation of pastoralists in Africa. She is founder and coordinator of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT), which works to empower indigenous voices and improve quality of life by creating economic opportunities and protecting the natural resources to which pastoralist communities depend on.

Ibrahim was recently named Emerging Explorer 2017 by National Geographic. She has worked on the rights of indigenous peoples and the protection of the environment through the three Rio Conventions—on Biodiversity, Climate Change and Desertification—which originated out of the 1992 Earth Summit. 

The Mbororo pastoralist community reside near Lake Chad, located in the far west of Chad and the northeast of Nigeria. It was once Africa’s largest water reservoir in the Sahel region, spanning 26,000 kilometers. However, the lake has continued to shrink over time and is now thought to be one-fifth of its original size. 

Experts say climate change, population growth and inefficient damming and irrigation systems are to blame. The loss of water in Lake Chad is having serious adverse effects on communities, such as the Mbororo people, who are forced to migrate greater distances in search of water and green pastures. 

In a Zoom interview with Regeneration International, Ibrahim explained that in one year, the Mbororo people can travel up to a thousand kilometers and beyond, relying solely on nature and rainfall. Ibrahim told us:

“Nature is our main health, food and education system. It represents everything for us. In our culture, men and women depend equally on nature in their daily activities. The men herd the cattle towards water and pastures, while the women collect firewood, food and drinking water for the community. This provides a socially strong gender balance to our community.”

However, the degradation of natural resources is threatening these traditions, leading to human conflicts, particularly between farmers and pastoralists whose cattle sometimes roam onto nearby cropland and cause damage. These conflicts have forced Mbororo men to urban areas in search of a new line of work. Sometimes they don’t return, and the women, children and elderly are left behind to fend for themselves, Ibrahim told us.

In an effort to preserve the Mbororo’s nomadic way of life, and to help resolve conflicts between farmers and herders, Ibrahim established a project in 2012 with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Coordinating Committee, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, and the World Meteorological Organization. The project uses indigenous knowledge and 3D mapping technology to map Chad’s Sagel region, home to 250,000 Mbororo people. 

Through its 3D maps, the project brings together rival farmers and pastoralists to collaboratively draw lines of land ownership and reach agreements on grazing pathways and corridors. The work has helped farmers and pastoralists agree on land boundaries, as well as established a calendaring system to coordinate grazing patterns with the harvesting of crops. 

The result is a win-win solution where cattle fertilize and enrich the land through purposeful grazing. This prevents crop damage and helps to mitigate climate change. According to Ibrahim:

“When we experience climate change, we use our nomadic way of life as a solution. When we go from one place to another, resting two or three days per location, the dung from our cattle fertilizes the land and helps the ecosystem regenerate naturally.

“Our traditional knowledge is based on the observation of nature which is the common denominator of all the traditional indigenous knowledge around the world. We live in harmony with biodiversity because we observe insects that give us information on the health of an ecosystem.

“We look at bird migration patterns to predict the weather and we learn from the behavior of our animals who communicate a lot of information. We look at the wind. When the wind transports a lot of particulates from nature during the dry season, we know that we are going to have a good rainy season. This is free information we use to help balance community and ecosystem health and adapt to climate change.”

Ibrahim believes that events such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic, are nature’s way of letting us know she is mad because we are mistreating her. In order to heal the planet, we must listen to our wisdom and respect nature, she says.

Oliver Gardiner is Regeneration International’s media producer and coordinator for Asia and Europe. To keep up with Regeneration International news, sign up for our newsletter.