Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim: “It is essential to work with indigenous people on climate change adaptation”

Ahead of COP24, taking place in Poland between 3–14 December, Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, co-chair of the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, explains why indigenous knowledge must be taken into consideration.

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, IIPFCC’s co-chair, explains why it is crucial to incorporate indigenous knowledge into any plan for climate-smart agriculture going forward. © Salma Khalil, Terres indigènes

Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is coordinator of the Association of Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT). We caught up with her during a visit to Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso to talk to the government about how best to incorporate indigenous knowledge into the country’s national climate change adaptation plan. Here, she tells Spore why traditional knowledge needs to be taken into consideration at both the international and local level.

What are the main climate challenges facing indigenous communities worldwide?

Climate change takes a heavier toll on indigenous communities than on other sections of the population. Around the world, 400 million indigenous people depend on their environment for their survival. All of us depend on water, grazing land, forests or glaciers. Chad has seen an average temperature increase of 1.5°C since 1901 and the surface area of Lake Chad has shrunk by 90% in the last 50 years. Changes like those are forcing people to migrate further to find grazing land and other resources, which causes conflict with sedentary farming populations. Seasonal migration corridors have closed, land has been commandeered, the communities’ incomes have dropped and new animal diseases have emerged. What is happening in Chad is also occurring elsewhere, from other Sahel regions to the glaciers. Climate change is seriously compromising the way of life of indigenous people.

How can you ensure that traditional knowledge is preserved, passed down to future generations, and informs development solutions and agricultural research?

Indigenous knowledge stems from people observing nature over thousands of years and understanding how the environment communicates with us. For instance, when certain bird species nest lower in the trees, we know that the rainy season will be poor. When they nest higher up, that’s a positive sign. This kind of knowledge is shared orally between communities. We have to use a variety of tools – like Participatory 3D Modelling (P3DM) – to make sure that knowledge is preserved and passed on. That way, even people who are unable to write and have no formal education can share what they know and engage directly with politicians, scientists and development organisations.  This helps to build community resilience.

At an international political level, the Paris Agreement refers to indigenous people on five separate occasions. Article 7.5 recognises that the knowledge of indigenous people has an important role to play in climate change adaptation. Decision 135 establishes the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform so that this vital knowledge can be shared. States that have signed the Paris Agreement must integrate indigenous peoples’ knowledge – and indigenous people themselves – into their climate change adaptation plans. That means that indigenous communities must be recognised and have their rights respected.

How can indigenous peoples actually have an input?

In Burkina Faso, for example, we’ve talked about indigenous peoples’ climate change adaptation knowledge and practices. We have held workshops attended by representatives from government, parastatal institutions and civil society. We’re currently working on a new national platform to monitor these discussions. Around 15% of Burkina Faso’s population are city-dwellers. It’s not right that this minority should make decisions that affect the remaining 85%, whose livelihoods depend on crop and livestock farming.

How is your work, with women in particular, and Participatory 3D Modelling helping to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

Participatory 3D Modelling is a mapping method that integrates both scientific and traditional knowledge. Communities can make changes to the map. It’s a useful way to foster dialogue between communities and politicians, and to support development decision-making. In an irrigation project, for instance, community members can mark out an area of sacred forest that doesn’t need to be irrigated and the plans can be adjusted accordingly. It also gives women a voice because their input carries just as much weight as a man’s, which is rarely the case in some communities.

What strategies are you implementing in order to get global leaders to listen to your recommendations and apply traditional knowledge?

We always try to link the work that we do on the ground with international negotiations. The Paris Agreement, which I mentioned earlier, is a case in point. It was the first time that indigenous people had a seat at the negotiating table and got to talk directly to the decision-makers. We hold the answers to many of the questions that countries are asking about indigenous peoples’ rights and climate change adaptation. We have a simple rule; you can’t talk about us without involving us. We represented indigenous people in Paris, chairing the discussions that concerned them directly. At COP24, we’ll be involved in talks around the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform Facilitative Working Group, comprised of an equal number of country representatives and the seven socio-cultural regions of the world, into which indigenous peoples are divided – Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Caribbean, North America, the Pacific, the Arctic and Eastern Europe and Russia.

The direction of travel for information about indigenous peoples is no longer top-down, from international to local. It is now very much bottom-up – and that’s how we make sure our voices are heard.

What are indigenous peoples expecting COP24 to achieve?

We want the platform to be up and running. States need to respect the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The ball is in their court. Some are very much open to the idea, but others are more reluctant to move forward.

Vincent Defait

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The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.