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Perception and Interpretation of Climate Change among Quechua Farmers of Bolivia: Indigenous Knowledge as a Resource for Adaptive Capacity

Sébastien Boillat, Natural Resources Institute University of Manitoba; Department of Geography and Environment University of Geneva
Fikret Berkes, Natural Resources Institute University of Manitoba


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We aim to explore how indigenous peoples observe and ascribe meaning to change. The case study involves two Quechua-speaking farmer communities from mountainous areas near Cochabamba, Bolivia. Taking climate change as a starting point, we found that, first, farmers often associate their observations of climate change with other social and environmental changes, such as value change in the community, population growth, out-migration, urbanization, and land degradation. Second, some of the people interpret change as part of a cycle, which includes a belief in the return of some characteristics of ancient or mythological times. Third, environmental change is also perceived as the expression of “extra-human intentionalities,” a reaction of natural or spiritual entities that people consider living beings. On the basis of these interpretations of change and their adaptive strategies, we discuss the importance of indigenous knowledge as a component of adaptive capacity. Even in the context of living with modern science and mass media, indigenous patterns of interpreting phenomena tend to be persistent. Our results support the view that indigenous knowledge must be acknowledged as process, emphasizing ways of observing, discussing, and interpreting new information. In this case, indigenous knowledge can help address complex relationships between phenomena, and help design adaptation strategies based on experimentation and knowledge coproduction.

Key words

adaptive capacity; Andes; Bolivia; indigenous knowledge; perception of climate change; Quechua
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087