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Indigenous Past Climate Knowledge as Cultural Built-in Object and Its Accuracy

Christian Leclerc, CIRAD, UMR AGAP, Montpellier, France
Caroline Mwongera, Montpellier SupAgro, Montpellier, France
Pierre Camberlin, Centre de Recherches de Climatologie (CRC), Biogéosciences, Dijon, France
Joseph Boyard-Micheau, Centre de Recherches de Climatologie (CRC), Biogéosciences, Dijon, France


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In studying indigenous climate knowledge, two approaches can be envisioned. In the first, traditional knowledge is a cultural built-in object; conceived as a whole, its relevance can be assessed by referring to other cultural, economic, or technical components at work within an indigenous society. In the second, the accuracy of indigenous climate knowledge is assessed with western science knowledge used as an external reference. However, assessing the accuracy of indigenous climate knowledge remains a largely untapped area. We aim to show how accurate the culturally built indigenous climate knowledge of extreme climatic events is, and how amenable it is to fuzzy logic. A retrospective survey was carried out individually and randomly among 195 Eastern African farmers on climatic reasons for loss of on-farm crop diversity from 1961 to 2006. More than 3000 crop loss events were recorded, and reasons given by farmers were mainly related to droughts or heavy rainfall. Chi-square statistics computed by Monte Carlo simulations based on 999 replicates clearly rejected independence between indigenous knowledge of drought and heavy rainfall that occurred in the past and rainfall records. The fuzzy logic nature of indigenous climatic knowledge appears in the clear association of drought or heavy rainfall events, as perceived by farmers, with corresponding extreme rainfall values, contrasting with a fuzzy picture in the intermediate climatic situations. We discuss how the cultural built-in knowledge helps farmers in perceiving and remembering past climate variations, considering the specificity of the contexts where extreme climatic events were experienced. The integration of indigenous and scientific climate knowledge could allow development of drought monitoring that considers both climatic and contextual data.

Key words

climate change; drought; ecological anthropology; fuzzy logic; Kenya; Meru; traditional ecological knowledge;

Copyright © 2013 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087