One of the aims of rural development is to facilitate sustainable livelihood strategies in the developing world whilst adopting an ecosystem approach.1 As the impacts of climate change are expected to increase, there is growing concern in development contexts over how best to assist the poor and vulnerable to adapt to such changes whilst ensuring environmental and livelihood security. Ziervogel and Calder (2003) posit that climate variability is a persistent and progressively more worrying feature in the everyday lives of individuals and communities in rural areas around the world. Some studies have highlighted major concerns about social vulnerability in relation to the likely effects of climate change (e.g. Adger 1999) whilst also stressing the need for comprehensive knowledge of the complex relationships between humans, and between them and their environment. There is also a concern that while governments are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impacts of climate change (IUCN et al. 2003) and thus more interested in adaptation strategies, it is necessary, as Rojas Blanco (2006) argues, to bridge the gap between topdown decision-making and more grassroots approaches, which encompass local knowledge and experiences.
Adger et al. warn that ‘[c]limate change is likely to result in societal impacts through changes in water, natural resources, food systems, marine ecosystems and through the need to cope with a changing regime of weather extremes’ (2003: 185). Drawing upon fieldwork in Sri Lanka, this article explores the potential of taking an indigenous knowledge research (IKR) approach to understanding local adaptation to climate change, specifically how local people are adapting their livelihood strategies to what they perceive to be increasing variability in weather patterns. Briefly, IKR relates to any knowledge held by a local population that informs their understanding of the world (Sillitoe 1998b). It aims to achieve an in-depth appreciation of local experiences and objectives and facilitates communication between local people and outsiders (Thrupp 1989; Warren et al. 1995; Sillitoe 1998b). Importantly, in the context of climate change, IKR is not limited to the technical and environmental knowledge that local people hold but also includes the sociopolitical and economic context in which this knowledge is embedded (Sillitoe 1998a; Pottier et al. 2003).
Using the Sri Lankan ethnographic data to uncover adaptive strategies to climate change is potentially limited because this research focused specifically on livelihoods and farmers’ decision-making with particular emphasis on intercropping with rubber (Marzano 2002b). However, the research involved recording cultivation practices in home gardens and smallholdings: places where local people are able to integrate their own knowledge and experimentation with government-regulated advice (e.g. for plantation crops). This allows us to explore:
(1) the ways in which local farmers use their land and how factors such as soil variation and microclimate influence their decision-making,
(2) whether farmers are already experiencing what we might consider to be the effects of longer-term climatic changes, and (3) other sociopolitical and economic factors that contribute to the vulnerability of farmers.
Rojas Blanco (2006: 141) also emphasizes the importance of building links between policymaking and local expertise as well as the sharing of information between local people and the scientific community. Thus, this article touches on the role of indigenous knowledge networks, already in existence in parts of South Asia, and how they can contribute in providing assistance to people through sharing of knowledge. The discussion allows a broad consideration of the extent to which IKR can facilitate exchange between local farmers and the outside world and the potential for IKR and associated networks to promote rapid dissemination of adaptive strategies to cope with future climate change.
Sri Lanka: Background to Climate and Cultivation
Sri Lanka is predominantly a rural country with a large proportion of the population relying on farming as its main livelihood strategy. Many villages across Sri Lanka rely solely on rain-fed farming, and agricultural activities are highly susceptible to variations in rainfall and temperature (Wanasinghe 2005). As with other countries in South Asia (such as Pakistan, India and Bangladesh), Sri Lanka is thought to be particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change (
Although Sri Lanka’s seasons depend on the southwest and northeast monsoon, the island can be divided roughly into three climatic regions: wet and dry zones and intermediate zone between these (Ashton et al. 1997). The district of Moneragala in southeast Sri Lanka is divided climatically between the dry and intermediate zones with two cropping seasons: the Maha season (the main cultivating season), which generally runs from October to March, and the Yala season from April to September.
The villages of Mediriya, Therrapahuwa and Walamatiara are located in the ‘intermediate low country’ region of Moneragala which was considered, by farmers, to be infinitely better (and wetter) than the dry zone. Although the villagers in the study region would not be considered as vulnerable to the impacts of climate change as those in the dry zone or coastal areas (where the impacts could be catastrophic), it is necessary to record their experiences as they learn to adapt against a backdrop of widespread climate change, for as IUCN et al. point out: Climate change and associated ecological changes …pose threats to the viability of many economic and social structures, even where people are not displaced or in serious physical risk. This is particularly true where they will lead to decline in the availability or quality of natural resources such as water or land in which the livelihoods of many poor people are based. (2003: 7) Wanasinghe (2005) documents how recent research has shown that the amount of rainfall in Sri Lanka has gradually declined since at least the 1950s and that drought now affects most of the districts in the dry and intermediate zones. He states, ‘the anticipated climate change, particularly in the dry and intermediate zones would have a negative effect on foreign earnings and the livelihoods, food security and health of family members of small land holders’(p. 7). Access to water influences many aspects of a Sri Lankan villager’s life including having enough clean water to drink and bathe and for domestic use, but this article will primarily consider the potential impact of changes in climate on farming. As agricultural endeavours are primarily rain-fed, and thus highly climate-sensitive, the availability of water and expectations of rain play a major part in farmers’ decision-making, particularly with regards to what could or should be planted where and when.
Chena or slash-and-burn cultivation was abandoned in the villages under study when population numbers increased and land became scarce. Now, in addition to keeping a home garden, most people practice nonshifting highland cultivation on smallholdings. Johnson and Scrivenor differentiate between the Sri Lankan home garden and smallholding stating that:
The climate allows a wide range of plants to be grown and at first impression a homestead garden is a confused, luxuriant, green multistoreyed jungle…while there is much variation in the nature of smallholdings they are mainly distinguishable from homestead gardens by having fewer species and by growing them on a commercial basis (1981: 49).
In the villages, cash crops are generally grown in the watte (smallholdings, lit.‘garden’) which are either extensions of home gardens or located in a separate part of the village, usually on leased or borrowed land. The most important cash crop is batu or brinjal (a type of aubergine). Other vegetables and pulses cultivated on smallholdings include chillies, okra (both of which are sold if there is a surplus), bitter gourds, pumpkins, onions, cowpeas, green gram, long beans and yams. Herbs and spices are normally grown near the house in the kitchen garden where they can be watered and harvested easily. Perennial cultivations include long-term cash-oriented crops like teak or rubber and medicinal and fruit varieties such as coconut, banana, jak and tamarind. Wild species also occur in home gardens and smallholdings, some of which are valued for their timber or medicinal properties.
Paddy cultivation is largely restricted to nonirrigated or highland terraces. Some villagers were fortunate enough to cultivate plots of between 0.5 and 2 acres with irrigated communal ‘colonies’ nearby. These terraces are often passed down through the generations. An alternative is for households to cultivate rice through a tenancy sharecropping system called ande¯ where the landlord provides the land and resources and the tenant ploughs, plants, maintains and harvests the paddy in return for half the crop.
However, some villagers have no access to paddy terraces and so have to buy rice—their staple food. Other subsistence crops include kurakkan millet and iringu maize, both of which can also be sold. The success of subsistence and cash cultivation is dependent on the availability, and retention, of water and so many of thediscussions with farmers during my fieldwork revolved around the properties and qualities of soils on their land.
What Can the Soil Do For You?
Decision Making and Land Use
Clearly soil condition is not the only factor that influences farmers’ decision-making but it is a good example of the way in which villagers use their knowledge of their land and environment to try to successfully cultivate vegetables, rice and other income-generating species (Sillitoe 1998a). Limited space here precludes any detailed discussion of soils in the region (but see Marzano 2002b and also Ashton et al. 1997). However, it can be discerned, through the field examples discussed below, how villagers continually ‘adjust’ (Kates 2000) their strategies to deal with diverse microclimates and with both too much and too little rain.
While the basic colours of dumburu (brown), ratu (red) and kalu (black) were frequently mentioned by villagers in relation to soils, many other variations in soils and their properties were given to convey a more complete picture of possible cultivation on any particular piece of land . These included the capacity for water retention, temperature regimes and whether the soil was considered to be ‘good’ or ‘bad’. For example, the following soil description, vali kudugala missera, hondai passa naeae indicates a mixture of sand with white stone that crumbles easily; such a soil is not good. One farmer, Abeyasingha, pointed out that stony soil has poor water retention as the ground dries quickly, and is prone to drought. Another farmer, Seelavathi, related this poor water retention to the temperature of the stones in the soil and how, in the dry season, they became ooshnay (hot). This, she suggested, makes it difficult to grow banana in such soils, as the plants need considerable amounts of water.
To say that soil is seethala (cold) is also to infer that it is wet or moist. On one smallholding in Therrapahuwa, planting decisions were made on the basis of water retention as well as the presence of stones in the soil. Dharamadarsa planted his coffee near the stream (see Figure 1) because the plants need moist soil. However, he planted lime behind the house, towards the mountain (in stony soil) as this citrus tree could, in his opinion, tolerate dry land. Some of the villagers from Mediriya have spread their cultivation to the elevated land across the Kumbukkan Oya river, most of which belongs to a monastery. Jayasingha’s household leases three acres directly adjacent to the river. He explained that the brown, sandy soil there was seethala which was ‘good’ because of water retention. Furthermore such soil is not difficult to weed or maintain. However, there are drawbacks as such riverside soil is easily eroded, and they had already lost an acre, including mature coconut palms and ancient kumbuk trees, to the river. In some cases, the soil types in one area were thought to have an impact on adjacent smallholdings. Gnanawathi has two acres of land, one acre of which she had planted with rubber along with a number of short-term intercrops. However, the plants on one side of the plot seemed taller and healthier than those on the other side. I asked her why and she pointed to the ‘unhealthy’ side where she described the soil as being made up of gal missera karamati, a mixture of stones and clay, with kabook (hard sandstone) at around 1.5 feet deep. The other side of the plot was made up of saluata pasa (sandy soil) with sium (fine, white sand) underneath. Gnanawathi believed the stones had come from the neighbouring land through erosion.
The land in Walamatiara—a narrow village wedged between the Kumbukkan Oya and Therapahuwa Mountain—is characterized by clay soils on one side of the road, near the river, and sandy or loamy soil2 on the other side, near the mountain, with wide variations in between.
Somalatha, whose smallholding is located at the base of the mountain, highlighted how the growth of plants behind her house where the soil is loamy is far better than in the front where the land is clayey. The best attribute of the loamy soil was said to be its pohora (fertile content), referring to the topsoil that washes down from the mountain. The clay soil, on the other hand, becomes very sticky when it rains and if vegetables were planted there, the roots would decay in the waterlogged soil. Somalatha also outlined how the condition of the soil affected her decision-making. While walking around the smallholding she pointed to a plot near the border between her land and that of her neighbour.
She explained how the top layer of soil was sandy but underneath it was sudu pata makul (white clay). Following years of experimentation, she said, she had found that shortterm cultivation of crops such as cowpeas, long beans, maize and kolu (a cereal) could survive, if it did not rain too heavily. However, perennials such as coconut, banana and lime could not grow because of their long roots which could not tolerate the white clay. Villagers explained to me that under atypical weather conditions, for example during a prolonged drought, they were forced to make different decisions in relation to which crops they planted and their locations.
The Rains Play Havoc With the Farmer: A Change in the Weather?
Although not couched in such terms as ‘longterm climate change’, many of the villagers I spoke to were concerned about the apparent increasing unpredictability of seasonal weather patterns, some of which they linked to deforestation and government attempts to encourage agricultural intensification. One aspect of the changing weather patterns that appeared to preoccupy many farmers was the unpredictability and variability of the rains. When discussing the difficulties facing them, one villager stated that the worst problem he faced was a decline in rainfall and that he believed it was worsening. Villagers were also concerned about the variability of weather patterns and the increased frequency of ‘extreme’ weather events. After the hardships of a drought in 1998 there was generally considered to be too much rain in 2000. Many villagers had genuine worries that the weather was changing in ways detrimental to their farming activities.
The centrality of rain is tied to Sri Lankan folk beliefs and Buddhism. Most villagers talked of the ‘seven-day rains’ named Duruthu that occur in January after the poya (full moon) but which they said had not occurred in the past few years. In fact, rains were expected around poya every month, and particularly during the large peraheras (processions) held in Kataragama and Kandy, where, it was said, watercutting ceremonies3 would bring rain. Such beliefs were severely tested, though, as an extract from my diary reveals:
In the evening I had an interesting conversation with Danapala. He was talking about his paddy and how he had drained all the water off to put weed killer onto the grass while it was small. Fertilizer needed to be put on as well but now there was no rain to fill up the terraces. He said it would probably rain on poya day (two days from now). I asked if he was worried. He said yes and that it was difficult to be a farmer. Other farmers also discussed their concerns with the changes in rainfall and the implications this has for their decision-making:
Before there was more rain. At the end of August it would start and finish in February although it would rain some other months as well.
The problem is there is no water. We have to wait for rain. If the rain fails farmers are disappointed. If there was rain, paddy could be cultivated two to three times [a year].
There is a problem with rain. If there is not enough and paddy is sown, it will be ruined. If vegetables are planted instead and the rain comes in force the cultivation will become swamped and ruined. During my fieldwork, villagers largely associated the unpredictable weather with the destruction of the local forest but also suggested that poor watershed management had reduced water availability. For this they blamed govern- ment policies which first attempted to settle the
once sparsely populated Moneragala region by encouraging entrepreneurs to exploit timber and then, later, urging farmers to grow sugarcane for processing at a large nearby factory (Lakshman 1997; Marzano 2002a). Sugarcane turned out to be unprofitable and was largely abandoned by farmers but, as one villager explained, Sugar cultivation increased the cutting of forest; next guinea grass came. When large trees are cut, young plants also die…there is no food on the mountain and no water.
Drought periods can be alleviated with the help of large agricultural wells but these are expensive to sink and demand costly motors and pipes. Subsidies and loan schemes are available but, as one farmer pointed out, the ability to repay is not assured and there is a risk that equipment can be repossessed along with the money already deposited.
The year before fieldwork there had been a severe drought in Moneragala. By the time I arrived in 1999, people were waiting for droughtrelief payments from the government. Nobody seemed sure when they would come and, as I never heard anything more about it during the remainder of my sixteen-month stay, I cannot say whether the relief ever arrived. By the time of the 1999–2000 Maha cultivating season, farmers were complaining that there was too much rain at the wrong time and it was damaging the paddy, then at the ‘flowering’ stage and sensitive to such weather conditions. As one villager said, ‘the rains play havoc with the farmer’. Such discussions surrounding the rain highlight the vulnerability of farmers who practice highland or rain-fed cultivation. Problems arose during extended droughts or periods of too much rain at the wrong time of year. Unpredictable and variable rainfall, coupled with limited water availability, impacts on both on- and off-farm decision-making. Villagers try largely to adapt, almost on a weekly basis, to the rains, both in terms of cultivation and whether they engage with other livelihood strategies. For example, Sunethra and her husband had cleared an area of their land and burnt the weeds with the intention of ploughing and planting pumpkin but they had to abandon this because they could not plough for lack of rain. During prolonged dry periods when farming is not possible, many village men turn to mining for precious gems4, an activity that is illegal without a licence. Other livelihood strategies adopted when cultivation fails include making and selling bricks, collecting and selling firewood, (illegal) logging, labouring and masonry work. Some villagers were lucky enough to have a government job. The lack of a secure water supply, coupled with uncertainty surrounding the weather, means that villagers have continually to experiment and adapt their agricultural practices in relation to the prevailing weather. As most rural people are directly dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, the potential of climate changes to reduce the availability and suitability of these resources has serious implications for villagers who are already vulnerable (IUCN et al. 2003). The impacts of climate change on cultivation practices must also be placed within a social context and, as the IUCN et al. point out, ‘Any consideration of the need for adaptation to help poor communities to adjust to the effects of climate change must take account of all [the] different forms of vulnerability’ (2003: 6). What is Vulnerability?
Much has been written about the predicted impacts of climate change, including temperature change, drought, flooding and sea-level rise, which all have the potential to seriously threaten people’s social and environmental well-being (
IUCN et al. 2003; Brooker et al. 2007). There is also a considerable literature on assessing the vulnerability of people and their associated abilities to adapt to the impacts of climate change (see, for example, Ribot et al. 1996; Adger 1999; Kates 2000; Adger et al. 2003;
Huq et al. 2003; IUCN et al. 2003; Schröter et al. 2005; Rojas Blanco 2006). Adger (1999: 249) defines vulnerability as ‘the exposure of groups or individuals to stress as a result of social and environmental change, where stress refers to unexpected changes and disruption to livelihoods’ (see also IPCC 2001: 89). Resilience, the opposite of vulnerability, represents the ability of people to withstand the impacts of trends and shocks (IUCN et al. 2003). The effects of climate change, such as unpredictable and variable rainfall, can add further stress to individuals, households and communities who are already sociopolitically and economically vulnerable (see, for example, Marzano 2002a). IUCN et al. (2003) highlight that resilience, and therefore a secure livelihood, is determined by access to assets (e.g. social, natural, human, physical and financial assets, as defined by the sustainable livelihoods framework; see Pretty 1999) and external services. They define these services as ‘those provided by flood control, coastal protection and other infrastructure, transport and communication, access to credit and financial systems, access to markets, emergency relief systems and others’ (IUCN et al. 2003: 6). A key factor emerging from the literature, and from the experiences of villagers in Sri Lanka (see below), is that individual livelihood choices are dynamic and situated (as well as constrained) within changing sociopolitical, economic and environmental circumstances (Adger 1999; IPCC 2001). Cohen (1997) highlights that any national response to climate change will be influenced by other issues such as the global economy, political realities and regional issues. He adds that ‘if climate warming occurs, governments and their constituents will need advice on how to adapt to the new climate’ (Cohen 1997: 296). Yet, as Rojas Blanco (2006: 141) reports, local communities are often best placed to develop solutions likely to work at the local level because they are already reporting the effects of climatic variations in their regions and responding as best they can. But they are infrequently, if ever, consulted.
Responding as Best They Can: The Social Context of Livelihood Choices It seems that the Sri Lankan villagers are generally coping with the current variability in the weather they are experiencing, although some are better off than others, having better support systems in place, including access to social networks (see Marzano 2002a; Adger et al. 2003). Huq et al. (2003) highlight that while some adaptations by local people will be planned, others will be a spontaneous reaction to changing circumstances related to resource use or economic constraints. The problems that villagers face are diverse. Moneragala has been described as one of the poorest and least developed regions of Sri Lanka (Marzano 2002a,b) and villagers struggle not only with water but also with other issues such as access to land, the availability of labour, health issues, the control of pests and diseases, the problems of marketing and, more generally, the political legacies of colonialism and civil war.
Lack of suitable land is a major issue for the villagers in Mediriya and Therrapahuwa. The former is densely populated, while rocks and large boulders dominate the land around Therrapahuwa. Most households solve the problem of lack of land by sharecropping, leasing land or finding a landowner who will lend land free of charge. Terms of land access reflect the varying power of individual households to press their claims. Whilst the majority of households have some form of permit for their land from the local council, some do not and have been waiting years for the issue of permits. Without a land permit, households cannot participate in government programmes and are excluded from institutional credit and subsidies. Agreements between tenants and landlords are similarly precarious, particularly with the popular practice of informal verbal arrangements over land access. A number of cases were cited to me where a landowner had agreed to allow a villager to farm uncultivated plots but once the land had been cultivated, reclaimed it. The difficulties that farmers face in securing land has considerable bearing on the livelihood strategies they employ.
Scarcity of labour affects farmers’ decisions over prioritizing daily activities. Certain strategies are adopted to cope with the lack of available labour such as attam, sharecropping or allowing others to cultivate and maintain your land. Labourers can be found but they are few in number and may be too expensive for many household budgets. Amale labourer costs Rs150 per day (roughly 77 UK pence in 2006) and the employer must pay in advance and provide two meals, tea and areca nut.
The livelihood strategies of villagers are also influenced by the state of their health. Moneragala has always had a reputation for vectorborne diseases such as malaria. One villager told me how, long ago, Moneragala used to have the nickname Muppanne5 and there was a saying, ‘Do not point your finger at Muppanne lest the fever travel up your arm’. Currently the land pits left by mining are considered one of the prime causes of malaria, which afflicts many villagers repeatedly, particularly during the rainy season when the pits are filled with water. Most villagers blamed malaria on the unpredictable weather. Its affects can have devastating consequences for households, being worse for people with limited access to social networks. As Thompson points out, ‘[p]eople suffering from malaria are unable to go out and tend to their assets. Equally, people without assets are vulnerable to malnutrition and disease and are less likely to be able to afford essential treatments and health services’ (1998: 203). Climate change, through global warming, is likely to expand the range of vector-borne diseases like malaria and water-borne diseases such as cholera (IPCC 2001).
Pests and Diseases
The protection of crops from pests and diseases is an ongoing and expensive struggle for Sri lankan farmers. They use chemical pesticides (behet, ‘medicine’) on a number of different crops but with variable success rates. Attacks by wild animals such as birds, squirrels, monkeys and wild boar cannot be prevented, unless a household guards its crops constantly, which demands labour. For example, during the last stages of paddy growth, a period which attracts birds, rats and other pests, household members will spend substantial periods of time rigging up scaring devices and watching for attacks. Farmers also need to be on guard against such pests as panuwa (worms) that burrow into vegetables such as brinjal and okra; a stem borer that invades banana plants, moving from one plant to the next; and a beetle that eats coconut palms from the inside. Avirus that attacks lime and orange trees has almost wiped out varieties that were once widespread and thriving in Moneragala district and farmers believe there is no preventative measure. This ongoing struggle with diseases and pests is likely to be exacerbated by climate change which may alter both their development and survival as well as the susceptibility of their hosts (FAO 2005). Markets There is a market every day in some part of the district. The most popular with villagers is the Medagama market on Thursdays and Moneragala market every Saturday and Sunday. Some farmers take their produce to Moneragala market but many transport it (by bicycle or threewheeler) to Nakkala Junction where most of the buying and selling occurs before lorries arrive to transport the produce to other markets. It takes time and effort to transport produce to market and a number of middlemen and -women operate in the region buying fruit and vegetables, sometimes at low rates. One ‘trick of the trade’ involves the middleman or woman agreeing to sell a farmer’s brinjal at a set price but then returning from market saying that it sold for less money than originally agreed. The farmer then has to accept less money without knowing whether his brinjal was actually sold at this price or not. Villagers also suffer from gluts in the market, and lack of control over pricing decisions can affect livelihood strategies (Marzano 2007). General difficulties with farming have led to large changes in the choices that young Sri Lankans make. Only 1 percent of school leavers want to go into farming because of the risk, lack of markets and no guarantee of year-round income (Official from Monergala Agricultural Department, pers. comm.).
Although there has been a growing interest in indigenous knowledge and the role that local people can play in rural development in Sri Lanka (see for example SLARCIK 1996), Karunayake (2001, cited in Wanasinghe 2005) emphasizes that resources are still controlled and managed by the state bureaucracy and local power groups. Farmers are subject to the political structures that exist in Sri Lanka, influenced by a long history of colonialism, neoliberal policies, the continuation of paternalistic attitudes and the rise of partisanship. Levels of mistrust and suspicion are high following two traumatic insurgencies and over two decades of civil war, which now threatens to erupt again following the devastating Tsunami in 2005 (Brow 1988; Spencer 1990; Moore 1992; Woost 1993; Alailima 1997; Marzano 2002b). These broader, political issues are all pervasive and have tangible effects on an individual farmer’s vulnerability and resilience. It is likely that they will only be exacerbated by the additional impact of likely climate change. How can farmers’ knowledge of their land and its capabilities, and their ability to be flexible and adaptive (often in response to factors outside their control) be harnessed when facing the realities of climate change given this complex situation and the problems associated with the sustainability of rural development in Sri Lanka? Rojas Blanco (2006) suggests a form of information exchange where local communities are informed of the consequences of climate change from a top-down perspective, and vice versa, that local people are involved in policy-related decision-making processes.
Indigenous Knowledge Research and Networks
Indigenous knowledge research has the potential to provide a link between local knowledge and experiences and the scientific or policy driven community (Sillitoe 1998b; 2000). Its emphasis is on working closely with local people and situating their knowledge of the environment, and of climatic variability, in the wider, sociopolitical context within which they make their livelihood choices. Indigenous knowledge research can feed into the growing methodological toolboxes that are being developed to identify vulnerability to climate change, particularly where there is a call to recognize, as was discussed in relation to Sri Lankan farmers, the heterogeneity and fluidity of local experiences, skills and knowledge and the importance of placing this knowledge within a social con- text (see for example Schröter et al. 2005: 576–77 for their ‘five criteria for vulnerability assessments’). Importantly IKR sets out to make links between local people’s understanding and experiences and those of outside researchers or policy-makers. Moreover, the inclusion of local people’s knowledge of resource availability and accessibility is likely to increase the impact and relevance of climate change research (Sillitoe 1998a). For example, at the national level there is growing concern in Sri Lanka over foreign exchange earnings for export crops such as tea and rubber and the possible impacts of climate change on the economy. These crops are cultivated on large, government- and privatelyowned plantations, but also on smallholdings across the island (Wanasinghe 2005). It is on the smallholdings that climate change impacts are most likely to be recognized. Cohen (1997: 302) has argued for the importance of local people’s environmental knowledge but adds that little of this valuable information has reached the mainstream discourse on global climate change. However, it is also necessary for the reverse to happen—for global information on climate change to reach local farmers in an accessible format. Ziervogel and Calder (2003) discuss how seasonal forecasts can be made more available and accessible to vulnerable groups. They state: Because climate is only one stress on livelihoods, the impact of seasonal forecasts requires assessing not just agricultural activities that might change in response to forecasts, but the multiple dimensions of rural livelihoods that constrain the uptake of information, have secondary effects and determine the system’s ability to handle future stress. (2003: 403) Indigenous knowledge networks are also potentially vehicles for rapidly sharing information and building links between localities.
They have the capacity for representing and communicating local issues and could be used to facilitate the exchange of adaptive strategies and sustainable technologies between regions which may, through climate change, experience similar agroclimatic conditions. An example would be the development of floating gardens in Bangladesh (see
Currently, Indigenous knowledge networks work at the local level. Indigenous knowledge resource centres are found in many countries across the world including South Asia, Bangladesh (BARCIK), India (CARIKS) and Sri Lanka (SLARCIK). There is also a variety of networks, such as the Climate Action Network in Bangladesh and Development Alternative in India, which may involve local or regional NGOs but are generally unconnected to government or administrative networks. It is important to explore the potential and obstacles to not only linking these networks across countries but also bridging the gap between indigenous knowledge and government networks to learn lessons from past and present strategies of adaptation to climate change and develop appropriate solutions for the future.
The growing concern surrounding the likely impacts of climate change on vulnerable and poor people highlights the necessity for two way communication between the worldwide discourse on global warming and grassroots experiences of local people trying to cope with the changes and vice versa. As Adger et al. point out, ‘all societies…need to learn to cope with the changes that are predicted—warmer temperatures, drier soils, changes in weather extremes and rising sea levels’ (2003: 180). Many countries around the world, including Sri Lanka, face increased risk from changing weather regimes from the catastrophic to the less obvious but equally significant changes that are thought likely to occur and that will render local populations vulnerable to livelihood shocks and stresses (
The lived reality of Sri Lankan farmers in the villages of Mediriya, Therrapahuwa and Walamatiara is one in which the availability of water influences every aspect of daily living and the livelihood choices that are made. Water is a valuable resource for these farmers who depend on the rain for their subsistence and cash crops. In order to cope with changes in the prevailing weather, farmers use their intimate knowledge of their land, including soil properties, to adjust to the unpredictability of rainfall. However, perhaps even more important in the context of this article, Sri Lankan farmers are also concerned about the longerterm changes that they are witnessing for themselves. The extent to which farmers have the resilience to withstand the environmental effects of climate change is also contingent on the other sociopolitical and economic realities that impact on their daily existence. This article discusses issues of access to land and labour, health, market opportunities and a political environment influenced by a colonial past and war-torn present. Adger et al. (2003:186) highlight that there is an emerging research agenda focusing on identifying key factors that determine resilience and emphasizing a focus on learning from past and present experiences. Indigenous knowledge research can document these experiences, situating them within the social context in which they occur, an important factor if adaptive strategies are to work in a sustainable manner. However, for adaptive solutions to be sought there must be efficient and accessible methods for sharing and dissemination of knowledge and ideas. Indigenous knowledge networks can provide a vehicle for such information flows and create a support mechanism that may bridge the gap between top-down global and national decision-making on adaptation and more grassroots approaches where people learn to adjust in order to survive.
The ideas for this article came out of detailed discussions on IKR with Paul Sillitoe. I am also grateful for the help and advice provided by Dave Carss, Mabub Alam and Monzurul Mannan.
Mariella Marzano is a Research Associate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Durham and Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Banchory. Her research interests are in environmental anthropology, sustainable development and interdisciplinarity with regional foci in South Asia and Europe. She currently works on issues surrounding biodiversity monitoring and conservation and human–wildlife conflicts in Europe. (Mariella Marzano, 43 Old Elvet, DURHAM, DH1 3HN, England. E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org)
1. The phrase ‘ecosystem approach’ was first coined in the early 1980s, but found formal acceptance at the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 where it became an underpinning concept of the Convention on Biological Diversity, and was later described as: ‘a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way’.
2. Villagers explained that loamy soil was a grey colour, loose and fertile because it was made up of earth, sand and decomposing matter (litter layer). However, because of soil erosion this layer would only remain up to a year after the jungle had been cleared.
3. Although there are a number of versions of the origins of this ceremony, Fernando describes the diya kapuma (water-cutting ceremony) as originally a rain-making ceremony and associated with agricultural practices (2000: 142, see this book also for further details on this ritual).
4. Mine pits can be land-based or dug in the river. The types of gems found in Sri Lanka include varieties of sapphire, ruby, moonstone, amethyst, garnet and topaz.
5. The villager was not sure what Muppanne meant but thought that as Mul is ‘chief’ and Pahana translates as ‘stone’, the name might have been used to refer to Moneragala as a ‘principal boundary’.
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