According to Australia Awards Alumnus Eric Mboumien who is the founder of the Action Groups on Governance and Environmental Management (AGGEM), over 70% of households in Cameroon depend on agriculture for their survival, yet the sector is highly exposed to the negative impacts of climate change.
Eric explains that a lag between the time policies are initiated and implemented and a lack of consideration for local knowledge are the main reasons rural farmers in Africa feel the impact of climate change. “The proposed solutions, policies, tools and financial mechanisms to protect communities are slow to leave the international and national level and reach vulnerable communities. In addition [national and international policies] have failed to take into consideration communities’ local, indigenous knowledge and practices (LIKPs) that offer reliable community solutions with inherent environmental, conservation, cultural and health benefits.”
Eric completed a Masters in Environmental Management and Sustainability in 2013 from the University of South Australia. Key components of the course included learning how to articulate climate change issues to diverse audiences, community engagement and project/people management. He attributes his achievements at AGGEM to these skills gained during his time in Australia. “Studying at the University of South Australia equipped me with the skills needed to articulate issues on climate change to diverse audiences and effectively engage with communities.”
Established in 2015, AGGEM seeks to gather, evaluate, and compare evidence of the role LIKPs have in shielding smallholder farmers against the negative impacts of climate change and to disseminate this evidence to key audiences. The organisation also seeks to enhance the potential of local communities as co-creators of knowledge and exposes farmers to new business and education opportunities offered by LIKPs.
“AGGEM sought to bring sidelined community solutions to the fore and engage in a process of socialisation with key actors and policy makers working in the sectors of climate, agriculture, research and innovation. Thus giving a stronger consideration to LIKPs by integrating it with scientific knowledge and tools to inform local and national decision making on climate change mitigation and adaptation,” says Eric.
Through the LIKP Initiative, rural farmers share ways of mitigating losses due to climate change. In 2009 planting of crops had to be done twice because there was a late arrival of rains and extremely high temperatures that killed seeds. Now farmers can determine rainfall patterns through LIKPs says Eric. “Farmers have been able to observe the behavior of livestock, birds, insects, clouds and smoke to predict the arrival of rains. This knowledge is used as an early warning system reducing exposure to climate change risks including losses incurred by planting crops early or late.”
Of the 1251 farmers reached by the LIKP Initiative, 860 were women. “Rural women have been the key target of this initiative given that they are generally the most involved in smallholder farming and household food production and most affected by climate change,” says Eric.
Australia Awards encourages Alumni to develop professional links with each other to maximize their development impact and Eric credits the establishment of AGGEM to his collaboration with Alumni he met during the 2014 Australia Awards Mining and Agriculture Symposium.
During the Symposium (where Eric presented a paper on climate change), Eric reports that there was consensus on the rich potential amongst communities in terms of LIKPs that was paramount to climate change adaptation and creating resilient communities. “Together with other colleagues who had found interest in this topic we agreed to constitute a Community of Practice on the promotion of community use of LIKP linked to climate change.”
Eric worked closely with Australia Awards Alumni Pamela Levira, (Research Officer at Tanzania Meteorological Agency) and Nelson Chilambo (Senior Training Officer, Zambia College of Agriculture) to conduct a comparative analysis of local practices in over 15 climate change hotspot communities in Cameroon, Tanzania and Zambia. They also collaborated with Dr Karen Elizabeth McNamara of The University Queensland’s School of Geography and Environmental Management who contributed to the tools developed for data collection and analysis.
Pamela, Nelson and Eric continue to exchange knowledge on the use of LIKPs for resilient food production. “We are writing decision briefs and a joint paper based on our research findings and plan to continuously conduct cross-border comparative analysis of experiences in the use of LIKPs,” Eric concludes.
Local communities in Cameroon have been able to use local knowledge that has been shared from one generation to another through different ways as shown in the figure.