Climate Change in the Eastern Himalayas: Community-based Traditional Ecological Knowledge to Support Biodiversity Conservation

Contributed by Lun YIN | published 4th Jun 2021 | last updated 9th Jun 2021
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The Climate Reality Project: Leader profiles - Dr. Lun Yin
Summary
This project seeks to design a community-based biodiversity conservation plan based on the traditional ecological knowledge in the Eastern Tibetan Himalayas of North-West Yunnan Province, China. 
The Himalayan region is one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, and it is also the home to an extraordinary cultural multiplicity among its numerous mountain nationalities. In recent years, climate change and its impacts on biodiversity have become gradually obvious in the Himalayan region. This project aims to develop a community-based biodiversity conservation plan based on the traditional ecological knowledge in the Eastern Tibetan Himalayas of North-West Yunnan Province, China, in order to promote an effective and sustainable response to the impacts of Climate Change on the biodiversity. This project also aims to use the best of ‘top-down’ scientific policy, relevant approaches with ‘bottom-up’ traditional ecological knowledge research to achieve its main objectives - seeking to reconcile traditional ecological knowledge with mainstream science.
Not only will this project build the capacity of local villagers, scientists and local government to conduct climate change impact, traditional ecological knowledge and biodiversity conservation, but moreover, the data collected during this project will also help to fill an important gap or ‘white spot’ of data on the Eastern Himalayan region in IPCC and other international climate assessments.
With the support from the International networks, this project will help to improve scientific-policy links, and improve methodologies for the inclusion of traditional ecological knowledge to support biodiversity conservation in climate change policy and international assessments.
The project will have sustainable outcomes through the ongoing training and capacity building of project collaborators; the establishment of an International Scientific Advisory Group to guide the project, and a conference and publications at the end of the project to share information and experiences about the traditional ecological knowledge and support Biodiversity Conservation.
Additionally, the project will support the ongoing capacity building in Climate Impact & Traditional Ecological Knowledge on Biodiversity through the collaborative development of training manuals and programs to be produced by all participating NGO’s and local government departments, to ongoing use in their own institutions.
The project will use a multi-stakeholder team including local Tibetan villagers, climate change experts, ethno-botanists, anthropologists, government representatives, meteorologists, and scientists skilled in traditional ecological knowledge field work.
 
Photo: Liqing Peichu
Overview
Location
China
Implementation sites
Single country
Single location
Mountain region
Eastern Himalayas
Province
Yunnan Province
Site locations
Deqin
Solution scale
Local
Ecosystem type(s)
Lakes and rivers
Agricultural land
Forest
High Alpine
Meadows
Solution type(s)
Research
Land use practice
Sector(s)
Natural Hazards
Ecosystems Biodiversity
Water
Forestry
Agriculture
Climate impact(s) addressed
Flood
Landslides
Drought
Altered growing seasons
Impact time-scales
Slow Onset
Benefits
Environmental benefits
Co-benefits
Climate risk reduction
Social benefits
Implementation timeline
2003 — 2025
Sendai targets
2
4
5
7
SDGs
5
11
13
15
Solution details

Main beneficiaries & outcomes

Our initiative aims to mainstream the value of Tibetan women’s traditional organizations and traditional knowledge, encourage women’s participation in policy-making and decision-making process of major public issues such as coping with climate change and biodiversity protection, eliminate women’s poverty and ensure livelihood security, and protect women’s rights to build more inclusive and sustainable societies.

Tibetan women play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. That means Tibetan women are not only passive victims of climate change, but also positive forces to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Tibetan women - especially at the local community level - have been resisting, mitigating and even reversing the effects of climate change, they possess specific knowledge and skills to effectively contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.

For the Tibetan women in Jiabi village, their traditional knowledge has a positive effect on adapting to climate change. This is because women are not only the supporters of families and the implementers of agricultural production, but also because their labor is directly linked to nature sources, such as water, land and forest, which are all related to climate change. Based on case of Jiabi, to reduced gender inequality, we should first recognize the value of traditional knowledge of women, the ability of women, so as to enhance the social inclusion of women in indigenous peoples and local communities in the context of climate change.

Planning and implementation

Community-based biodiversity conservation plan is an approach that enables individuals, groups, and institutions to participate in identifying and addressing biodiversity-related local issues. It is led by the local communities that empower local people for coping with climatic vagaries. In this system, local priorities, knowledge, needs, and capacities are key factors for making an adaption plan.

The climate change-related disasters such as droughts, floods and landslide have been occurring frequently and seriously affecting biodiversity. At the same time, although villagers, especially the local experts with rich traditional knowledge, have much knowledge and experience of coping with unexpected climatic events, today's climate change phenomenon and disasters may push the situation beyond their knowledge and ability. For example, the uncertainty of rainfall has affected the agricultural bio-species selection, the droughts have affected the biodiversity resources of alpine pastures etc. In this case, Community-based biodiversity conservation plan offers an opportunity for interactions between traditional knowledge and science technology, and also a platform to exchange knowledge among the different stakeholders.

As a consequence, it is to be expected that villagers will choose to take different paths to different extents, depending on their village’s particular situation just like the altitude and climate conditions, the location and biodiversity resources conditions. Moreover, each village may require a specific way to conserve the biodiversity resource depending on their specific social and natural circumstances.

In order to implement more effective biodiversity conservation plans, based on the survey data and results of PAR in different villages, the project will formulate three community-based biodiversity conservation models:

  1. Biodiversity conservation model. This model mainly based on the knowledge of traditional cultures related to conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
  2. Biodiversity recovery model. This model mainly based on the knowledge and customary law for use of biodiversity resources.
  3. Biodiversity utilisation model. This model mainly based on the knowledge for use of biodiversity resources and the technical innovations for use of biodiversity resources and traditional farming and lifestyle practices.

Finance

Climate Action SDG Laboratory (CASLab) and Center for Biodiversity and Indigenous knowledge (CBIK).
 
 

Innovation

From the Sacred Mountain to the Carbon Neutral Forest. Mentsunmo, which means “Goddess Peak”, is a sacred mountain in front of Jiabi village. This snowy mountain is more than 6,000 meters above sea level. Part of the Himalayas, it blanketed with powdery snow, like a goddess in the sky. According to local beliefs, this snow mountain transformed into a goddess to bless the local women, and more importantly, control the local climate. Women believe that when this goddess is happy, the climate will be good, but when she is angry, bad weather, which is accompanied by natural disasters, will occur. The Tibetan women in Jiabi village established the “Mentsunmo Climate Action Carbon Neutral Forest” on the sacred mountain. Women use the Goddess Peak of Mentsunmo as the name of Carbon Neutral Forest to show that women have the spiritual power to deal with climate change, and the traditional ecological knowledge behind this spiritual power!

First of all, women protect existing forest ecosystems based on traditional ecological knowledge and sacred mountain belief. Based on the belief in the sacred mountain and the sacred forest culture, the women formulated customary law and regulations to close hillsides for afforestation, forbidding the activities of cutting down trees and destroying forest vegetation. At the same time, women investigate and study their traditional belief in sacred mountain and forest culture, and determine the forest, tree species, and altitude and hillside location for closing hillsides for afforestation. After determining the specific location, the women began to conserve the forest and trees from the high altitude area.

The traditional knowledge of forests was applied in the conservation of trees: cutting off the side branches can ensure that the trunk has sufficient water and nutrients, which is conducive to the growth of trees and the whole forest in high altitude areas. Secondly, in steep slopes and wasteland, women choose the local seedlings of cedars to carry out afforestation. Cedar has a special meaning in traditional beliefs. In the ritual of offering sacrifices to the sacred mountain, local villagers will burn the branches and leaves of cedars to pray for blessings. Afforestation can reduce the threat of temperature rise and drought locally, and reduce the risk of landslide and debris flow caused by extreme weather. Women have built six “Mentsunmo climate action carbon neutral forest” between 2200 and 2500 meters above sea level.

Performance evaluation

Project evaluation is processed in the form of internal and external participation. The mid-term assessment is completed collaboratively between CBIK and interest groups. Process, output, and experience from actual implementation are the focus of mid-term assessment. The principal goal is to guide the next phase of the project through experience exchange and knowledge sharing.
 
In the first year of the second phase of the project cycle (2016 - ), we conducted an external impact assessment, which helped inform the project activities of the second year. Although this is an external evaluation, CBIK, with the participation of donor organization, is responsible for the management. CBIK and donor organization wrote a report based on this assessment for publication in academic journals. Together, CBIK and donor organization developed an evaluation index system in order to smoothly implement assessment activities and both organizations monitor the successes of and challenges faced by the project.
 
 

Long term maintenance and sustainability

Indigenous peoples have rich knowledge of biodiversity. Through participatory action research, the Tibetan villagers themselves will study their traditional knowledge, and the project will reveals the value and significance of biodiversity to the local society: biodiversity is not only a resource problem, but also a social and cultural phenomenon. And the impact of climate change on biodiversity resources is not only an environmental problem, but also an issue of spirit and belief. At the same time, the Tibetan villagers also feel the influence of climate change on their traditional knowledge which links with the biodiversity, some knowledge became inaccurate, some knowledge failed, but in more cases, the project will assist the villagers to use traditional knowledge to conserve the biodiversity and cope with the effects and risks of climate change, which laid the foundation for community-based biodiversity conservation plan.
 

The local perception and the traditional knowledge can improve understanding of the influence of climate change to biodiversity, and provide ideas to develop an equitable and effective biodiversity conservation plan to adapt the climate change. For indigenous peoples, compare with the externally driven adaption options, they are more willing to take the community-based biodiversity conservation plan, because such a plan will enable them to apply their traditional knowledge according to the geographical location and environment of their areas, so that their actions to adapt to climate change will more effective.

Capacities for design and implementation

Knowledge

Traditional knowledge offers insights for assessing Tibetan women’s resilience to the effects of climate change. For Tibetan women, their cultures and traditional knowledge are inherently resilient, in-depth knowledge of the land, familiarity with home territories and basic skills for safety and survival have become the basis of this resilience. Traditional knowledge has vitality and inherent adaptability in the face of climate change. Traditional knowledge is not a static byte to accumulate information, but a tool to transmit social values and attitudes, so traditional knowledge can reinforce the resilience of Tibetan women to adapt to climate change. Traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity can enhance the resilience of livelihood, ecological and social systems of Tibetan women to climate change. For example, in order to cope with the impact of climate change on the farmland environment, Tibetan women can decide to adjust the agricultural planting technology and method and determine the irrigation time according to the traditional knowledge related to the farmland ecosystem, so as to enhance the resilience of agriculture. Through the traditional knowledge and culture related to forest ecosystems, Tibetan women can improve the resilience of forest ecosystems and provide important forest ecosystem services for local society.

For the Tibetan women, compare with the externally driven adaption options, they are more willing to take the community-based biodiversity conservation plan, because such a plan will enable them to apply their traditional knowledge according to the geographical location and environment of their areas, so that their actions to adapt to climate change will more effective. Their vast traditional knowledge of climate change is the weapon they rely on for survival and development. Their traditional knowledge and experience may not be "scientific", but nevertheless represents a shining beacon of wisdom. Traditional knowledge of women provides local adaptation strategies in responding to global climate change.

5/5

Technology

No technology was involved in the design and implementation of the solution.

1/5

Institutional

The Tibetan women in Jiabi village, living in the northwest of Yunnan province and the eastern Himalaya of China are facing the challenge of climate crisis, and because the livelihood depends on local natural resources, Tibetan women have rich traditional knowledge related to biodiversity. At the same time, there exist a traditional Tibetan women organization in the Jiabi villages, called the “Sisterhood”, this organization has long been in the local community, has a long history, and is still very influential today, and has its own strict customary law.

Since 2007, the Tibetan women sisterhood of Jiabi village began a series of actions to protect biodiversity and cope with climate change, finally the community-based conservation and adaptation plan is formed based on traditional knowledge. And in 2020, Tibetan women in Jiabi village set up the “Mentsunmo Climate Action Lab” based on the “Sisterhood”, and carrying out integrated watersheds management, setting up “Climate Action Day” and photography competition, and setting up “Mentsunmo climate action micro loan fund”. Subsequently, the laboratory assisted the women to formulate specific implementation plans for each action, and began to gradually promote each activity according to the plan.

The activities of Tibetan women in Jiabi are including the following parts: Firstly, community-based research on traditional knowledge about climate change, biodiversity, and livelihoods. Based on the community-based research, local Tibetan women carry out research on their own traditional knowledge.

Secondly, traditional knowledge is classified into five categories:

  1. Knowledge for traditional use of agricultural bio-species and genetic resources;
  2. Knowledge for traditional use of medicinal bio-species;
  3. Traditional technical innovations for bio-resource use and traditional practices for farming and living styles;
  4. Traditional cultures such as customary laws and community protocols that are related to conservation and sustainable use of bio-resources;
  5. Traditional geographically biological indicators.

Thirdly, based on the classification of the traditional knowledge, women began to develop a community-based adaptation plan, and conducted action research to adapt the climate change. Fourth, Sisterhood of Jiabi village, as a platform for the implementation of the community-based conservation and adaption plan; use the custom law in the Tibetan women sisterhood as a method of the implementation.

5/5

Socio-cultural

The PAR methodology will design as an iterative interaction process between three stakeholders: villagers, local experts, and researchers. The researchers will facilitate the iterative interaction between these stakeholders. The PAR methodology is a way to empower local villagers and experts to co-design ccommunity-based biodiversity conservation plan, and will support the villagers formulate local adaption strategies to climate change.

The PAR methodology include eight steps, and it is important to be aware of how each step either leads to another, different aspect to be considered or diverges from the path and requires action at that particular point:

  1. Meeting with community. To introduce the project and identify the problems of biodiversity, and how does climate change or variability in the area affect biodiversity resource such as precipitation, river flow, glacier etc., also including indirect effects such as floods, droughts, landslides etc., how are traditional knowledge affected and the intensity of the effects. Sort out the intensity of different effects through villagers scoring, determine the research topic according to the sort.
  2. Identifying the local experts of traditional knowledge and selecting village researchers, and establishing research teams according to research topics, the local experts elected by the villagers will become the leaders of the research teams.
  3. With the help of facilitators, the research teams will commence to make schedule and plan for fieldwork, and then carry out fieldwork according to the plan. Through taking photographs, videos recording, taking notes and other methods in the fieldwork, the research teams gathered raw data for each research topic.
  4. After the first stage of fieldwork, meeting to discuss the detail. The facilitators will help each research teams convene a meeting, in addition to team leaders and members, but also invite 10 to 15 villagers’ representatives to participate. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss the fieldwork in the first stage, to collate the achievements and data to reflect on the shortcomings of the investigation.
  5. The facilitators make the first draft for local experts and village researchers to comment and add, then the stakeholders work together to make a plan for the second stage fieldwork.
  6. Second stage of the fieldwork is the collection of more data. In-depth interview with different key stakeholders, and involve the researcher from academia and biodiversity conservancy department of local government to the research teams, to work together with local experts and village researchers, to build a scenario and mechanism for mutual exchange and cooperation between traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge.
  7. Organize and focus group discussion with different groups which were differentiated by age and gender in community to document socio-cultural aspect, and verify final results of fieldwork with community.
  8. Based on the research teams and the achievements of fieldwork, set up the biodiversity committee in each village, which involve different stakeholders, start community-based biodiversity conservation in village level, making plan and implement activities.
5/5
Barriers and adverse effects

Barriers and adverse effects

Starting from the analysis of the gender perspective, taking the Tibetan women sisterhood of Jiabi village in Deqin as a case, through long-term research, reveals how the local Tibetan women cope and adapt the climate change and climatic disasters. They show that the local Tibetan women can effectively address climate change and climatic disasters. The coping and adapting strategy based on the local Tibetan women’s culture and traditional knowledge is one of the most effective ways for the establishment of a community-based biodiversity conservation and climate change adaptation plan, and empowered women in this process.

Climate change has brought challenges and threats to Tibetan women in terms of biodiversity and natural resources, but it has also provided an opportunity for Tibetan women to participate in the decision-making process. Subsequently, Tibetan women began to manage the ecosystem with traditional knowledge and culture, and formulated customary laws and regulations. Women of indigenous peoples and local communities around the world, based on their own culture and worldview, are paying attention to the same climate change issues as politicians and scientists, such as temperature rise, extreme climate disasters, natural resource governance, etc. Although their understanding of climate change is different from that of men and mainstream society, their common concerns, as well as their vital interests and expectations for the future, are consistent with the interests and aspirations of researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders. This provides an opportunity for Tibetan women to participate in policy and decision-making processes related to climate change. In Jiabi village, local policy makers have respected the value of women's traditional knowledge and culture, listened to their voices, and empowered Tibetan women to develop more equitable and effective climate change adaptation policy and plan, finally achieve gender equality.

Outlook & Scalability

Transformation and future outlook

Traditional knowledge offers insights for assessing Tibetan women’s resilience to the effects of climate change. For Tibetan women, their culture and traditional knowledge are inherently resilient. In-depth knowledge of the land, familiarity with home territories and basic skills for safety and survival have become the basis of this resilience. Traditional knowledge has vitality and inherent adaptability in the face of climate change. Traditional knowledge is not a static byte to accumulate information, but a tool to transmit social values and attitudes, so traditional knowledge can reinforce the resilience of Tibetan women to adapt to climate change. Traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity can enhance the resilience of livelihood, ecological and social systems of Tibetan women to climate change. For example, in order to cope with the impact of climate change on the farmland environment, Tibetan women can decide to adjust the agricultural planting technology and method and determine the irrigation time according to the traditional knowledge related to the farmland ecosystem, so as to enhance the resilience of agriculture. Through the traditional knowledge and culture related to forest ecosystem, Tibetan women can improve the resilience of forest ecosystems and provide important forest ecosystem services to the local society.

Tibetan women are more willing to take the community-based biodiversity conservation plan rather than externally driven adaptation options, because such a plan will enable them to apply their traditional knowledge according to the geographical location and environment of their areas, so that their actions to adapt to climate change will more effective. Their vast traditional knowledge of climate change is the weapon they rely on for survival and development. Their traditional knowledge and experience may not be "scientific", but nevertheless represents a shining beacon of wisdom. Traditional knowledge of women provides local adaptation strategies to address global climate change.

Potential for upscaling and replication

The project has been replicated in the Nganyi tribe in Kenya, Africa. Similarly, the Nganyi Climate Action Lab was established based on the traditional organization of local tribal women and their traditional knowledge. In the local sacred forest, tribal women and local experts formed “Nganyi Climate Action Carbon Neutral Forest” through a traditional faith ceremony. Tribal women conduct community-based research on traditional knowledge associated with biodiversity and use it to protect and restore local forest ecosystems. More information available here: https://caslab.fr/index.php/Nganyi-Climate-Action-sdg-laboratory/

Solution Resources