Learning from the Elders to protect bio-cultural diversity and knowledge

In Africa and world over, it is the community’s elders who hold traditional knowledge about climate change, biodiversity, seed diversity and the nutritional and medicinal use of food and plants. These elders are sadly dying out. If the next generation does not learn from them now, knowledge accumulated over generations will be lost forever, just when we most urgently need it to address the adverse impacts of climate change.

The African Biodiversity Network (ABN) has been working with partners to help communities to re-discover, revive and appreciate the traditional and locally-adapted diverse seed and crop varieties which had almost disappeared and that show greater tolerance to drought and disease than modern hybrid varieties and cash crops. In addition, by reviving the important traditional role of seed guardianship and food production for women, women’s status and access to land in the community has been enhanced.

The first Climate Change, Seeds & Knowledge (CSK) project was piloted by The Institute of Culture and Ecology (ICE) in the Kamburu region of Kenya: (view the film of this story on: This process was such a great success that other partners in Kenya, Ethiopia, Ghana and South Africa began to implement the CSK methodology. But this work and process needs to be strengthened and expanded. This project will now bring together 5 ABN partner organisations to a workshop in Ethiopia in December 2010 where ABN will organise a learning process for partners who are involved in the next phase of the CSK project to share their experiences, refine the methodology, enhance training capacity, and plan their way forward.

Since April 2010, ABN partners have been involved in preparatory work in the roll up to the seed learning event in Ethiopia:

  • Porini Association in Kenya has been working with six communities and schools. Men and women elders have been visiting the youths in schools to share their traditional knowledge about indigenous seeds and crops and their nutritional and medicinal value and how these are adaptable to the climate chaos that afflicts their communities. Pupils have formed Climate Change Clubs in schools. Porini Association has been using community dialogues, intergenerational learning, media and exchange visits as methods for creating awareness on climate adaptation. They intend to engage media more in their work on CSK and communities. Since they started work with the communities, they have achieved more food sovereignty at the household level by growing yams, arrowroot, legumes and a variety of grains like millet and sorghum.
  • RAINS from Ghana have been working with women communities in Zoozali and others areas. The CSK project has succeeded in highlighting issues of climate change and its impact on rural livelihoods. The project has made local communities keen observers of climate change as well as highlighting the need to draw on existing mechanisms for coping with short-term adverse climate conditions such as droughts or flooding. Communities are now much more aware of the impact of climate change. The project has contributed to enhancing food security. As part of this work demonstration farms were established for women groups in the Zoozali Community. 40 women were engaged on these farms who also shared indigenous seed species with their colleagues. The yields from the demonstration farms that employed traditional compositing techniques were much higher than fields that utilised hybrid seeds and chemical fertilisers.
  • MUPO in South Africa, were able to form and train a Kitchen Garden Committee consisting of women from the different communities. They trained them on good soil management, water harvesting and seed saving. They managed to recuperate some of the seeds they had lost from other communities.MUPO assisted the communities to get some of the seeds for planting.
  • ICE in Kenya, which successfully piloted the first CSK project, took it to a higher level by helping communities to bring back indigenous eco-spiritual practices that will support adaptation to climate change and education about climate change. With the changing rain patterns being experienced all over Africa, communities have learnt the need to engage with traditional practices that strengthen local adaptation to climate change. They also managed to reinstate  the vanishing agro-biodiversity and improved their medicinal and nutritional value. The nutritional and medicinal values of this biodiversity form the nub of the knowledge about them, which is held by women and men, and this is raising their profile in society.
  • RIDEP used the support given by ABN through APE to hold a meeting under theme on “Promoting peace and development using culture and seed.” In this event farmers from warring communities came together to appreciate culture and seed exchange. They supported the farmers to recuperate and save their seeds and to participate in seed fairs, exhibition, exchange visits and cultural festivals.

Climate change strategies in Africa urgently need to focus on enhancing the resilience of communities to cope with the inevitable and increasing challenges. By increasing access to local seed diversity, reducing fertiliser use, improving soil carbon capacity, and focusing on local food production, the CSK project will involve aspects of both adaptation and mitigation.

Ultimately, communities in the four countries will evolve sustainable strategies towards food sovereignty and a diversity of livelihoods.  They will build resilient local economies with the surplus crops that they produce.


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