The indigenous people’s adaptive capacity to Climate Change

This indigenous knowledge, as more climate scientists have affirmed, will play a vital role in climate change assessment and adaptation efforts.

It cannot be denied that indigenous peoples are among the first to endure the impacts of climate change owing to their dependence and intimate relationship with the natural environment. In the Philippines, the impacts of climate change on the indigenous peoples are exacerbated by their marginalization and the government's failure to recognize and respond to their miserable situation.

In the hinterlands along the Sierra Madre mountain ranges in mainland Luzon live one of the Philippines’ indigenous people’s groups called Dumagat.

Last month, the Climate Change Network for Community-Based Initiatives, Inc. (CCNCI) visited one Dumagat village in the town of Rodriguez, in Rizal province as part of its ongoing research and sectoral dialogues on climate change impacts and sector-specific vulnerability and needs assessment.

The Dumagat people have shared their stories on how climate change has drastically altered their food production and their way of life, in general.

Impact of climate change

Vanessa, 32, a Dumagat mother of four, said that her village has already observed signs of enormous changes in their environment due to the changing climate.

Lack of rain has hardened the soil that they find it hard to plant their traditional crops. Their domestic animals have suffered a host of diseases due to the prolonged dry season. They have experienced the worst pest infestations on their crops in recent years leading to a dramatic decline in their harvest. Rainfall patterns have drastically changed that it is now very difficult to decide on when to prepare the soil and plant. Extreme precipitation results in heavy rainfall that causes massive landslides and soil erosion.

To tide over their difficulties, some of them have resorted to charcoal production as an additional source of livelihood. Unfortunately, charcoal production is largely but inaccurately blamed as one of the major causes of forest degradation along with the indigenous people's traditional kaingin (slash-and-burn ) system obscuring the reality that it is the extractive industries such as commercial logging, quarrying, and large-scale mining that are wreaking havoc on the environment and the land and lives of the indigenous people.

A number of researches have already shown that the indigenous people’s kaingin system is not a destructive farming method but rather a sustainable agricultural practice that can enhance biodiversity and the land’s productivity.

Bakit nila kami hinuhuli sa pagkakaingin at pagtitinda ng limang sakong uling pero hinahayaan naman nilang magpatuloy ang logging at quarrying?” (Why do the authorities want to apprehend us for practicing kaingin and selling five sacks of charcoal while letting logging and quarry operations to continue?), said Vanessa.

Encroachment of quarrying operations

Large quarrying operations have already encroached on the ancestral land of the Dumagat and are threatening to displace the village. The operations have destroyed their forests, water sources and the mountains, damaged the biodiversity in the area and left significant amounts of waste thereby exacerbating the effect of climate change in the place.

Secure land rights for Indigenous Peoples is a proven climate change solution, and denying indigenous land rights and self-determination is a threat to the world’s remaining forests and biodiversity. It is also a primary cause of poverty. Many indigenous communities face intractable poverty despite living on resource-rich lands because their rights are not respected and their self-determined development is not supported,” UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said


Women, the most vulnerable to climate change

But poor women, like Vanessa, are more adversely and disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change because as primary caregivers, their livelihood activities depend directly on the natural environment. Moreover, their limited role in the decision-making processes has also limited their adaptive capacity to climate change.

CCNCI’s research has shown that Dumagat women have been going through the following conditions as a result of the changing temperature: a) reduced working hours in their farms as they cannot endure the day’s heat, b) reduced income due to poor harvest forcing them to look for informal jobs in the city to meet the needs of the family, 3) increasing burden with the drying up of water sources, 4) worsening health problems, and 5) increased tension in the family.

The research, which was conducted in partnership with Amihan National Federation of Peasant Women, was presented by CCNCI in a forum entitled Women in Climate Change: An Assessment of the Adaptation Capacities of Climate Vulnerable Sectors.

Women, key to climate change adaptation

The research has also highlighted that women, although the most vulnerable to climate change, are also the most effective sector in terms of climate change adaptation, and even during disasters.

Since women are left in the communities when their husbands have gone to work, they have played the role of first responders during disasters. Their responsibilities in the households and villages have also built their capacity to contribute to livelihood strategies to adapt to the changing climate.

Protecting the rights of indigenous women, who are often responsible for both their communities’ food security and for managing their forests, is particularly important,” said Tauli-Corpuz.

In Vanessa’s village, the people are now practicing adaptive measures particularly in their food production as shown by the following strategies:

- inter-cropping and multi-cropping as pest management methods

- planting banana varieties less susceptible to pest
- planting of bamboo, lemongrass, and fruit trees to prevent soil erosion
- contour farming

- planting and propagation of herbal plants

- planting climate resistant crops like pigeon peas, cassava, and yam

- burying of harvested root crops to prevent drying up

- enhancement of collective and organized actions during food production and during calamities

These adaptive strategies are part of the knowledge on the environment that indigenous people possess as a result of their close relationship with nature. This indigenous knowledge, as more climate scientists have affirmed, will play a vital role in climate change assessment and adaptation efforts. And this should be stressed with regards to indigenous women who play a vital role as caretakers of this indigenous knowledge and stewards of natural resources.#