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Harnessing indigenous knowledge to solve the world’s climate concerns

More than a decade ago, just a few months before my graduation in 2012, I visited the indigenous people of Tagbanua in Sitio Calauit in Palawan. I was there for a few days and one thing I wondered about is how they were able to survive without electricity, no cellphone signal, and barely enough water.

They had a school wherein classrooms were built without a single nail. Interestingly, bamboos and wood were held together by intricately woven knots. The community’s infrastructure were built through gulpi-mano, an indigenous tradition of bayanihan.


It is hard to imagine how such communities can survive in this day and age. While we all strive to have the latest technological equipment, indigenous communities are trying to keep their traditional knowledge and practices intact. And we can actually learn a lot from them.

In fact, indigenous knowledge can help solve many of our environmental concerns. According to The World Bank, 36 percent of the world’s remaining intact forests are on indigenous peoples’ lands. Moreover, despite making up only five percent of the global population, indigenous peoples are protecting 80 percent of the world’s remaining biodiversity.


They care so much about our environment because it is where they live. In Sitio Calauit, one of the boys I talked to said he was among those who would regularly conduct reforestation of mangroves. His parents always told him their survival is dependent on it. 


According to the United Nations University (UNU), the indigenous peoples’ close relationship with the land has given them valuable information that they are now using to come up with solutions to cope with and adapt to the changes brought about by global warming. They are actively using their traditional knowledge and survival skills to test adaptive responses to climate change.

For instance, indigenous peoples in Guyana are moving from their savannah homes to forest areas during droughts and have started planting cassava on moist floodplains too wet for other crops.


Even in the aspect of sustainable waste management — for instance, in Ghana, they are utilizing innovative traditional practices like composting organic food waste to contribute to waste management. They also have a system of repurposing materials, such as producing curtain ropes and building bricks from recycled plastics.


Moreover, integrating traditional wisdom and new technologies will produce sustainable solutions to both the concerns of indigenous communities and our overall environmental concerns.


For example, the use of GPS systems by the Inuit to capture information from hunters, which are then combined with scientific measurements to create maps for use by the community. Another is in Papua New Guinea, where the Hewa people’s knowledge of birds that would not tolerate habitat alteration or shortened fallow cycles was recorded in a way that is useful for conservation purposes.


There has been growing interest in indigenous peoples’ knowledge because of their strong connection to our environment. We need their wisdom, experience, and practical know-how to find the right solutions to climate and environmental challenges. 


The way forward is to employ indigenous innovation. Let us build solutions using traditional wisdom integrated with new technologies. This will further encourage innovative ways of thinking and will also contribute to the protection and preservation of valuable indigenous knowledge, practices, and traditional systems. 

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