‘Before, the rainy season would put an end to the cold dry season, and the cold season would end the rainy season. Now... there is a new season between the cold and rainy seasons: the hot season that usually lasts for months.’ - Elderly Malian man
Testimonials like these give credence to scientific claims of record high temperatures that have been attributed to global warming in the past decade. Such dramatic changes in climatic conditions are expected to have far reaching effects on river flows, rain-fed agriculture, disease vector distribution and extreme weather events. Even if the greenhouse gases emissions that cause global warming are stabilized soon, these effects will remain for many years – hence the need for adaptation – especially in developing countries. Developing nations like Haiti, Mali and Niger are expected to be some of the worst hit by the effects of climate change because of their vulnerable populations and heavy economic dependence on agriculture. In an effort to mitigate the effects of climate change, many of these countries have partnered with international organizations like the United Nations Development Program to develop National Adaptation Programmes of Action.
The policies and projects laid out in such programmes can have meaningful impacts when implemented as community based programs, but this requires an understanding of the roles that indigenous organizations can play in the process of adaptation. A researcher from York University has investigated the role of a local environmental nongovernmental organization in communal adaptation to climate change in an attempt to fill this information gap for Mali, a land locked West African country that straddles the arid, semi-arid and humid climate zones of the region. His research involved the use of individual and focus group interviews in nine villages of southern Mali, where he also investigated the localized effects of climate change on resource availability. The results of his social inquiry, published in Environment, Development and Sustainability
, reveal the benefits of a robust approach to adaptation employed by the Mali-Folkecenter Nyetaa (MFC) to tackle some of the country’s environmental and socio-economic issues.
First, the findings corroborate long-term studies of declining rainfall in West Africa with the evidence of shorter and more sporadic rains that have resulted in dry wells and water ponds. Respondents also reported lower income from low crop yields and the ensuing need to farm more land more intensively and immediately after the first rains of the season with short cycle crops. To solve this problem, the MFC encourages farmers to plant the drought resistant Jatropha
alongside their maize crops, since the plant’s fruit oil can be used as biofuel for electrical generators that power an entire town. At another site, a successful tree conservation initiative taught the women to harvest nuts from Shea trees for the production of soap and butter. The success of the initiative resulted in a moratorium on cutting shea trees with a hefty fine for offenders. Other projects include a microcredit and literacy program for women, a 2 hectare tree nursery and the introduction of efficient wood stoves.
In the past, forest and wildlife conservation programs have relied heavily on external knowledge for the management of natural resources, creating systems that were poorly implemented due to a lack of local ownership. Local environmental non-governmental organizations, like MFC, that are managed by indigenous people have a better chance of gaining the trust of locals and generating sustainable behavioral change that can lead to environmentally responsible actions. The Mali-Folkecenter Nyetaa is now an example for other organizations and contains a wealth of local knowledge that could be utilized by policy makers in ongoing deliberations about the best ways to prepare the citizenry for the coming effects of climate change.