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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Listening to the real experts – a multi-ethnic bottom-up approach

You can collect statistical data, decipher mathematically complex formulas and analyse capricious weather patterns. These days we take it for granted that scientists possess the magical “know-it-all” factor. But truly, what would scientists do without the traditional knowledge of local communities?

Here at DAPA, one of CIAT’s key research areas, we are well aware of that, which is why we brought together 60 smallholder farmers and rural agriculturalists of indigenous and afro-Colombian decent, who gathered on September 20th to express their concerns about the local effects of climate change within their regions of Colombia’s Upper Cauca River Basin.

The interactive workshop was part of the AVA (Agriculture, Vulnerability, Adaptation) project, which is funded by the Climate & Development Knowledge Network (CDKN), and led by Cauca University (UNICAUCA), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Colombian Coffee Research Center (CENICAFE) and Caldas University (UNICALDAS).

(To read more about the AVA project and its relation to coffee production, please follow this link)

The main objective of this extraordinarily multi-ethnic encounter was to pull CIAT’s hard working scientists away from their overloaded desks and make them listen – listen to the real experts. At the same time it should encourage the local experts to get their voices heard. As it turned out, the workshop was a great success.

An indigenous ceremony to rid the participants of evil spirits. Photo by Martin Ross

To begin with the workshop, all of the participants had to be blessed, of course. Therefore, two of the indigenous leaders carefully prepared a bucket of unknown liquid with herbs which was then sprinkled onto the participants’ heads to rid them of evil spirits. Only then did the workshop get underway.

The cheerful and joke-pulling moderator Luis Alfonso Ortega Fernandez, nicknamed BamBam, was “running the show” and put a smile on everyone’s face. At this point, the ice was broken and the participants’ initial timidity quickly faded away. What followed was a truly interactive discussion that was met with great enthusiasm and engagement from community representatives and scientists alike.

One of the two afro-Colombian groups discussing how they have been affected by climate since 2000. Photo by Martin Ross

Consequently, the participants were divided into 6 focal groups – 2 afro-Colombian, 2 indigenous and 2 smallholder farmer groups. They worked together on a series of questions, such as identifying the years with most floods and the ones with most drought-like conditions since 2000. They were also asked to classify each of their crops according to productivity and priority and describe how they have been affected by climate variability and climate change. At the end of the session they proudly presented their results and experiences, and the final conclusions were drawn.

How to connect science with development? A representative from a Colombian indigenous community explains. Photo by Martin Ross

Apart from being an interactive, participatory and culturally diverse workshop, complete with its fair share of amusement, the expectations from workshop leaders and scientists were fully met. The socio-cultural workshop identified the impact of climate change on the respective communities’ agricultural calendars and determined the causes and consequences of climate change associated with their agricultural activities. Furthermore, it was extremely significant to bring together so many diverse communities and connect them with CIAT’s scientific work.

To bridge the gap between traditional knowledge and development research means that closer co-operation will be crucial.  With that in mind, future undertakings in the struggle against global warming can succeed, particularly at local level.


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