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“If we are sincerely talking about climate adaptation then we have to use Indigenous knowledge”

Nigeria is not only one of the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of deforestation but it is the second highest in Africa, behind Sudan. The recommended forest cover for a country is 26%; Nigeria’s cover is said to be less than 6% and it is losing roughly 11% of its forest cover per year.

This loss, caused by agriculture, logging and the cutting of wood for charcoal, is exacerbating biodiversity loss, the depletion of water resources, pollution and environmental calamities such as acid rain, desertification and flood. If it continues at this rate not only will ecosystems there be wiped out but food and water security, which is already an issue, will prompt widespread poverty, disease, a surge in terrorism and migration. The stakes are high.

Fortunately, initiatives are cropping up across the country – and continent – to do something about this. Nigerian non profit Surge Africa, for example, plans to plant 250,000 trees which will restore 500 hectares of land. The initiative will also provide 1,000 people with income, food and shelter, 70% of which are women previously affected by war and/or environmental conflicts.

The driving force behind this is Nasreen Al-amin, the organisation’s founder and executive director. Al-Amin is passionate about land restoration, which she sees as the key to climate resilience.

Through her work with Surge Africa, Al-amin and her team work with compassion, solidarity and understanding to help restore land, train farmers and local communities and equip them with climate resilience skills and techniques that will help them weather the storms already here and ahead.

What I’m truly passionate about is restoring land and working with local communities. I feel like whatever we do during conferences, during the COPs, or in terms of governments implementing policies, I think if we don’t work well enough with local communities, if we don’t strengthen their resilience, we’re not going to get anywhere. Because ultimately it stops there.

Whenever we think about carbon offsetting or when we think about land restoration, we don’t think about the cities, we think about local rural communities because they’re the ones that have the land. They’re the ones that have the forests. They’re the ones that are mostly marginalised and vulnerable to the climate crisis before anyone else.

The problem we have with addressing the impact of climate change, especially among our people and within local and Indigenous communities, is that there’s a lack of awareness and education on the issue. You see, you can’t tell people to restore land, build climate resilience or teach adaptation, in my experience, without having to walk in their footsteps.

And you cannot do that without them being aware of the issue or being educated about why it’s important for them to strengthen their skills, adapt to new ways of living or the way they interact with nature. They need to know why, and most of the time people are not aware of what they need to do. When governments do get involved, however rare that is, they do not include these communities. And that is where the problem is and that is where we have a gap, in the inclusivity and education of these communities.

We have to use Indigenous knowledge

I am particularly interested in Indigenous knowledge because that is what our people have used over millennia. If we are sincerely talking about climate adaptation and how to work with our communities then we have to use Indigenous knowledge, learn what it is that they use within that region and community, but bind and strengthen it with modern science, because the climate has changed so much over the last hundred years.

Anybody that knows how Indigenous communities work know their knowledge is integral to their lifestyle, to the food that they eat, so we definitely need to respect that. But I think, as an African, there’s a balance to be struck between pushing Indigenous knowledge as a climate solution and working with the reality of what is actually on the ground, what is working.

Surge Africa goes into these communities, we initiate contact and we talk to them. We assess what environmental impact they’re having; we test the soil, we take soil samples and we go back and decide how to proceed. We then come up with a strategy of how they can adapt and take up different practices that, often based around Indigenous knowledge, can help their agriculture and even their livelihoods without them having to think about spending money.  

The benefits of agroforestry and agroecology

More often than not these communities have already identified the issues but because they’re using old practices, even though they’re good practices, it doesn’t really help them much. And when someone says they need to put more resources into it, they’re poor people, it’ll just push them backwards.

So, what we try to do is put practices in place that are easy for them to adjust to without bearing any financial impact. Most of the time, we teach them about ways to make the most of nature’s goods and services whilst not damaging their resources.

For instance, agroecology and agroforestry, which is the practice of integrating trees and shrubs into crop and animal farming systems, are practical and low-cost ways to manage the land. They reduce human impact whilst also being great for the environment and for livelihoods because the methods are so renewable, especially for small-scale producers.

Compassion, solidarity and understanding

Telling people what to do, how to change, can be challenging because these people have been practicing the same thing for years and suddenly there’s someone telling them that they’re doing it wrong. But most of the time, because we come from the same region, we try to build in compassion, solidarity and understanding because without it you would not have the acceptance from them to know you’re genuinely here to help.

“If there is no good land management or they’re not restoring that land, those practices are useless.”

Most of the time it is challenging because these people are so headstrong. But one thing for sure is that they know that the climate is changing. They know it. And some of them have experienced crops that have failed.

At the end of the day, besides building resilience, we want to restore the degraded land. Because no matter how much we help them build resilience, no matter how many good practices they know, if there is no good land management or they’re not restoring that land, those practices are useless.

If you have been inspired by any of the issues in this story, then click here to explore how you can Take Action and be part of the solution today.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity – 10th June 2020

Al-Amin’s recent project SurgeX Media is focused on bridging the gap between community impact and climate news through providing content creators access to media platforms.  She told The Skylark:

“We designed advocacy journalism as an instrument to create awareness, educate and build movements. We provided easy access to media because that media barrier has largely pushed the work and voices of Africa’s youth backwards. Most importantly, we’re using the story-based approach to tell our African climate stories and control our narratives.

Lots of mechanisms were put into Surge X Media to address climate data and governance, youth voices, environmental racism, and ecological justice. This is because in order to situate climate adaptation and resilience on the ground, we must address these challenges with a single understanding that we are in this together. Then we will be able to work with the government and people at all levels to adapt and respond to the climate crisis.”

For more information, click here.

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