INTERNATIONAL NETWORK OF MOUNTAIN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES
First IN MIP International Horizontal Learning Exchange
Mountain Communities Workshop on Climate Change and Biocultural Heritage: An International Exchange on Indigenous Knowledge, Values and Strategies for Adaptation
Jangbi and Ura Communities, Bhutan
INMIP Learning Exchanges began in May 2014 in Bhutan where representatives from 25 indigenous mountain communities from 10 countries met to discuss the impacts of climate change and to exchange knowledge for adaptation in the Mountain Communities Initiative (MCI). The workshop gathered more than 70 farmers who established the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples. The MCI workshop sought to enhance the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change and sustain resilient food and farming systems by learning from experiences elsewhere, sharing solutions and exploring the possibility of establishing an international network.
More than 70 farmers and local organisations took part that came from Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Thailand, and included elders, women and young people (along with researchers, translators and two film crews). With dedication to protecting biocultural heritage for climate resilience, participating farmers developed the Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples, a document that provides the vision for the network.
Global changes, most notably climate change, threaten mountain ecosystems and the people that depend on them for their livelihoods. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the magnitude of climate change impacts increases with altitude – hence mountain ecosystems will be the first to be affected and will experience the most severe changes over time. However, mountains also sustain traditional farming systems which are rich in genetic diversity and indigenous knowledge for adaptation. According to the 5th IPCC report: ‘Indigenous, local, and traditional knowledge systems and practices, including indigenous peoples’ holistic view of community and environment, are a major resource for adapting to climate change, but these have not been used consistently in existing adaptation efforts. Integrating such forms of knowledge with existing practices increases the effectiveness of adaptation.’
The farmers reported a number of climatic changes and impacts in their communities in the last 30 years: rising temperatures, increasing pests and disease, melting glaciers, and shifts in the altitudinal ranges of crops. Erratic rainfall has significantly reduced the water available for irrigation and drinking and extreme events such as drought and typhoons have become more severe and more frequent. Many of the adaptation responses and solutions identified are based on indigenous knowledge of how to cope with more extreme weather, traditional crop varieties adapted to a range of conditions, and traditional farming practices that reduce risk and conserve the natural resource base. While solutions like high-tech seeds may be effective in increasing productivity in the short term, some farmers noted a decline in productivity after one or two years of using chemical inputs. When the climate changes again, communities may have nothing to fall back on if new technologies are allowed to replace their own knowledge and seeds which are attuned to local environments. However, the adaptive capacity of many mountain communities is being weakened by the loss of local crop diversity and traditional knowledge, and the erosion of cultural and spiritual values that ensure their maintenance.
The seven-day workshop was organised just prior to the 14th Congress of the International Society for Ethnobiology (ISE) held in Bhutan, under the auspices of the ISE’s Global Coalition for Biocultural Diversity, as a way to benefit the host communities of Bhutan. It was held in the joined communities of Jangbi and Wangling in Trongsa District, and the Ura community in Bumthang District. It used a ‘walking workshop’ methodology, where discussions were held in and around farmers’ fields, water sources, sacred sites and other important sites in each community. Food festivals and cultural exchanges were held in the evenings involving the preparation of local dishes by each community and sharing of traditional dances and songs and short films of each community. The workshop was designed and chaired by Alejandro Argumedo of the Association for Nature and Sustainable Development (ANDES), Peru. Participating communities were invited through the ISE, The Christensen Fund, IIED’s Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project (SIFOR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). They included a Monpa indigenous community from northeast India to enable exchange with the Jangbi Monpa community in Bhutan.
As a result of the MCI workshop, the International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was created in order to exchange knowledge and seeds for climate change adaptation and food sovereignty, and to advocate for the protection of community biocultural heritage rights. Upon its formation, the network produced the Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples.
Prior to the MCI workshop in Bhutan, a preparatory learning exchange was held in the Potato Park, Peru, involving farmers from the two MCI host communities in Bhutan and from Yunnan in China. The goal was to enable the farmers to learn from the Potato Park’s biocultural strategies for adaptation, and ensure that the MCI workshop was not just one-off event but a more meaningful dialogue. The farmers from Bhutan, China and Peru agreed to exchange seeds to increase the chances of producing food in the face of climate change, and the International Potato Center in Lima agreed to assist with the seed exchange.