The value of indigenous knowledge in climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the African Sahel

  • A. NyongEmail author
  • F. Adesina
  • B. Osman Elasha
Original Article


Past global efforts at dealing with the problem of global warming concentrated on mitigation, with the aim of reducing and possibly stabilizing greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere. With the slow progress in achieving this, adaptation was viewed as a viable option to reduce the vulnerability to the anticipated negative impacts of global warming. It is increasingly realized that mitigation and adaptation should not be pursued independent of each other but as complements. This has resulted in the recent calls for the integration of adaptation into mitigation strategies. However, integrating mitigation and adaptation into climate change concerns is not a completely new idea in the African Sahel. The region is characterized by severe and frequent droughts with records dating back into centuries. The local populations in this region, through their indigenous knowledge systems, have developed and implemented extensive mitigation and adaptation strategies that have enabled them reduce their vulnerability to past climate variability and change, which exceed those predicted by models of future climate change. However, this knowledge is rarely taken into consideration in the design and implementation of modern mitigation and adaptation strategies. This paper highlights some indigenous mitigation and adaptation strategies that have been practiced in the Sahel, and the benefits of integrating indigenous knowledge into formal climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies. Incorporating indigenous knowledge can add value to the development of sustainable climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies that are rich in local content, and planned in conjunction with local people.


Adaptation Africa Indigenous knowledge Mitigation Sahel Sustainable development 



The authors acknowledge the support of AIACC in writing this paper. Anthony Nyong is currently supported by START as a Visiting Scientist at the Stockhom Environment Institute, Oxford.


  1. Adesina FA (1988) Developing stable agroforestry systems in the tropics: an example of local agroforestry techniques from south western Nigeria. Discussion Papers in Geography 37, Department of Geography, University of Salford, United Kingdom, 27 ppGoogle Scholar
  2. Adesina FO, Siyambola WO, Oketola FO, Pelemo DA, Ojo LO, Adegbugbe AO (1999) Potentials of agroforestry for climate change mitigation in Nigeria: some preliminary estimates. Glob Ecol Biogeogr 8:163–173CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Adugna G (1996) The dynamics of knowledge systems versus sustainable development. Indigenous Knowl Dev Monit 4(2):31–32Google Scholar
  4. Ajibade LT, Shokemi OO (2003) Indigenous approaches to weather forecasting in Asa LGA, Kwara State, Nigeria. Indilinga Afr J Indigenous Knowl Syst 2:37–44Google Scholar
  5. Benson C, Clay EJ (1998) The impact of drought on sub-Saharan economies. The World Bank Tech Paper No. 401, World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks N (1999) Dust–climate interactions in the Sahel-Sahara zone with particular reference to late 20th century Sahel drought. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of East Anglia, available online at∼e118/thesis/thesis.html
  7. Cohen S, Demeritt J, Robinson J, Rothman D (1998) Climate change and sustainable development: towards dialogue. Glob Environ Change 8(4):341–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dai A, Lamb PJ, Trenberth KE, Hulme M, Jones PD, Xie P (2004) The recent Sahel drought is real, submitted to Int J Climate Change, available online from
  9. Davidson OR (1998) The climate convention and Kyoto agreements: opportunities for Africa. In: Mackenzie GA, Turkson JK, Davidson OR (eds) Climate change mitigation in Africa, Proceedings of an International Conference, Elephant Hills, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 18–20 MayGoogle Scholar
  10. Davies S, Ebbe K (1995) Traditional knowledge and sustainable development. Environmentally Sustainable Development Proceedings Series No. 4, held at the World Bank in September 1993, World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  11. FAO (1998) Report on the development of food insecurity and vulnerability information and mapping systems (FIVIMS). Committee On World Food Security, Rome, Italy, available at
  12. Floyd B (1969) Eastern Nigeria: a geographical review. Frederick A. Praeger, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  13. Howes M (1980) The use of indigenous technical knowledge in development. In: Brokensha DW, Werner O, Warren DM (eds) Indigenous knowledge systems and development. University Press of America Inc., Lanham, MDGoogle Scholar
  14. Hulme M, Doherty R, Ngara T, New M, Lister D (2001) African climate change: 1900–2100. Climate Res 17:145–168Google Scholar
  15. Hunn E (1993) What is traditional ecological knowledge? In: Williams N, Baines G (eds) Traditional ecological knowledge: wisdom for sustainable development. Centre for Resource and Environmental Studies, ANU, Canberra, pp 13–15Google Scholar
  16. Karjalainen T, Kellomški S, Pussinen A (1994) Role of wood-based products in absorbing atmospheric carbon. Silva Fennica 28(2):67–80Google Scholar
  17. Klein RJT, Schipper EL, Dessai S (2003) Integrating mitigation and adaptation into climate and development policy: three research questions. Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, Working Paper 40Google Scholar
  18. Klein RJT, Smith JB (2003) Enhancing the capacity of developing countries to adapt to climate change: a policy-relevant research agenda. In: Smith JB, Klein RJT, Huq S (eds) Climate change, adaptive capacity and development. Imperial College Press, London, UK, pp 317–401Google Scholar
  19. Michaelowa A (2001) Mitigation versus adaptation: the political economy of competition between climate policy strategies and the consequences for developing countries. HWWA Discussion Paper 153, Hamburg Institute of International Economics, Hamburg, GermanyGoogle Scholar
  20. Mortimore M (1998) Roots in the African dust: sustaining the sub-Saharan drylands. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  21. Mortimore M (2000) Profile of rainfall change and variability in the Kano-Maradi region: 1960–2000. Drylands Research Centre, Somerset, UK, Working Paper 25Google Scholar
  22. Mundy P, Compton L (1991) Indigenous communication and indigenous knowledge. Dev Commun Report 74(3):1–3Google Scholar
  23. Nyong AO, Kanaroglou PS (1999) Domestic water demand in rural semi-arid north-eastern Nigeria: identification of determinants and implications for policy. Environ Plan A 34(4):145–158Google Scholar
  24. Oba G (1997) Pastoralists’ traditional drought coping strategies in Northern Kenya. A Report for the Government of the Netherlands and the Government of Kenya, Euroconsult BV, Arnheim and Acacia Consultants Ltd, NairobiGoogle Scholar
  25. Osunade MA (1994) Indigenous climate knowledge and agricultural practices in Southwestern Nigeria. Malays J Trop Geogr 1:21–28Google Scholar
  26. Phillips AO, Titilola T (1995) Indigenous knowledge systems and practices: case studies from Nigeria. NISER, Ibadan, NigeriaGoogle Scholar
  27. Robinson J, Herbert D (2001) Integrating climate change and sustainable development. Int J Glob Environ Issues 1(2):130–148CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Schafer J (1989) Utilizing indigenous agricultural knowledge in the planning of agricultural research projects designed to aid small-scale farmers. In: Warren DM, Slikkerveer LJ, Titilola SO (eds) Indigenous knowledge systems: implications for agriculture and international development. Studies in Technology and Social Change No. 11, Technology and Social Change Program, Iowa State University, Ames, IowaGoogle Scholar
  29. Stainback GA, Alavalapati J (2002) Economic analysis of slash pine forest carbon sequestration in the southern US. J For Econ 8:105–117Google Scholar
  30. Swart R, Robinson J, Cohen S (2003) Climate change and sustainable development: expanding the options. Climate Policy 3S1:S19–S40CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Tarhule A, Lamb PJ (2003) Climate research and seasonal forecasting for West Africans: perceptions, dissemination, and use. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 84:1741–1759CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. UNFCCC (1992) The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, A/AC.237/18, 9 MayGoogle Scholar
  33. Warren DM (1991) Using indigenous knowledge in agricultural development. World Bank Discussion Paper No.127, The World Bank, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  34. Warren DM (1992) Strengthening indigenous Nigerian organizations and associations for rural development: the case of Ara Community. Occasional Paper No. 1, African Resource Centre for Indigenous Knowledge, IbadanGoogle Scholar
  35. Westing AH (1994) Population, desertification and migration. Environ Conserv 21:109–114Google Scholar
  36. Wilbanks TJ, Kane SM, Leiby PN, Periack RD, Settle C, Shogen JF, Smith JB (2003) Integrating mitigation and adaptation as possible responses to global climate change. Environment 45/5:28–38Google Scholar
  37. Woodley E (1991) Indigenous ecological knowledge systems and development. Agric Human Values 8:173–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Yohe G (2001) Mitigative capacity—the mirror image of adaptive capacity on the emissions side. Climatic Change 49(3):247–262CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Climate Change Adaptation in Africa ProgrammeInternational Development Research Centre NairobiKenya
  2. 2.Department of Geography, Faculty of Social SciencesObafemi Awolowo UniversityIle-IfeNigeria
  3. 3.Climate Change UnitHigher Council for Environment and Natural ResourcesKhartoumSudan

Personalised recommendations