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Are indigenous peoples ready for the climate crisis?

Credit: Markus Spiske:

Many indigenous peoples live in forests. Because forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, protecting them can contribute in combating the climate crisis.

But these places are shrinking because of mining and plantations.

Indigenous peoples that reject these projects protect the environment.

This is why ancestral domains are called the last ecological frontiers: our saving grace in the uncertain future.

But climate change is going to affect indigenous peoples in many disturbing ways.

Climate impacts on IPs: Growing food

Indigenous peoples grow food primarily to feed themselves.

Changing seasonality, or the unpredictability of weather patterns, has made it harder for them to grow food.

In the Philippines, if before you could plant rice at least four times a year, now it’s down to once or twice a year.

Longer dry spells are also disastrous for farming communities that depend on water for irrigation.

Projects like mining and plantations which use a lot of water add a layer of threat to communities which will be affected by climate impacts.

The government must help build the food security of indigenous peoples.

Climate impacts on IPs: Culture

Credit: Los Muertos Crew:

One of the lesser known impacts of climate change is culture loss.

Extreme weather events like typhoons can drive people from their homes, forcing them to live in strange places.

The same is true for those who live close to the coast. With rising sea levels, they may need to migrate and lose their deep connection to the ocean.

This affects indigenous knowledge and practices which are often tied to where they live.

According to the United Nations, oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, events and indigenous knowledge, including those that deal with the environment, are at risk from climate change.

The government must find ways to help conserve their culture against the impacts of climate change.

Climate impacts on IPs: Gender

Women bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

According to a UN study, they must secure not just food but water and fuel, which are in danger of becoming scarce.

Girls even leave school to help their mothers cope with increased burdens.

Displacement also makes them vulnerable to human trafficking.

Women are more likely to perish during disasters because of gaps in access to information. In Bangladesh, most of the victims during cyclones are women, because culturally they are not taught how to swim.

Community resilience to climate change must account for the specific impacts on women.

Indigenous responses to climate change

While indigenous peoples are going to be affected by the climate crisis, they are also offering ways for dealing with it.

Muyong: Forest fonservation

Muyong is an indigenous land-use system for managing forests while also providing livelihoods in northern Philippines.

According to World Agroforesty, muyong refers to a micro forest along slopes or the peaks of hills which provide water for rice fields. They can be sources of wood for fuel, edible fruit and raw material for wood carving.

The Ifugao don’t cut down trees on a whim; they spare old endemic trees which they believe house their ancestors’ spirits.

This shows an intricate and deep relationship between the Ifugao and nature, one which inspires us to look into our own appreciation of the environment.

Sulagad: Agroecology

Teduray and Lambangian women practice sulagad agroecological farming. Credit: Jayson Ulubalang.

The Teduray and Lambangian practice sulagad, a practice of growing food that doesn’t exploit or destroy its source: nature.

Large-scale plantations exhaust the soil’s nutrients by planting and harvesting high-value single crops continually.

On the other hand, the small farms of the Teduray and Lambangian are planted to diverse crops, with healthy spaces in between the planting the calendar. This allows the soil to regenerate.

They also don’t plant more than they can consume, advancing the idea of sufficiency, or having enough.

The world can learn a thing or two from this attitude toward nature and consumption.

Yuha tu Banwa: Food banking

Yuha tu Banwa is a women-led food banking system of the Manobo-Mamanwa indigenous people.

During the harvest season, community members can deposit surplus produce against which they can loan in lean seasons, according to an article by CERD.

The food center also buys community products, such as abaca fiber, at twice the price of intermediaries. This means better margins for community members. Half of the proceeds can be paid in kind.

This is an example of community gender-responsive climate adaptation, allowing the community to collectively take action.

Indigenous peoples’ climate resilience should form part of conversations and programs that respond to the climate crisis. Although they are some of the most vulnerable populations to the crisis, indigenous peoples also offer ways for dealing with the deeply troubling impacts of climate change.*

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