Crickets, locally known as nkhululu, are commonly known to be a delicacy.
But they play an even bigger, more important role many might not have imagined: they can forecast rains.
The insects are in abundance in Chikwawa this year and for Mustard Nyamizinga of Group Village Fombe’s area in Traditional Authority Kasisi in the district, that is sign that the area will receive above normal rains this season.
“We already have gone flat out sensitising people about the possibility of the district receiving heavy rains this year,” says Nyamizinga, a member of the area’s Village Civil Protection Committee.
Nyamizinga, 67, says through the use of indigenous knowledge, they have deduced already that this year’s rains will be enormous they might lead to floods.
This makes it necessary for the committee to urge people to start relocating to upland areas.
“We have also already seen that trees in our area have produced more fruits than they normally do. All this indicates to us that our area will receive above normal rains,” says Nyamizinga.
According to him,, indigenous means of telling weather have never failed him.
And he feels that escape from disasters like the floods that battered the country in January this year is rooted in traditional knowledge.
Thus, the committee takes every opportunity to spread the messages for people to take precautions.
“We use school and village gatherings, funerals as well as developmental meetings to spread our forecasts. We warned people ahead of the floods in January. Those that listened to our messages and took action were saved,” he says.
Alick Malunje, another VCPC member and community leader in Salima, says he has always banked on indigenous means of telling weather for the safety of people in his area.
For this year, he said, they have seen more ants than normal. They have also noticed that entry points on bird’s nest are pointing to the south and anthill tips are pointing to the south.
“These are signs that there is going to above normal rains this year,” Malunje says.
Indigenous knowledge of weather forecasting could be useful in decision making at village level.
This would enable communities to best exploit the seasonal distribution of rainfall for them to increase or stabilise crop yields as well as avert possible disasters.
This perhaps suggests the need for the country to consider integrating the indigenous means of weather forecasting with the scientific ones.
Around the world, experts have called for such integration.
In 2012, Indigenous People’s International Centre for Policy Research and Education Executive Director Victoria Tauli-Corpuz pointed out that indigenous knowledge needs to be “… locally fine-tuned, which is essential for climate change adaptation and long-term community resilience . ”
The December 2014 International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction also acknowledges the important role that local knowledge and practices can play in reducing risk and improving disaster preparedness.
“We believe that local and indigenous knowledge needs to be integrated with science before it can be used in policies, education, and actions related to disaster risk reduction and climate change” reads par t of the journal.
The journal also spells out the process involved including documentation, validation and categorisation of local and indigenous knowledge, which can then be selected for integration with science.
This process requires that communities be engaged to identify knowledge that can be integrated with science, which could then be further disseminated for use by scientists, practitioners and policy-makers.
Director for the Malawi Department of Climate Change and Meteorological Services, Jolamu Nkhokwe, also agrees that it is high time the country integrated the indigenous knowledge with scientific weather forecasting in the wake of climate change.
“There are few people that use the [scientific] weather forecasts the department generates and is disseminated through various channels.
“However, it is a known fact that indigenous weather forecasting has been there for as long as we have lived. It is challenged by climate change but if integrated with scientific weather forecasting, the two would cover for each other’s shortcomings,” said Nkhokwe.
A paper titled ‘Integrating climate change and sustainable development’ published in the International Journal of Global Environmental Issues of 2001 indicates that knowledge of the indigenous people should be included when designing adaptations to climate change, especially in Africa.
This follows local communities and farmers developing a rich knowledge base of predicting climatic and weather events based on observations of animals, plants, and celestial bodies, among others.
Food Security Coordinator for Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (Cadecom) for Chikwawa Diocese, George Kasakala, believes that community engagement would help the country develop a more resilient weather forecasting system.
“We are already engaging and documenting everything we are gathering from communities in our catchment areas in Nsanje, Chikwawa and Thyolo.
“We also share notes with other stakeholders at national level on how best the indigenous knowledge can be mingled with scientific means of weather forecasting,” says Kasakala.
Programme Officer for Centre for Policy Advocacy (Cepa), Dorothy Tembo, also feels that native means of telling weather should be integrated with scientific means.
The Department of Disaster Management Affaires (Dodma) is currently documenting the indigenous means of telling the weather, according to its spokesperson Jeremiah Mphande.
“We are also following up on the effectiveness of such knowledge over a period of time and if it is proven that they are effective, we will look into the possibility of incorporating them into our weather forecasting system,” says Mphande.
The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction also underscores the need for governments to integrate indigenous knowledge in their Disaster Risk Reduction efforts.
For Nyamizinga, there are no two ways about it.
“We need to refocus our thinking on indigenous means of telling the weather. If we neglect this, we are in for a hell as a country,” he warns.
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