Adaptation Academy Alumni Feature: Cooperation to Enhance Indigenous Communities’ Adaptive Capacity

S-Africa-team-photo-23-Feb-17---Richtersveld-1 Some of the project team who all met with the Nama Tribe in Kuboes February 2017. From left: Karl Van Orsdol; Igshaan Samuels; Lesego Khomo (University of the Western Cape); Emily Harwit; Mmoto Masubelele and Melvin Swarts (grad student, UWC)

 In this small blog series, we want to give room to some of GCAP's Adaptation Academy graduates, to highlight their professional development in the field of climate change adaptation. We will share stories of professional growth, lasting networks and cooperation that inspires. If you are interested in taking part in GCAP's next Academy, take a look here.

Today, we would like to introduce three graduates, who collaborated on an adaptation project after graduating together from the Academy in 2015: Dr. Mmoto Masubelele from South African National Parks, Laura Shay Lynes from The Rockies Institute in Canada, and Emily Harwit, employed with the EEA & Norway Grants, and who volunteered for The Rockies Institute.

Collaboration between South Africa and Canada

The year after taking part in the Adaptation Academy, our graduates Mmoto and Laura conceived a project idea together, aiming to give impetus to developing capacity in Indigenous communities to adapt to climate change and in promoting Indigenous knowledge sharing across geographic boundaries. Fresh from learning about vulnerability and adaptation planning at the Adaptation Academy, Laura and Mmoto started conceptualizing the project, that would seek to compare and learn from adaptation processes with Indigenous communities in South Africa and Canada.

Laura was actively engaged in a multi-year adaptation initiative with the Kainai First Nation – the largest Tribe in Canada when in 2016, she and Mmoto began their journey. They broadened their partnership with another Adaptation Academy graduate, Emily Harwit, who volunteered with The Rockies Institute to work on this project. Emily brought in support of Karl Van Orsdol, a friend and an independent expert/consultant in California, working on climate adaptation issues. Mmoto also brought in a friend and colleague Dr. Igshaan Samuels, of the Agriculture Research Council of South Africa, who, having worked with the Nama community prior to this project, was critical to the development of the project, and its implementation. Mmoto also worked to achieve broader support within the SANParks system and with the University of the Western Cape to engage South African students in research related to the Nama. Over a two-year period, the team worked to develop the project by engaging with communities and partnering institutions. In South Africa, the work focused on the Nama people in Kuboes, which is part of the Richtersveld World Heritage Site in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, who are affected by climate change impacts, such as drought.

In response to the Nama community's concern that NGOs often come there to do research, but seldom deliver what was really needed, the team decided to raise funds so that at least one early action could be delivered. The Rockies Institute, as a charitable platform dedicated to adaptation and resilience was able to secure enough funds for the implementation of water-capture units on a local school as well as conduct a vulnerability assessment. Similarly, funding was secured for capacity building with the Kainai, but unfortunately, the larger vision of developing a comparative knowledge sharing project was less attractive to donors and is yet to be funded. The aim is that one day the project team will ignite a comparative project with the Kainai First Nation (also known as the Blood Tribe).

Ongoing Project Activities

Currently, some of the partners in the team are co-developing climate change adaptation plans for both Northern and Southern hemisphere communities. SANParks is interested in using this model to work closely with communities near protected areas to support them in dealing with climate change and assist with the implementation of such adaptation plans where necessary. The Rockies Institute is working on phase II of the project with the Kainai First Nation – From Planning to Implementation-and has started two other adaptation journeys with tribes in Canada that are faced with surprisingly similar struggles when it comes to climate impacts as the Nama. With adequate funding, the project team will facilitate a knowledge exchange process between the Nama Tribe and the Kainai First Nation. Although the idea for knowledge sharing is highly regarded and furthered in the Paris Agreement through founding of the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples' Platform, a hurdle to sharing findings and learning from one another has been that funding is largely country focused.

Lessons Learnt from the Project

So far, the project teams have learned a lot from both communities, in South Africa and Canada, about the climate risks these communities are facing and their adaptive capacity to deal with risks. In some cases, we found that the risks never feature in the national and international climate change debate. An important lesson for us was the realization that Indigenous communities are constantly pressured to adjust or find ways to survive. Therefore, we believe, that climate change adaptation solutions for Indigenous peoples will not come from complex modelling, but from understanding how people cope and through knowledge sharing. One approach to such knowledge sharing is The Rockies Institute's Village of Hope process that brings multiple partners together in an ethical space.

The Benefits of International Collaboration

Knowledge and experience sharing – learning what works and what does not -is key to tackling the challenges of climate change and adaptation on a global scale. Yet, international collaboration, in itself, is also a challenge. One of the take-aways for Emily, with this partnership exercise, is that one needs to be aware of the great effort needed just to stay in touch with international partners, and fully engaged in working on multiple time-zones.Communications, trust, good-will, understanding cultural differences, and having a sense of camaraderie were essential in bringing this project to fruition.

It was to Laura's surprise that funding for a comparative project between Canada and South Africa would be so difficult. The passion and the expertise of the team has been a huge driver for her to continue.

If you want to get in touch with our graduates, please email Laura (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) and Emily (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or find Mmoto on LinkedIn.

The inception phase with the Blood Tribe in Standoff, Canada. Photo by Igshaan Samuels
Academy alumnae and project team member Laura Shay Lynes. Photo rights: L. S. Lynes
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