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Co-designing climate services to integrate traditional ecological knowledge: a case study from Bali, Indonesia

Submitted by Christina Daszk... 12th February 2021 8:15
Farmers at a climate field school in Bali

Farmers at a climate field school in Bali. Photo: su-re.co

Introduction

Indigenous Peoples have distinct knowledge of the local social-ecological systems where they have lived for many generations. Their knowledge has the potential to inform locally appropriate and culturally responsive strategies for adaptation and resilience building. This long-view perspective and intimate knowledge about local social-ecological systems offer insights on how to adapt to the impacts of climate change. However, the role of their knowledge in enabling an inclusive and locally responsive climate change adaptation and resilience building remains largely unexplored. 

This SEI brief discusses efforts to help Indigenous People adapt to climate change by combining their traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) with scientific and technological sources of information about agriculture and climate change. Using a case study of climate field schools conducted in rural Bali, this brief demonstrates and analyses how the Tandem framework can be applied in the design and implementation of stakeholder engagement approaches aimed at developing locally responsive and participatory climate services that incorporate local knowledge.

This brief underscores the importance of TEK, and fills an important gap in understanding about the ways it can be integrated with conventional climate services to improve our response to the challenges of building resilience and adapting to climate change impacts.

The findings of this brief are relevant for people looking to develop legitimate, locally responsive and participatory climate services.

*Download the full case study from the right-hand column. A short overview of the publication is provided below.

Context and approach

In Bali, agriculture provides a main source of income. Many farming families have lived in the area for generations, and therefore have a long history of interaction and an interdependent relationship with their environment. As a result, farmers have developed a deep understanding of the social-ecological systems to guide their everyday and their agricultural practices.

The climate field schools conducted as part of this study focused on coffee and cacao farmers, for which declining rainfall has led to reduced crop quality and yields, and crop failures. 

Elements of the Tandem framework were applied to the process of designing and implementing two rounds of a climate field school programme with farmers and trainers in Jembrana in Bali, Indonesia. The programme was co-created through a partnership of farmers, a local NGO (Sustainability and Resilience Co. (su-re.co)), agricultural extension workers, representatives of the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysical Agency (BMKG) of Indonesia, and the SEI Climate Services Initiative.

The programme was designed to bring together the existing local knowledge and practices of farmers working in tandem with representatives from BMKG and their technical, meteorological and climatological information. The aim was to develop information that could be used by farmers to adapt agricultural practices to climate change impacts, and to build the resilience of their livelihoods.

Aspects of Tandem were tested by SEI researchers working in partnership with su-re.co throughout various stages of the field school design and implementation process, specifically elements 1-3 of the Tandem framework:

  • Element 1 - identifying and defining an adaptation challenge that would benefit from the use of a climate service.
  • Element 2 - identifying and engaging with potential users of a climate service.
  • Element 3 - co-defining the desired objectives of a climate service and reviewing advantages and shortcomings of existing services.

Methods employed include scoping exercises to assess the status of climate information services, and the contexts and needs of coffee and cacao farmers, and interviews and focus group discussions with coffee and cacao farmers, BMKG officials, members of agricultural cooperative groups, and representatives of non-government organizations and government agencies responsible for agriculture and estate crops.

The intent was to understand the varying perspectives on local and regional adaptation challenges, needs, interests and available services. Findings helped identify specific climate knowledge, gaps in knowledge, and areas of shared understanding. This, in turn, informed the design of a pilot programme implemented in Bali through field- and classroom-based exercises in 2018. Building on lessons learned from the pilot and several feedback sessions with farmers, su-re.co, agricultural extension workers and BMKG, the curriculum and design of the programme was revised to more closely consider how to more effectively integrate TEK.

The revised curriculum included information on the importance of TEK and how conventional climate information in Bali aligns with local perceptions of the climate. The resulting School of Climate and Living Tradition (SaLT) was implemented in 2019 as a “training of trainers” programme.


Figure 1, from page 7 of the brief: The seven iterative elements of the Tandem framework to co-design climate services. The Tandem framework aims to guide providers and intermediaries of climate information to produce relevant, actionable and sustainable climate services that meet the needs of the users of the climate information. Source: Daniels et al. 2020.

See Box 2, page 8 of the full brief, for more information on traditional ecological knowledge and practices in Indonesia.

Results

The process of designing and implementing the climate field school activities in Bali informs how traditional ecological knowledge can be better integrated into the design of climate services.

Framing the challenges of adapting farming practices to a changing climate

Perceptions of climate change and the adaptation challenge (and related needs) were different for the main user group (the farmers), members of agricultural cooperative groups, and those offering meteorological services (BMKG) and agricultural extension services. 

The experiences in this case study highlight the importance of iterative user-provider interaction: how such interaction should not be a one-time activity, but part of a continuing facilitated process that evolves as insights lead participants to refine project direction and activities. 

Such iterative interaction and related relationship building enabled participants to explore relevant issues more deeply. This learning catalysed changes in perceptions that were captured and integrated into the redesign of ensuing activities. For example, experiences led BMKG to recognize the value and importance of the Sasih, the traditional Balinese lunar calendar, as a key instrument guiding farmers in their daily practices; as a result, BMKG developed a new module that attempted to relate its climate information with the Sasih

These experiences further highlight that the Tandem elements should not be considered as linear but rather iterative, with regular revisiting of Tandem elements taking place throughout the process. 

Engaging with farmers and other collaborators in the climate field school design

Prior to the climate field school design process, interaction between participants had been limited. The situation underscored the need to consider a broader, more diverse and inclusive range of actors and knowledge systems than previously had been engaged to inform the development of the climate service. In this case, the use of Tandem broadened the range of actors and knowledge systems to include traditional ecological knowledge, cultural gender constructs, ethnic identity, and religious and spiritual perspectives.

It is therefore important to reflect on the ways in which these various knowledge systems and actors are referenced, and the ways in which their vision and systems guide or are integrated into the design of programming and technical policy work. This was a challenge in the design of the climate field school. Even though local farmers were central to the process, their knowledge and practices were still perceived by some as less important or less relevant to the knowledge generated by technical agencies. There is also a tendency among technical experts to speak in the languages of their fields which can be confusing and alienating to others. 

For future consideration, a stakeholder mapping exercise would have been beneficial to understand the interactions between and among related actors, and an interest and power assessment would also have been useful.

Co-exploration of information and service needs

The existing services and information from the perspective of a range of cultures, people and groups, came into sharp relief, especially in terms of credibility and reliability. Following the first phase of climate field school, both parties began to recognize the benefits and the shortcomings of each knowledge system. Thus, when considering credibility and trust of existing climate information and services, it is equally important to consider varying and diverging perspectives. The climate field school experiences reveal the importance of inclusively and respectfully integrating multiple perspectives and knowledge systems into the design of a service, to benefit and enrich the understanding of all involved. 

There is a lot to learn about how to do it without devaluing any certain knowledge system. The information provided in the various elements in Tandem can offer guidance on what questions to ask or consider.

Working together with diverse ranges of knowledge systems and perspectives

The Bali case study points to the importance of the multiple perspectives of all those involved. Despite these differences, the co-development process highlights the interlinkages between these different perspectives and ways of understanding. Tandem does emphasize the need for co-exploring interlinked issues and knowledge systems with relevant actors.

Nevertheless, it is important to reflect on whether the various steps involved adequately draw out the multiple perspectives from relevant actors, to ensure that a single perspective does not dominate discussions and decisions. Furthermore, there is a need to reflect on how to bring multiple perspectives together to ensure that all issues are considered in an appropriate way in the design of a service.

Challenges and Opportunities

  • One clear challenge emerges relating to the process through which  traditional ecological knowledge is perceived and conceptualized by those attempting to understand and work with it. 
  • Dominant trends in literature and practice point to an understanding that considers traditional ecological knowledge almost exclusively as a source of data to be extracted, transformed and integrated to fit within formal science and climate models. Our case study suggests that views from the dominant trends in literature and practice fail to acknowledge the complexity of on-the-ground reality. Traditional ecological knowledge  is more than a data source.
  • To move forward, those working with such communities would benefit from reassessing these perceptions.
  • Tandem has the potential to play an important role in facilitating knowledge co-production – which is essential to enhance understanding of traditional ecological knowledge systems, and to help vulnerable Indigenous Peoples adapt to growing impacts on their ways of life and livelihoods as the result of climate change.