What is resilience in the context of climate change?

There is no word in the Hadza language for hunger or famine. This is no linguist omission. It reflects a culture in which food can always be found in the natural world. While many in Western societies may not question the apparent abundance of resources, this is different: the Hadza and many other Indigenous Peoples do not view resources as readily available for human extraction. For them, the environment needs to be nurtured if it is to provide.

Indeed, the lifestyles of the Hadza and Masai people are inherently sustainable – never overexploiting their natural resources and always adapting to changing seasons. As such, Western cultures have much to learn from this way of life if they are to build resilience against the challenges of climate change.

Individualised resilience for Indigenous Peoples

The most effective stewards of nature are Indigenous Peoples. When these communities have reliable, secure rights over their natural resources and receive appropriate compensation for their protection and management efforts, then powerful climate action is possible. 

This ethos underpins the work of Carbon Tanzania. Projects in Ntakata, Makame and Yaeda-Eyasi create economic value in the regions’ natural resources for Indigenous People through the sale of certified carbon credits. Instead of bearing the cost of conservation, Indigenous People benefit financially from managing the land.

While all these projects work to build resilience in their own ways, it is not often that we pause to understand what this means in practise. In the context of global climate change, resilience can be looked at in many ways – it is different for the Hadza, the Datoga and the Maasai People. However, what they all have in common is that resilience is focused around the land, the capacity to manage it and the ability to move.

Traditional pastoralism requires large landscapes for the seasonal grazing of livestock. 

The rotation of livestock allows sufficient time for the ecosystem to rest and then thrive, which in turn, enhances resilience to climate change. As such, stable land-use planning provides one of the most basic and useful adaptations to climate change. It is a key first step to resilience. Communities plan grazing spaces and access to water according to the seasons. They demarcate these places for use later in the year and fine anyone who takes their livestock their earlier in the season.Access to a good, stable education is another component of resilience. In Tanzania, it is normal for children to support their family and community financially and more education leads to greater employment. As these wages are shared, they benefit an entire community – not just one individual – thus creating a financial buffer against change.

A Masai man herds his cattle in the Makame Savannah Project

At the same time, it is impossible (and absurd) to separate the resilience of a community from the health of the ecosystem in which they live. Healthier environments make for healthier people. 

For instance, conserving trees in a village will help to protect water sources and reduce the siltation of rivers. Moreover, conserving fruiting trees will also benefit the Maasai and Hadza people nutritionally. Having regular access to a variety of food sources is important for people’s gut biomes and overall health.

The challenges of biodiversity loss and climate change are truly inseparable. On a fundamental level, the more diverse an ecosystem is, the more resilient it is against collapse. When people consider protecting the environment, they often consider the financial benefits it brings. However, in the cases of the Maasai and the Hadza, the money provides the toolkit to protect the environment and that is the benefit.

Resilient communities make a resilient world

Resilience cannot be viewed in isolation. Building resilience in Tanzania is contributing to raising global resilience to climate change. The resilience of these communities and the resilience of this ecosystem adds to global resilience against climate change. Of course we have climate mitigation as a metric, but what we are selling in our carbon credits contributes to this entire package of resilience.

If we are to learn to address the dual challenges of climate change and biodiversity loss, we should look towards the deep reservoir of knowledge held by Indigenous People. This knowledge should matter to us. We’ve lost so much in Western societies that we are no longer resilient – we have seen this only too recently with infectious disease. Human societies’ resilience really is dependent on our diversity globally.

Looking to the future, individuals in Western societies have a lot to learn from people who live with the land – not just on it. It is crucial to amplify the voices of Indigenous Peoples, like the Hadza, in order to work together to address the challenges that we all face.

Written by Carbon Tanzania CEO Marc Baker


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