Traditional weather forecasting among Afar pastoralists in north Eastern Ethiopia: Role in Climate change adaptation
Mulubrhan Balehegn GEBREMIKAEL
Climate Frontlines Partner, Mekelle University College of Dryland Agriculture and Afar Indigenous Development Community (Aba'ala), Ethiopia
Traditional weather forecasting is applied by many indigenous communities worldwide to forecast weather and guide daily livelihood decisions and climate change adaptation measures. In many indigenous communities worldwide, such traditional weather forecasting still remains to be the only accessible, affordable and actionable source of weather and climate information. Therefore, it is important to document such indigenous knowledge to enhance its use in local climate change adaptation and utilize synergies with the formal weather forecasting system. In this study, I aimed to investigate and document traditional weather forecasting practices among Afar pastoralists of north eastern Ethiopia. Methodologically speaking, I did focused group discussions with clan leaders, community elders and experienced herders; and individual interviews with experienced rangeland scouts, traditional seers and prominent clan leaders.
The Afar traditionally predict weather and climate through the observation of diverse biophysical entities including the stars, winds, livestock, insects, birds, trees and other wildlife. Moreover, traditional seers also do 'probabilistic prediction'. However, no single prediction is taken at face value; weather forecasting is a dynamic process where information is collected by traditional observations and predictions, and is triangulated with different sources, including the formal weather forecasting system, to make the safest livelihood decisions. Before any forecasting information is used, it passes through three important traditional institutions that collect, share and analyze the information. These institutions include : 1) the 'Edo' or range scouting where traditional rangeland scouts are sent on a mission to assess weather and other spatially and temporally variable attributes on rangelands such as rangeland condition, security etc. ; 2) the 'Dagu'- a traditional secured and reputable network, where weather information is shared ; and 3) the 'Adda' or a group of village elders in the traditional Afar governance system, who evaluate or weigh the pros and cons of forecasting information before making decisions to be followed by communities. These institutions make sure that not only the most probable forecasting is used for decision making, but also that forecasting techniques that lose their reliability are excluded through a circular feedback system.
This study shows that because of its reliability and trust by local community, indigenous weather forecasting can be used for effective adaptation to climate change at local level, while synergies can be created for integration with formal weather forecasting system.
I am an Assistant professor of rangeland ecology and pastoralist development at Mekelle University Ethiopia. My responsibilities in this position include teaching courses related to pastoralists climate change adaptation, undertaking research in pastoral areas. I have a long time engagement with Afar pastoralists in north Eastern Ethiopia, so much so, that I now am an honorary member of the Indigenous Afar Pastoral Development Community in Aba'ala Afar.
My recent research work and engagement with the Afar in a project sponsored by the UNESCO Climate Frontlines Project is aimed at understanding the traditional weather forecasting, climate change adaptation and climate change knowledge in order to help them enhance their adaptive capacity. Most of my work with the Afar pastoralists involve, community based engagement involving focused group discussions, participatory observation and practical learning from clan leaders, traditional rangeland scouts, traditional seers of rain makers etc.