Knowledge of community physical features vital for climate engagement

THE term “community” has been generalised that it can be used to refer to any situation or setting, thereby neutralising its composition and prominence.

The other missing link or militating gap when people try to interrogate their livelihood situations is their lack of comprehensive knowledge of what constitutes their communities, with regard to physical, social and cultural features and institutions. While people always think of human beings as defining features of a community, they often background issues like geographical landscapes and their contributions to ecological growth and environmental protection.

Strategically situating people in their communities would reveal that they are defined by their communities of practice or specialisation, otherwise known as discourse communities.

The people’s communities of practice are transformed by the exhaustive knowledge of physical, socio-economic and cultural features of the communities, otherwise known as settings adding up streamlined demographics. In short, any member of any discourse community should demonstrate working knowledge of wetland areas, streams, mountains, flood plains, streams, gorges, gullies, valleys, veldts, forests, animal species, tree species, local forest fruits, game parks, tourist attractions, ponds or caves, among others.

Physical features of a community don’t always constitute, rivers, mountains, forests or wetland areas, but also include infrastructure such as bridges, roads, buildings, or recreational facilities and amenities, as well as means of transport.

People in communities also need to have comprehensive knowledge of their community leaders, otherwise known as opinion leaders, comprising of traditional, political, religious, spirit mediums, mid-wives, traditional leaders and professionals.

These opinion leaders’ views are representative of the communities’ aspirations, challenges and needs. People also need to familiarise themselves with the learned behaviours and the heritage based practices of their communities, as these would inform them about some comprehensive network features of their community-based knowledge, otherwise referred to as indigenous knowledge systems, for ecological, biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The local knowledge of any community is vital and significant in a number of empowering and transformative ways, including, life-skills, producing goods and services. For sustainable climate change adaptation practices, food security and forest regenerations, local knowledge is paramount.

Local knowledge needs to be preserved and relatively documented, so that it is relived and passed down generations, and stop it from being defunct, disappear, forgotten or get extinct. Communities draw inspiration from their local repositories and knowledge banks to express themselves in dances, songs, drama, music, works of visual art and stories as part of their life-long learning and also for facilitating new knowledge economy.

These expressive arts are relived and demonstrated when engaging in community ceremonies like harvesting, waiting and preparing for the rainy season as well as thanking the heavens for a good harvest.

As the natural environment and the climate continues to change, some components of local knowledge become threatened and endangered. These are wild-life species, wetland areas, sacred places, streams and rivers through siltation, stream bank cultivation and untoward practices like gold panning. As these physical features become threatened, also not to be left out are strong and intricate cultural values and taboos that helped in getting these physical landscapes preserved, respected and valued. Sustainable knowledge of forest fruits, edible insects and seeds is necessary food security and value addition, during drought, so that communities adapt sufficiently well and appropriately.

This also includes range of plant species, forest and traditional vegetable species, found in local areas, grazing pastures and arable lands for agricultural practices and for poverty alleviation and community based response strategies.

Knowledge of weather conditions and seasonal patterns, including forecasts and early warning systems, are fundamental tell-tale signs for planning for the cropping season, including knowledge of the local seed varieties suitable for the prevailing local conditions and climate. Wetlands are of ecological significance and sustainability in that they influence the status of the streams and rivers as water bodies.

Now that flood plains and wetlands have been threatened, destroyed or tempered with, it means the supply lines for biodiversity maintenance have been cut and compromised, thereby rendering vegetation thirsty and insecure. Knowledge of post wetlands sites and areas is also critical, in the event communities would want to resuscitate or reclaim them, as a way of forest or community regeneration.

One thing for certain is that, communities may not rejoice or draw satisfaction from their physical, social or cultural situations, if the infrastructure is in a bad state. A good road network, compact bridges and reliable and efficient transport systems are vital for transporting goods and services, including perishables to the markets, hence communication becomes the lifeline of the people’s interaction, networking and engagement.

These aspects fascinate communities, keep them intertwined and closely linked in order to establish cohesion and improve resilience through sustainable interactive platforms, necessary for information sharing, education, training and awareness.

In this regard, to be a complete and useful member of a community, first and foremost — above all and everything else, one should be able to be conversant of some of the wide ranging issues and concerns that have been raised in this discussion, then we can describe them as environmental and community stewards for sustainable development.

Peter Makwanya is a climate change communicator. He writes in his personal capacity and can be contacted on:

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