Assessing the crop diversity trends in relation with climate change based on local knowledge

Predictions based on agroclimatic models predict a dramatic decrease in the agricultural production at the global scale, thus affecting the livelihoods of millions of peoples. However, these models focus on the major crops and are too coarse to represent the diversity of crop landraces responses to climate change. Lead by Vanesse Labeyrie, partners in the LICCI research network are preparing to collect local level data that will provide first-hand information on how climate change is affecting crop diversity around the world and how farmers manage this diversity to adapt.

            Growing different crops and different varieties of the same crop (i.e., crop diversity) is fundamental for the livelihood of millions of small-farmers around the world, as it allows them both to have diversified diets and to smooth household food consumption in the face of uncertain ecological and socio-economic conditions. Given the importance of crop diversity for food security, its loss is a worldwide concern that has called the attention of scientists and policy makers alike. However, there is a gap in knowledge concerning on one hand the impact of climate change on this diversity, and on the other hand on how farmers are managing this diversity to adapt.

In their attempt to understand how the different crop are affected by climate change and how crop diversity mitigates its impact on agricultural production, scientists have used different analytical tools, such as crop simulation models, statistical analysis, or experiments in controlled conditions. While informative, this research does not provide a full picture of the dynamics of crop diversity in small-scale agriculture in relation to climate change, and underrepresents the key role of local knowledge and management practices. A real understanding of the relationship between climate change impacts and crop diversity trends requires the coordinated collection of climate variability and crop trends in small-scale farms around the world.

            And this is precisely what Vanesse Labeyrie (GREEN Research Unit, CIRAD, Montpellier) is set to do in collaboration with a group of partners of the LICCI research network. In coordination with the LICCI Core Team, Vanesse has developed a protocol that allows her to track temporal trends in crop diversity in different rural societies practicing small-scale agriculture. By coupling data collected with this protocol with data collected in the framework of the LICCI project, Vanesse wants to analyze whether climate change is an important driver of crop diversity among small-farmers, and how they manage this diversity to adapt.

            During our three LICCI training events, Vanesse has already trained several partners interested in applying the protocol in their fieldsites. To expand the number of case studies, we have now established a collaboration with the project ASSET (AgrobiodiverSity for a food-Secure planET). The project ASSET, led by Delphine Renard (CEFE, Montpellier), aims at evaluating the potential of increased crop diversity to reduce climate risks to food production. ASSET combines ecological, agronomic and ethnoecological work at the global and local scales in France (on vineyards), in northern Morocco (on olive agroforests) and in Senegal (on cereal-leguminous cropping systems). LICCI and ASSET are combining forces to homogenize their data collection tools, to increase the empirical base to be used to answer together how climate change is impacting crop diversity among small farmers and how they manage this diversity to adapt to the climatic variability and change. Within this framework, the past 13th November, we conducted an additional training session on the crop diversity protocol for ASSET members, and adjusted it to be able to answer new research questions. 

If you are interested in joining or learning more about the Crop Diversity group in LICCI, please contact Vanesse Labeyrie (

Notes from the field: Tracking LICCIs in the Territorio Indígena Tsimane’

This past October, in the context of their participation in the III Jornadas de Etnobiologia en Bolivia and the continuous work on Etnoecología en Bolivia (financed by Fundació Autònoma Solidària); André, Petra, and Viki from the LICCI core team went on a field trip to the Territorio Indígena Tsimane’ (Dept. Beni, Bolivia). Tomas Huanca, Esther Conde, Isidoro Canchi and Elias Isa, members of our partner organization “Centro Boliviano de Desarrollo Socio Integral” (CBIDSI) also came along. Together, they worked in identifying changes perceived by the Timane´ in their territory. This was a particularly emotive trip as Viki, Tomas, and Esther have worked in the area for two decades and have also been witnesses of some of the changes mentioned by the Tsimane’.

The Tsimane’ were a society of hunter-gatherers who lived isolated from the market economy and the national society until recently. The opening of roads in the area in the 1970’s, and the consequent arrival of missionaries, traders, colonists farmers, cattle ranchers, and loggers changed Tsimane’ lifestyles in profound ways. The elaboration of a timeline of important events in the area highlighted how the Tsimane’ themselves perceived these processes. It was also useful to explore how these external pressures continue to threaten their territory nowadays, as the Tsimane’ reported the recent effects of new colonization waves and the opening of new logging roads.

In our conversations with the Tsimane’, we learned that they also perceive many changes in the climatic system with cascade effects on the biophysical and socioeconomic systems. For example, the Tsimane’ report an increase in temperature and a decrease in the amount of rainfall. According to them, these affect the amount of water in the river and the stream, as well as water temperature. Together this increases fish mortality. Hotter temperatures and decreased rains also affect the ripening of some cultural keystone species for the Tsimane’, such as the Väij (Bactris gasipaes) –which indicated the end of the rainy season and the start of the Tsimane’ seasonal calendar-, and the O’ba (Ceiba pentandra)– whose flowering indicated the best time for hunting-.

Through our interviews, we also noticed that the Tsimane’ have their own understanding of the complex relations and multiple drivers of change. For example, when asked to clarify causes of decrease in fish abundance in a focus group discussion, participants mentioned that there were many drivers for this change, including the adoption of new technologies (fishing nets), the increase in fish commercialization, together with the decrease in river water, the increase in river water temperature, and the lack of respect to cultural norms.

Despite 20 years of work with the Tsimane’, we still have a lot to learn from them, and we are excited to keep on collaborating with the Tsimane´ and CBIDSI during the LICCI project.

Me alegro mucho de haber participado en este estudio. Yo ya no se muchas cosas de mi propia cultura, y trabajando en este estudio he aprendido mucho. Me alegro de haber participado” (Isidoro Canchi, Indigenous researcher at CBIDSI).

Estoy muy contento de este viaje. Yo no había visitado estas comunidades nunca antes; es mi primer viaje rio arriba. He aprendido cosas que no conocía antes. Los comunarios nos han dicho que hay muchos cambios, sobretodo por sequía. Como yo también soy del campo, me ha interesado aprender esto. Estoy muy contento de haber ido a este viaje” (Elias Isa, Indigenous researcher at CBIDSI).

Notes from the field: discussing with Twa hunter-gatherers in eastern DR Congo

During August and September 2019, LICCI partner Dr Cuni Sanchez and her colleagues Dr G. Imani and R. Batumike, started their research on climate change perceptions and adaptation by the Twa hunter-gatherers living around Kahuzi-Biega National Park. This park which covers lowland and montane forests, hosts several endangered iconic mammals such as Grauer’s gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri), eastern chimpanzee (Pan troglodytes schweinfurthii) and forest elephant (Loxodonta africana var. cyclotis). Unfortunately, it is listed as a World Heritage Site in Danger as a consequence of past armed conflict in the region and the current presence of armed militia (involved in illegal mining and hunting) within the park. Despite being less notorious, climate change is also affecting the park, especially its montane forests.

Montane forests are particularly sensitive to climatic changes: with raising temperatures, the altitude where clouds (or fog) form changes. Fog is an important source of water in montane forests: leaves and branches from trees, together with mosses, collect water droplets from fog. As the Twa pointed out: ‘before nearly every day was misty; but now you can only find mist during the rainy season, and not even every day of it’. Changes in rainfall patterns, hail storms and temperatures were also reported. They also highlighted a notorious reduction in the abundance of mushrooms, edible caterpillars, wild honey and crabs, which they related to both deforestation and climatic changes. These changes had a negative effect on their diet and health.

Combining the traditional ecological knowledge of the Twa with meteorological data of nearby stations and remote sensing analysis of deforestation, the team will reconstruct the changes taken place in the area, and how the Twa have deal with them. The team also interviewed Tembo farmers to get insights on how these farmers have deal with climatic and environmental changes. The Twa were very happy to see the researchers (and vice-versa), whom they knew from a past project on forest use and valuation. With no TV, radio, or mobile phones, and limited access to schools and hospitals, the researchers are both a source of news and good entertainment.

Dr Aida Cuni Sanchez (University of York in UK), Dr Gerard Imani and Rodrigue Batumike (Université Officielle de Bukabu in DRC).

Twa family (on average they have 10 children, but child mortality before 5 years old is high).
Twa man and his assets (note the small number of assets they have)

Notes from the field: ribeirinho life along the pulsing Juruá river

During September, the LICCI core team member André Junqueira went to the Juruá River, in western Brazilian Amazonia, to start the arrangements for his forthcoming fieldwork in the region. The Juruá, a tributary of the Amazon River, is a dynamic meandering river with its headwaters in the Andes, carrying a large amount of sediments that gets deposited every year in its wide floodplains. Along the Juruá inhabit different indigenous groups as well as the ribeirinhos, a diverse population that emerged from the contact between local indigenous people and migrants that came from Northeastern Brazil during the ‘rubber boom’ in the late 19th Century.

Fishing, agriculture and the extraction of forest resources form the base of their livelihoods, which have gradually become more diversified since rubber tapping ceased around the 1930s. With amplitudes that can reach 12m (i.e. the difference between the lowest and highest water level), the annual river flood pulse has a profound influence in the local social-ecological system, affecting cultivation cycles, availability of resources, level of accessibility, and many other socio-economic and biophysical elements.

In the last decades, however, local residents have reported changes in the flood pulse, in the rainfall seasonality and in other biophysical elements that have strongly affected their livelihoods. Combining the traditional ecological knowledge of local residents with hydrological, climatic and dendrochronological data (i.e., the analysis of tree rings), André will reconstruct the history of the changes that have taken place on the cycles of rainfall and river fluctuation during the last century, and understand how the ribeirinhos have been dealing with these changes.

During this first trip, André established contact with local organizations, leaders of the communities, and formalized a collaboration with the Instituto Juruá – a local institution that has a strong presence and an excellent trust relationship with the local communities. Instituto Juruá is presided by Dr. João Vitor Campos-Silva – also a LICCI partner -, who provided invaluable help and guided us through the many curves of the Juruá River. We are excited to keep on working in the region and we are grateful to Instituto Juruá and mainly to the ribeirinhos for such a warm welcome!

Discussing impacts of climate change in the Bolivian Amazon

Within the context of the III Jornadas de Etnobiologia en Bolivia, supported by the Fundación Autònoma Solidaria, three members of the LICCI core team discussed with Bolivian scientists and representatives of the Chiquitano and Tacana Indigenous peoples how climate change is affecting their livelihoods.

The event was hosted by the Universidad Privada de Santa Cruz (Bolivia), and took the form of a dialogue between two forms of knowing. Robert Cartagena, Tacana Indigenous representative, highlighted how climate change adds to the web of other changes that are affecting their people, emphasizing how water issues have the potential to become a problem as increasing drought adds to lack of long term planning of hydrological resources. 

Representatives from TCO Monte Verde pointed out their interest in building alliances with scientists to present their knowledge to policy makers, as their local knowledge is not often considered in policy settings.  We are looking forward more dialogues to build new knowledge!

Another rewarding LICCI workshop is concluded

As time goes by, it is exciting to see the LICCI network keeps growing and thriving. Last week we hosted 14 partners at ICTA-UAB in Barcelona to foster collaborative research and set common ground for the data collection in the field. Partners from across the world dedicated their efforts to familiarizing the LICCI protocols, sharing experiences working with Indigenous Peoples and climate change, and forging future collaborations among each other and beyond. The week-long workshop was intense in schedule yet rather fruitful in constructive discussions and critical thinking. The LICCI core team would like to thank all of the participants for this inspiring week. Hope to cross paths very soon!

>> If you want to know more about our partners you can check their profiles here.

LICCI has successfully wrapped up the first training workshop!

The very first training workshop of LICCI took place at ICTA-UAB from 17th to 21st of June 2019. LICCI team members greeted 10 partners coming from different countries in Barcelona, Spain. It is an exciting moment to witness how common ground in research could bring people with very different expertise together and share insights from each one’s own field. The underlying idea of the workshop is to build a comprehensive understanding of the data collection protocols and to discuss how to adapt them to the local context of each partners’ field site.

It was an intense but immensely inspiring week, which enriched discussions about indigenous and local knowledge and climate change, bridged collaborations between young scholars and senior scientists, and interspersed by traditional Spanish cuisine, wine and beers! Hats off to all the partners for their invaluable contributions! See you soon!!

News from the field: insights from the Serer

We arrived in the field by the end of April. The landscape was drab brown and dry, scattered with bushes, acacia trees and baobabs. In the past, the rainy season used to start earlier, we were told; by this time, the first millet seeds would have begun germinating across the fields. But nowadays the duration of the rainy season has shortened from five months to roughly four months, and the dry-spells have become more frequent and less predictable. Farmers tend to wait until the second or even the third rain to seed, fearing that an unexpected dry-spell would harm the seedlings. As a way of mitigating climate change effects, farmers also have started to rely more on shorter cycle crop varieties, since the shorter maturation period is better suited to the higher uncertainty and to the later onset and shorter duration of the rains. 

We pre-tested the LICCI methods among the Serer ethnic group, in Niakhar District (west of the Groundnut Basin, Senegal). The majority of the Serer population are farmers, who practice rain-fed shifting agriculture. Interestingly, and in contrary to the trends observed in other semi-arid regions in the world, farmers mentioned an increase in the rainfall during the last decades. During the testing, we constructed the community timeline with the locals, and learned that after a 30-year period of drought and a severe drought event in the 70s, starting from the early 2000s the rain has become more abundant and frequent but also more patchy and unpredictable. With the return of the rain, some crops varieties abandoned in the past due to the lack of water are also coming back.

We collected a long list of local indicators of climate change impacts. The list covers a wide range of local observations, including: higher water salinity; less foggy and cloudy days; higher frequency of patchy rains; higher temperatures; decrease of the duration of seasonal rivers and ponds; disappearance of terrestrial animal species; changes in soil humidity; decrease in pasture availability and composition; increase in livestock illnesses etc. This indicates that the environment is changing and that local people not only perceive it, but are also concerned about it. However, it is not only the climate that is changing and local peoples’ perception of the changes taking place in the region were extremely interconnected with many other drivers of change. In most of our conversations, deforestation, increase in population pressure, youth exodus, availability of off-farm work, and development and state interventions came up together with climate change to explain the fundamental transformations taking place in the region.

The time we spent in Niakhar has enriched our insights, which would not only help us refine the data collection protocols, but also allow us appreciate multiple ways of knowing and strengthens our conviction that knowledge systems from more traditional, resource-dependent societies can make invaluable contributions to climate change research. Our most sincere gratitude to the Serer, that so generously shared their time and stories with us. We take their voices with great responsibility. Djokonjal a paax!

Vanesse Labeyrie, Anna Porcuna Ferrer

New publication from the LICCI team!

“A collaborative approach to bring insights from local observations of climate change impacts into global climate change research”

Distribution of world meteorological stations based on the CRUTEM. dataset and locations of the reviewed case studies along with the main climates according to the Koeppen–Geiger classification.

Based on a review of research on place-based observations of climate change impacts, in this paper the LICCI team explores the challenges and potentials of bringing insights from indigenous and local knowledge (ILK) into climate research. Specifically, we explore the transferability, integration, and scalability of ILK, and conclude that despite the untapped potential of ILK as data source, there are important geographical gaps and insufficient coordinating efforts to reach that potential. We suggest creating a community of practice as a necessary step to bring place-based climate knowledge into climate change research and policy agendas.

Open access:

Check the LICCI-classification tree!

News from the field: the Betsimisaraka expertise

As a continuation of the work undertaken in Kenya, our team carries on with the protocol testing in Madagascar to further improve the methodologies for future global data collection.

In April, LICCI core team members Xiaoyue Li and Vincent Porcher took a field trip to Madagascar to work with the Betsimisaraka people of Vavatenia. Residing in the hinterland of the east coast in northern Madagascar, the Bestsimisaraka have a long history of extensive interaction with agroforestry systems, they are known for various rice-growing practices such as shallow paddies field and rainfed rice after slash-and-burn. The humid tropical region where the Betsimisaraka live is well-known for its rich biodiversity but is also a regular subject to cyclonic episodes with high rainfall records.

With the immeasurable support from Dr. Stéphanie Carrière (The French Research Institute for Development, IRD) and Dr. Vanesse Labeyrie (The French Agricultural Research Center for International Development, CIRAD, and also a core team member of LICCI), Vincent and Xiao were able to build a growing collaborative relationship with local research institutions and obtain authorizations from the mayor and the Fokotany chief (local authority) to carry out the work in Vavatenia. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Mihantra, who is a Betsimisaraka community member currently doing her Ph.D. at University of Tamatave, greatly helped facilitating the fieldwork.

The Betsimisaraka generously shared with us a long list of changes they observed over the past decade, ranging from more frequent droughts to dried and cracked soils, which the latter is an unprecedented phenomenon considering this is a humid region. We learned that these recent climatic disturbances had caused numerous negative consequences on their economic activities. In particular, the clove and the rice productions are heavily impacted by the irregularity of rainfalls, of which, the former is considered as the local economic backbone, while the latter serves as the primary staple food of Malagasy people. All of these valuable information shared by Betsimisaraka people is also embedded deeply in their daily concerns about the household income and food security. These new issues faced by the Betsimisaraka are inevitably intertwined with the country’s complicated political situations and are accentuated by climate change and deforestation, which the latter is a major concern on the island. Moreover, this learning experience with Betsimisaraka people allows us to realize and emphasize on the complexity of the inter-relational chains between local and global climatic phenomena. It is also important to note that some local indicators of climate change impacts (LICCIs) could quite be the result of the concomitant effect between climate change and local drivers, as it is the case in the East of Madagascar with the deforestation of the rainforest.

The LICCI team stays enthusiastic about continuing this collaboration in close relationship with the Betsimisaraka people and extending our research spectrum to other Malagasy cultural groups in the near future. We are deeply grateful for the Betsimisaraka’s warm welcome, and extremely delighted about the chance of visiting the incredible agroforest and spending time with the Betsimisaraka to learn their experience and knowledge.

Misaotra betsaka !