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)