Indigenous knowledge can help fight extreme weather
Md Shafiqul Islam

Farmers have adapted by using a hat made of bamboo, locally known as mathal to protect them from extreme sunlight. They also use moringa leaves as vegetables to protect them from the heat which also helps to balance body temperature and consume a soft drink made from brown palm sugar to keep cool

  • Snails can be predictors of rainfall 
    Photo- BIGSTOCK

Indigenous or local knowledge, passed down from generation to generation is a valuable resource for Bangladeshis living with extreme weather conditions.A study on the “use of local knowledge systems in drought prediction and extreme weather management” uncovered interesting findings on local knowledge and coping strategies in three districts in the drought-prone Barind area, situated in the northwest region of Bangladesh.

Before the invention of modern technologies, people used nature to predict natural disasters and extreme weather events. The elderly are still reliant on local knowledge in predicting extreme weather events. Indigenous or traditional knowledge systems use the appearance of certain insects, birds, animals, and weather as signals of change in seasonality and impending disasters.

The Barind Tracts are prone to drought due to its geographical location. Over the years, drought has caused huge damage to the crops, livestock, fisheries, horticultural production, and livelihoods. Indigenous knowledge is fundamental in making decisions on agriculture, natural resource management, economic activities, and a host of other activities in rural societies.

Our study uncovered the following indications for both drought and heavy rainfall in the Barind area:

Indigenous knowledge indicating drought

  • Pigeons lay on the ground by spreading their feathers
  • Western sky appearing bright red during sunset
  • Frequent lightning followed by thunder in the eastern sky at night
  • Termites den and mound in dry soil is thought as indication of extreme drought
  • Flying of hoppers
  • Rainbows appearing in the eastern side

Indigenous knowledge indicating rainfall

  • Snails climbing on trees, earthworm crawling all over the ground, and ants moving to safer places
  • Ant’s upward movement also indicates immense rainfall
  • Black ants accumulating eggs and grains in secure places
  • Termites den and mound in wet soil
  • Blaring/croaking of frogs
  • Rainbows appearing on the western side
  • The chirping of Fatik pakhi (Common lora) during the period of October to April

Indigenous methods to protect against extreme weather events

Indigenous practices to protect against extreme weather events are a combination of belief, myths, and age-old practices. Common mitigation and coping measures against drought include local methods of storing water, changing food habits, agricultural practices and lifestyle changes.

Drinking water is scarce and it is extremely hot during the drought period. People in the Barind area, collect drinking water from far away and store it in a mud pot to keep the water cool.

Drought prone areas often face shortage of food and people in these areas eat kolai ruti (Bread) to sustain them for a long time. Drought resistant and drought tolerant crops are grown when there are signs of immediate drought and low rainfall.  Advance fishing is done in the early stage of drought and is dried to be eaten later when food supply is low.

To protect agriculture against extreme weather impacts people use mulches around fruit trees in their homestead gardens and crop fields.

The practice conserves soil moisture and reduces the impact of extreme temperature by lowering soil temperature. Planting trees also protects against drought and extreme weather impacts.

Extreme sunlight makes hard work on the farm even harder. Farmers have adapted by using a hat made of bamboo, locally known as mathal, to protect them from extreme sunlight.

They also use moringa leaves as vegetables to protect them from the heat which also helps to balance body temperature and consume a soft drink made from brown palm sugar to keep cool. People also wrap themselves with wet clothes to keep cool from extreme temperatures during the day time and bathe two to three times a day.

To manage the high temperature in their homes, people in the Barind areas spread grass on their corrugated iron sheet roof and create an extra ceiling made of bamboo, wood, clothes, or jute stick.

Few infrastructural measures are adopted by the local people including excavation or re-excavation of ponds, canals, or mini-ponds to store water for domestic use and irrigation.

The local knowledge found in rural communities in the Barind area is a combination of skills and techniques gained through experiences needed to live and survive in a tough environment. Not all the local knowledge has remained relevant.

People have developed a wide array of coping strategies and their local knowledge and practices provide an important basis for facing ever increasing intensity and frequency of drought brought on by climate change. With the impacts of climate change getting worse, rural communities will need additional support to effectively manage drought and weather extremes. 

Print Friendly and PDF

Md Shafiqul Islam

Md Shafiqul Islam ([email protected]) is an Assistant Professor at the Centre for Sustainable Development, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh and a PhD student, Institute of Disaster Management and Vulnerability Studies, University of Dhaka.