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Traditional local knowledge helps Tonga face climate change


29 September 2014

Traditional local knowledge helps Tonga face climate change challenges

In the face of increasingly severe storms and changing weather patterns causing drought and floods, Caritas in Tonga is integrating traditional local knowledge of plants and weather warnings with scientific observations to help communities prepare and adapt to the effects of climate change.

“Integrating this wealth of traditional knowledge, values and practices with climate science will provide a unique dataset that can give a broader perspective or adaptive approach to weather bulletins,” says Amelia Ma’afu, Programmes Coordinator and Climate Change Officer for Caritas Tonga.

Mrs Ma’afu will appear as a keynote speaker at this weekend’s launch of Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand’s report Small yet strong: Voices from Oceania on the environment at St Peter Chanel parish in Clover Park, Manukau. The report, which is being launched on St Francis Day (October 4), draws from interviews conducted by Caritas with people across Oceania at grass roots and coastal edge level on the environmental challenges they face. It explores what people are experiencing, how they are responding and what they want to happen.

Mrs Ma’afu says one of the aims of Caritas Tonga’s Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management Programme is to reduce the risks of climate change and disaster events by informing and engaging, thereby strengthening, community resilience and sustainable development.

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“Adaptation to change is an inherent part of the lifestyles of the Tongan community, and traditional knowledge, values and practices are at the core of resilience and the ability of our islands to live and thrive in Tonga's changing environment.”

The Tonga Farmers Traditional Calendar is an example of one such area of knowledge that is being integrated. Comprised of thirteen lunar months, the calendar plays an important role in decisions about planting and harvesting times and requires particular attention from farmers on weather associated with lunar phases throughout the year. According to reports from farmers, decreasing yields are a direct result of climate variability and characteristically a surplus harvest of breadfruit, for example, is a sure sign of a cyclone approaching.

Farmers in coastal communities in Ha'apai also report land receding at an alarming rate. Where sea spray only affected 10% of their plantations in the past, 45-60% of the plantation is now subject to sea spray and land erosion.

“This has a direct impact on harvests, crippling the coping capacity of the communities,” Mrs Ma’afu says.

Mrs Ma’afu will be available for interviews in Auckland on Friday 3 and Saturday 4 October.

Copies of the Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand report will be publicly available online or from the Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand office in Wellington from 4 October, 2014.

An embargoed copy of the report can be made available to media outlets interviewing Mrs Ma’afu.

Event: Launch of “Small yet strong: Voices from Oceania on the environment” report
Date: Saturday, 4 October, 2014
Times: 2pm-4:15pm Seminar
Location: St Peter Chanel Catholic Church, Clover Park
44 Boundary Road, Auckland, New Zealand 2023


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