Thai Baan Research Exemplifies Value of Traditional Knowledge in Climate Research
Many researchers, NGOs, and government actors have begun to recognize the value of Traditional Knowledge (TK) as a tool to identify the effects of climate change worldwide. One such organization is the Center for Conservation and Development of Water Resources (WARECOD), a Vietnamese NGO working on, among other things, the Thai Baan Research project.
Local communities in Vietnam interact with their environment on a first degree basis and have intimate knowledge of the landscape, flora and fauna of their regions. They observe changes in the ecology of their regions as it is altered by the effects of anthropogenic climate change.
The Thai Baan Research project is aimed at revealing “local knowledge about the environment and how villagers interact with it. It reveals their practical understanding of the complexity and dynamics of natural resources, the way in which resources have been used, and the moral economy of those who depend upon them for their livelihoods.”
The Project was started by researchers at Chiang Mai University, the Southeast Asia Rivers Network (an NGO) and villagers in response to the Pak Mun Dam in Thailand where the government allowed the dam project to go ahead without any consultation from local communities. The research model was later adopted in Cambodia and Vietnam; one such application was in the Lower Mekong of Cambodia and Vietnam, where WARECOD joined the project.
One University of Ottawa – Faculty of Law student, Madiha Vallani, worked with WARECOD in 2012-2013, engaging in research and community development. Once a month, Madiha would travel to meet local communities in the Mekong River region of Southern Vietnam or the Ganga River in Northern Vietnam and spend a week gathering TK on the impacts of climate change affecting local landscapes. Madiha, along with other researchers, would ask local community members open-ended questions on the development of their environment, such as what kind of species they have seen come and go over the years, and what trends of seasonable change have they observed. Madiha helped develop a database of the TK collected which could be referenced by other NGOs, researchers or even government actors studying the effects of climate change.
One benefit of the project, Madiha describes, is that it provides local community members an opportunity to voice concerns on issues affecting their sustenance lifestyle and the environment on which they thrive. The project empowers local communities to gain an understanding of what is happening to their environment and proves an opportunity for them to take action to protect their land. In particular, women who would otherwise have little opportunity to provide input on environmental considerations were encouraged by the chance to share their insight into the changing environment.
In a country such as Vietnam where the government does not regularly consult with local communities, it is powerful for an NGO to take up the slack and provide a mechanism to identify and collect TK so that there is a database of information which can be consulted in environmental decision-making. Although there is no requirement for the government to reference the database, availability of information is important for all potential decision-makers.