Climate change resiliency in Caribbean SIDS: building greater synergies between science and local and traditional knowledge

  • Clinton BeckfordEmail author


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) described the Caribbean as one of the most susceptible regions in the world to climate change. Discourse in the region is vigorous at the policy-making and academic discourse levels, though far less so at the grassroots level, making for a very top down debate and policy-making process. This paper argues that local and traditional knowledge (LTK) in the Caribbean is an invaluable resource and cultural capital that can play a major role in addressing climate change concerns but has been largely untapped. It suggests that combining LTK with modern science can advance the climate change agenda in the region and proposes the establishment of a Caribbean Local and Traditional Knowledge Network (CLTKN) as a mechanism to harness local traditional knowledge and integrate it in regional climate change agendas.


Adaptation Traditional knowledge Local knowledge Indigenous knowledge Caribbean Small Island Development States Communities Resilience 


  1. Ajani EN, Mgbenka RN, Okeke MN (2013) Use of indigenous knowledge as a strategy for climate change adaptation among farmers in sub-Saharan Africa: implications for policy. Asian J Agric Ext Econ Soc 2(1):23–40Google Scholar
  2. Alexander C, Bynum N, Johnson E, King U, Mustonen T, Neofotis P, … Weeks B (2011) Linking indigenous and scientific knowledge of climate change. Bioscience 61(6):477–83Google Scholar
  3. Baptiste AK (2013a) Climate change adaptation among small scale fishers in Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica. Caribb Geogr 18:39–63Google Scholar
  4. Baptiste AK (2013b) Local versus expert perception of climate change: an analysis of fishers in Trinidad and Tobago. In: Muga HE, Thomas KD (eds) Cases on the diffusion and adoption of sustainable development practices. IGI Global, HersheyGoogle Scholar
  5. Baptiste AK (2016) Factors influencing perceptions of climate change among Caribbean coastal artisanal fishers: case study of Old Harbour Bay, Jamaica. In: Beckford CL, Rhiney K (eds) Globalization, agriculture and food in the Caribbean: climate change, gender and geography. Palgrave Macmillan, London, pp 243–263Google Scholar
  6. Baptiste A, Kinlocke R (2015) We are not all the same!: comparative climate change vulnerabilities among fishers in Old Harbour Bay, Jamaica. Geoforum 73:47–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Barker D, Beckford CL (2006) Plastic yam and plastic yam sticks: perspectives on indigenous technical knowledge among Jamaican farmers. Tijdschrift voor Economische en Sociale Geographie 97(5):535–546CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Beckford CL (2009) Sustainable agriculture and innovation adoption in a tropical small-scale farming system: the case of yam minisetts in Jamaica. Sustainability 1:81–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Beckford CL, Bailey SW (2009) Vulnerability, constraints, and survival on small-scale food farms in St Elizabeth, Jamaica: strengthening local food production systems. In: McGregor DFM, Dodman D, Barker D (eds) Global change and Caribbean vulnerability: environment, economy and society at risk. University of the West Indies Press, Kingston, pp 218–236Google Scholar
  10. Beckford CL, Barker D (2007) The role and value of local knowledge in Jamaican agriculture: adaptation and change in small-scale farming. Geogr J 173(2):118–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Beckford CL, Campbell D (2013) Domestic food production and food security in the Caribbean: building capacity and strengthening local food production systems. Palgrave McMillan, New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Beckford CL, Rhiney K (eds) (2016) Globalization, agriculture and food in the Caribbean: climate change, gender and geography. Palgrave Macmillan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  13. Beckford CL, Barker D, Bailey SW (2007) Adaptation, innovation and domestic food production in Jamaica: some examples of survival strategies of small-scale farmers. Singap J Trop Geogr 28(1):273–286CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Beckford CL, Campbell D, Barker D (2011) Sustainable food production systems and food security: economic and environmental imperatives in yam cultivation in Trelawny, Jamaica. Sustainability 3(3):541–561CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Bridges K, MacClachey W (2009) Living on the margin: ethnoecological insights from Marshall Islanders at Rongelap atoll. Glob Environ Chang 19(2):140–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Briggs J (2005) The use of indigenous knowledge in development: problems and challenges. Prog Dev Stud 5:99–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Bueno R, Herzfeld C, Stanton E, Ackerman F (2008) The Caribbean and climate change: the costs of inaction. Stockholm Environment Institute-US Center and Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts UniversityGoogle Scholar
  18. Campbell, D. (2011). Domestic food production and hazard vulnerability in Jamaica: adaptation and change in southern St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Ph. D dissertation Department of Geology and Geography, University of the West Indies, MonaGoogle Scholar
  19. Campbell D, Beckford CL (2009) Negotiating uncertainty: Jamaican small-scale farmers’ adaptation and coping strategies before and after hurricanes. Sustainability 1(4):1366–1387CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Campbell D, Barker D, McGregor DFM (2011) Dealing with droughts: small farmers and environmental hazards in southern St. Elizabeth, Jamaica. Appl Geogr 31(1):146–158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Caribbean Community Climate Change Center (CCCCC) (2009) Climate change and the Caribbean: a regional framework for the achieving development resilient to climate change (2009-2015)Google Scholar
  22. Caribbean Natural Resources Institute (CANARI) (2013) Using traditional knowledge for decision-making on climate change in the Caribbean. CANARI Policy Brief No 15Google Scholar
  23. Egeru A (2012) Role of indigenous knowledge in climate change adaptation: a case study of the Teso sub-region in Uganda. Indian J Tradit Knowl 11(2):2017–2024Google Scholar
  24. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2010a) Women-key to food security. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  25. Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) (2010b) Agricultural disaster risk management plan—Jamaica. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  26. Gamble D (2009) Caribbean vulnerability: an appropriate climatic framework. In: McGregor DFM, Dodman D, Barker D (eds) Global change and Caribbean vulnerability: environment, economy and society at risk? The UWI Press, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  27. Gamble D, Campbell D, Allen T, Barker D, Curtis S, McGregor D, Popke J (2010) Climate change, drought, and Jamaican agriculture: local knowledge and the climate record. Ann Assoc Am Geogr 100(4):880–893CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gomes C (2014) The case of small island developing states of the Caribbean: the challenge for building resilience. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). United Nations, RomeGoogle Scholar
  29. Gomez-Baggethun E, Reyes-Garcia V, Olsen P, Montes C (2012) Traditional ecological knowledge and community resilience to environmental extremes: a case study in Donana, SW Spain. Glob Environ Chang 22:640–650CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Haites E, Pantin D, Attzs M, Bruce J, MacKinnon J (2002) Assessment of the economic impact climate change on CARICOM countries. Margaree Consultants, TorontoGoogle Scholar
  31. Hiwasaki L, Luna E, Syamsidik SR (2014) Local & indigenous knowledge for community resilience: hydro-meteorological disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in coastal and small island communities. Jakarta, UNESCO, p 60Google Scholar
  32. Holdschlag A, Ratter B (2013) Multiscale system dynamics of humans and nature in the Bahamas: perturbation, knowledge, panarchy and resilience. Sustain Sci 8(3):407–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Huntington HP (2011) Arctic science: the local perspective. Nature 478:182–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Huntington HP, Braem NM, Brown CL, Zavadil P (2013) Local and traditional knowledge regarding the Bering Sea ecosystem: selected results from five indigenous communities. Deep-Sea Res 1194:323–332Google Scholar
  35. Hutchinson Jafar L (2011) Caribbean sizes up climate threats to food security. Viewed 16 December, 2014
  36. Hutchinson S, Gomes C, Alleyne D, Phillips W (2013) An assessment of the economic and social impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector in the Caribbean. Rome: United Nations/Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), RomeGoogle Scholar
  37. Indigenous Peoples, Marginalized populations and climate change (IPMPCC) (2011) Workshop report of indigenous peoples, marginalized populations and climate change: vulnerability, adaptations and traditional knowledge, 19-21 July 2011, MexicoGoogle Scholar
  38. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (2013) Summary for policy-makers. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner GK, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (eds) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New YorkGoogle Scholar
  39. IPCC (2007) Climate change 2007: impacts, adaptations and vulnerability. Contribution of working group 11 to the fourth assessment report of the intergovernmental panel on climate change. Edited by ML Parry, OF Canziani, JP, Palutikof PJ van der Linden & CE Hanson, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, EnglandGoogle Scholar
  40. IPCC (2012) Managing risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation: a special report of Working Group 1 and 2 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge and New York Google Scholar
  41. Kalland A (2000) Indigenous knowledge: prospects and limitations. In: Ellen R, Parkes P, Bicker A (eds) Indigenous environmental knowledge and its transformations. Hardwood Academic Publishers, Amsterdam, pp 1–33Google Scholar
  42. Kelman I (2014) Climate change and other catastrophes: lessons from island vulnerability and resilience. Moving Worlds 4(2):127–140Google Scholar
  43. Kelman I, Khan S (2013) Progressive climate change and disasters: island perspectives. Nat Hazards 69(1):1131–1136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Kelman I, West JJ (2009) Climate change and small island developing states: a critical review. Ecol Environ Anthropol 5(1):1–16Google Scholar
  45. Kelman I, Lewis J, Gaillard JC, Mercer J (2011a) Participatory action research for dealing with disasters on islands. Island Stud J 6(1):59–86Google Scholar
  46. Kelman I, Lewis J, Gaillard JC, Mercer J (2011b) Island contribution to disaster research. Glob Environ 8(1):16–37CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kelman I, Mercer J, Gaillard JC (2012) Indigenous knowledge and disaster risk reduction. Geography 97(1):12–21Google Scholar
  48. Krishnamurthy PK, Fisher JB, Johnson C (2011) Mainstreaming local perceptions of hurricane risk into policy-making: a case study of community GIS in Mexico. Glob Environ Chang 21:143–153CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Lejano RP, Tavares-Reager J, Berkes F (2013) Climate and narrative: environmental knowledge in everyday life. Environ Sci Policy 31:61–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Levine A, Sauafea-Leau F (2013) Traditional knowledge use and management of living marine resources in American Samoa: documenting changes over time through interviews with elder fishers. Pac Sci 67:395–407CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Macchi M, Oviedo G, Gotheil S, Cross K, Boedhihartono A, Wolfangel C, Howell M (2008) Indigenous and traditional peoples and climate change. Issues Paper, IUCNGoogle Scholar
  52. McGregor DFM, Barker D, Campbell D (2009) Environmental change and Caribbean food security: recent hazard impacts and domestic food production in Jamaica. In: McGregor DFM, Barker D, Dodman D (eds) Global change and Caribbean vulnerability: environment, economy and society at risk. University of the West Indies Press, KingstonGoogle Scholar
  53. Mercer J, Dominey-Howes D, Kelman I, Lloyd K (2007) The potential for combining indigenous and western knowledge in reducing vulnerability to environmental hazards in small island developing states. Environ Hazards 7(4):245–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Mercer J, Kelman I, Suchet-Pearson S, Lloyd K (2009) Integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge bases for disaster risk reduction in Papua New Guinea. Geogr Ann B Human Geogr 91(2):157–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Mercer J, Kelman I, Taranis L, Suchet-Pearson S (2010) Framework for integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge for disaster reduction. Disasters 34(1):214–239CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Mercer J, Kelman I, Alfthan B, Kurvits T (2012) Ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change in Caribbean small island developing states: integrating local and external knowledge. Sustainability 4:1904–1932CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Nakashima D, Galloway McLean K, Thulstrup H, Ramos Castillo A, Rubis J (2012) Weathering uncertainty: traditional knowledge for climate change assessment and adaptation. UNESCO, and Darwin, United Nations University, ParisGoogle Scholar
  58. Nicholson G, Thomas O (2014) Op-Ed: climate change and fighting poverty in the Caribbean. Viewed 16 December, 2014
  59. Nyong A, Adesina F, Elasha O (2007) The value of indigenous knowledge in climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies in the African Sahel. Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Chang 12:787–797CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management (ODPEM) (2010) Building disaster resilience project: project concept document. ODPEM Kingston, JamaicaGoogle Scholar
  61. Pilot Program on Climate Resilience (PPCR) (2011). Report on the regional workshop on climate change resilience. Panos Caribbean: pilot program on climate change resilience (PC), National Environmental Education Committee (NEEC) and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ)Google Scholar
  62. Pulwarty RS, Nurse LA, Trotz UO (2010) Caribbean islands in a changing climate. Environment: Science And Policy for Sustainable Development, November-December, 2010 viewed 16 December, 2014
  63. Raygorodetsky G (2011) Why traditional knowledge holds key to climate change. Viewed 20 March, 2016 from
  64. Raymond CM, Fazey I, Reed MS, Stringer LC, Robinson GM, Evely AC (2010) Integrating local and scientific knowledge for environmental management. J Environ Manag 91(2010):1766–1777CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Resta P (2011) ICTs and indigenous people. Policy Brief, June 2011. Moscow: UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in EducationGoogle Scholar
  66. Rhiney K (2015) Geographies of Caribbean vulnerability in a changing climate: issues and trends. Geogr Compass:1–18.
  67. Selvaraju R, Trapido PJ, Santos N, Lacassa DMP, Hayman M (2013) Agriculture and climate change in Jamaica: agriculture sector support analysis. FAO Environment and Natural Resources Service Series, No. 20-FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  68. Speranza CI (2013) Buffer capacity: capturing a dimension of resilience to climate change in African smallholder agriculture. Reg Environ Chang 13(3):521–535CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Speranza CI, Kiteme B, Ambenji P, Wiesman U, Makali S (2010) Indigenous knowledge related to climate variability and change: insights from droughts in semi-arid areas of former Makueni District, Kenya. Clim Chang 100(2):295–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Tandon N (2012) Food security, women smallholders and climate change in Caribbean SIDS. International Policy Research Brief no. 33, October 2012, International Policy Centre for Inclusive GrowthGoogle Scholar
  71. Thaman R, Lyver P, Mpande R, Perez E, Carino J, Takeuchi K (eds) (2013) The contribution of indigenous and local knowledge systems to IPBES: building synergies with science. IPBES Expert Meeting Report, June 9–11 Tokyo, Japan. Paris: UNESCOGoogle Scholar
  72. Thornton TF, Scheer AM (2012) Collaborative engagement of traditional and local knowledge and science in marine environments: a review. Ecol Soc 17(3):8 Viewed 1 August, 2016 from http://www.ecology& CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) (2014) Emerging issues for Small Island Developing States. Results from the UNEP Foresight Process. United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), NairobiGoogle Scholar
  74. United Nations Framework Center for Climate Change (UNFCCC) (2007) Vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in small island developing states. Background paper for the expert meeting on adaptation for small island developing statesGoogle Scholar
  75. Vegara W, Rios AR, Trapido P Malarin H (2014) Agriculture and future climate in Latin America and the Caribbean: systemic impacts and potential responses, Inter-American Development Bank, Climate Change Division, Environment, Rural Development, Disaster Risk Management Division Discussion Paper No. IDB-DP-329, February 2014Google Scholar
  76. Walling LJ (n.d.) Continuing the legacy of participatory planning in climate change adaptation planning initiatives in the Caribbean. Viewed 24 August, 2016 from

Copyright information

© AESS 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of EducationUniversity of WindsorWindsorCanada

Personalised recommendations