Indigenous forecasting techniques

Fri, 07 Apr 2017 10:48:24 +0000

In this article, I use two key words i.e. “indigenous” and “forecasting”. In the context of this article “indigenous” is defined native or local and “forecasting” At its basic form, forecasting can be defined as prediction of a future occurrence or condition.
It can also be thought of as a planning tool used in dealing with uncertainty of the future, relying mainly on data from the past and present and analysis of trends. As it is usually said in our communities that: “It is when you know the past and present that you can reasonably predict the future.”
Therefore indigenous forecasting techniques deal with native ways of making predictions. In many of our communities indigenous knowledge is used to make forecasts. Indigenous knowledge is a body of knowledge built up by a group of people living in close contact with nature (Steiner, 2008).
“The more that you understand about the likely future, the more you can shape it to be as you wish. You might not be able to change the shape of the future itself, but you can adjust your own position to take best advantage of future developments”.
Indigenous forecasting focuses on making predictions in weather, crop production, human behaviour etc. These have been used for a long time in a number of our local communities in Zambia. Indigenousness is being passed on from one generation to the other through the process of socialisation.

Traditional Knowledge
Protection of Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Expressions of Folklore Act No. 16 of 2016 was enacted. The Act to provides for a transparent legal framework for the protection of, access to, and use of, traditional knowledge, genetic resources and expressions of folklore, which also guarantees equitable sharing of benefits and effective participation of holders; to recognise the spiritual, cultural, social, political and economic value of traditional knowledge, genetic resources and expressions of folklore of holders. Clearly, the Act recognises the value of traditional and indigenous knowledge. When and if properly implemented, I am confident that this Act will assist in strengthening our indigenous knowledge system in Zambia.

Statistical Basis of
Indigenous Forecasting
The philosophical underpinning in all indigenous forecasts has a comfortable home in statistics. In spite of many of our members not being formally schooled in statistics, they are able to use a number of statistical concepts such as trend analysis, time series analysis, seasonality, random or irregular events without calling them by these names given by statisticians.
Forecasting starts with making certain assumptions based on the experience, knowledge, and judgment. These estimates are projected into the future using one or a number of techniques such as trend analysis, Delphi method, etc. Delphi Method is technically defined as a collaborative estimating or forecasting technique that combines independent analysis by building consensus among experts. In the context of indigenous forecasting, elders in the community are the experts based on their experiences over a long period of time and also based on what is passed on to them by others from one generation to the next.

Illustrations of Indigenous
Forecasting Techniques
Elders in our communities make predictions of behaviour. For example, a baby who takes long to learn how to stand and walk is associated with being a slow decision maker or learner in adult life. If a child has a habit of unstoppable crying it is believed that it indicates strong and rigid-mindedness in adulthood. Additionally, if a child is always playing the role of a hyena in their role plays, it is believed that it is an indication of problems in adult life [bad luck].
Some of our communities are pastoral and therefore use indigenous forecasting techniques to make some predictions in weather.
It is common in these communities to observe weather features such as wind direction and clouds in their areas. Of course, indigenous early warning signs of weather changes are not only limited to livestock-keeping communities but to early warning signs of rains and droughts. The skills and knowledge of indigenous weather forecasting is inbuilt in many cultures and has been established after long years of observation. This is part of data collection in order to determine trends or general behaviour over a period of time. Furthermore, different cultures make use of biotic indicators to predict future weather conditions. Studies were done by Shoko and Joshua et al. in 2012 and stated that plant, human and animal conditions are used in Zimbabwe for weather forecasting.
Sometimes the quantities of fruits available can be used to make some predictions in weather. For example, abundance of masuku fruits in some communities is a perfect prediction of above normal rainfall in the coming season. With such knowledge communities have prepared themselves for calamities long before weather experts communicate to them. Crude as they may be, they give some reasonable forecasts that can be confirmed using modern ways of making weather forecasts by experts. Mundy and Compton (1991) state that to-date, modern science has not come up with a conclusive stance for or against the claims of indigenous weather forecasting although some believe that modern science could gain valuable insights from indigenous knowledge.
Historically and to date indigenous communities in different parts of Zambia have continued to rely on indigenous knowledge to conserve the environment and deal with natural disasters. The communities particularly those in drought and flood prone areas have generated a vast body of indigenous knowledge on disaster prevention, management and mitigation through early warning and preparedness systems. This knowledge can be harnessed as it still plays a key role in our communities. These indigenous forecasting techniques have further underscored that fact that access climate information is fundamental to understanding the climate risks as well as identifying and assessing the viability of adaptation options. It has also been recognised that, along with information on climate risks, knowledge of the impacts of exposure to those risks can be instrumental in motivating communities and organisation to begin the process of adapting.

Uses of Statistics in
Indigenous Forecasting
Indigenous climate forecast information is collected by our communities. The fundamentals of weather forecasts are assessments of local weather and climate and predicted by locally observed variables and experiences using combinations of plant, animals, insects, and meteorological and astronomical indicators. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal weather forecasting could be useful in decision making at village level to best exploit the seasonal distribution of rainfall in order to increase or stabilise crop yields. The presence of locusts is used as predictor of poor crop harvest. Equally, occurrence of more grasshoppers in a particular year indicates less rainfall and hunger but appearance of army worms around October signifies abundant rainfall in the upcoming season. Disposition of the new moon indicates more disease outbreaks and erratic rainfall. Indigenous forecasting is mainly based on relative experience acquired by elders. These experiences are part of the data they collect and analyse with any formal statistical analysis but simply based on experiences.
Occurrence of whirlwinds and appearance of millipedes are taken as indicators for the onset of the rainy season. When termites come out, it is¬ a sign of good fortune to the community as far as agriculture is concerned. In some communities in Zambia, breeding of goats indicates the onset of rainy season. When ants cross the road carrying all types of food in one line to their hole, this foretells the rainy season and this enables small-scale farmers to start preparing for planting of their crops.
Sometimes birds are used as tool and for forecasting. The presence of stock birds is an indication of the onset of rainy season and laying of eggs by birds such as guinea fowls signifies the onset of the rainy season also. Local communities and farmers have developed a rich knowledge base of predicting climatic and weather events based on observations of animals and plants. This knowledge needs to be enhanced and possibly documented so that others can learn from this knowledge.

Zambia Meteorological Department
The Zambia Meteorological Department is responsible for monitoring and predicting weather and climate in Zambia, including seasonal rainfall forecasting. Specifically, the department is charged with a number of roles and responsibilities such as to process and analyse meteorological data for use in the planning of economic development and rational exploitation of natural resources; to provide Meteorological Information Service to Government Departments, Public Corporations and the general public; and to provide meteorological services for the development of agriculture, water resources and other weather-sensitive economic sectors. The conventional weather and climate prediction is normally done using quite complex statistical methods. These are simplified and used by indigenous communities without them referring to them as statistical methods.

In this article, I have tried to illustrate that many of our communities especially in rural areas have some local indicators used by smallholder farmers for seasonal rainfall and behaviour prediction. Indigenous people in an area can accurately forecast weather and climate around the locality by taking note of changes to the environment and watching animal behaviour. It would be useful for us to document these techniques so that they can be used together with the modern techniques of weather forecasting but above all, we need to begin to analyse the scientific theories behind these indigenous forecasting techniques. One the basic principles used is the saying that: It is when you know the past and present that you can determine the future. I believe that the Protection of Traditional Knowledge, Genetic Resources and Expressions of Folklore Act No. 16 of 2016 gives us an opportunity to harness our indigenous forecasting techniques for the greater benefit of our communities if and when appropriately implemented.


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