Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP) organized the knowledge exchange trip ‘Regional Adaptation Learning Highway’ with cooperation from its local partners; NGO-Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NGO-FONIN) and Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN) in Nepal from 13-15 October 2017. The twenty-four representatives of indigenous peoples from Thailand, Philippines and Nepal participated in the knowledge exchange. The exchange also had two non-indigenous government officials of Nepal and Thailand working closely with the indigenous networks on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Indigenous peoples participating in this exchange have been consistently raising the issues of climate change and its effect on the lives, livelihoods and well beings of indigenous communities in different environmental and human rights forums at national, regional and international levels. The knowledge exchange was organized as a part of the ongoing partnership “Building the resiliency of indigenous communities on climate change adaptation” between AIPP and MISEREOR.
Exchange with Ghandruk’s Gurung Community
Ghandruk is a small Gurung village which lies in the Annapurna region and the trekking route of famous Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) circuit. This village has a population of 1265 peoples living in 1,102 individual households, and its predominant indigenous group is Gurung. Ghandruk has been a shining pride of community based conservation and that of Nepal’s most successful Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP). Ghandruk at the altitude of 2010 metre (6,600 ft.) above sea level is one of the most popular eco-tourism destination for both domestic and international tourists.
On 13 October 2017, these participants from Thailand, Philippines and Nepal hiked to Ghandruk. For some of the participants, it was an evening of rigorous uphill trekking in the dark because the arrival time in Ghandruk from Kathmandu had been considerably delayed due to congested traffic. Yet, in what seemed a never ending moonlit walk, they steadily walked till the village was reached. One of us exclaimed, “oh, it is almost close to the moon”. It indeed had taken 16 hours to reach the homestay after leaving Kathmandu at 5 in the morning. However, the warm welcome and hot food put everyone at ease since this trip encompasses our common commitment to understand indigenous lives, indigenous knowledge, indigenous culture in changing environment of the world today.
Eco Walk around Ghandruk Village
A bright sunny morning with Himalayas, especially the beautiful and untouched Machchapuchhre1 in the backdrop excited the participants. While the photos were being taken, the participants realized how Machachapuchhre has lost most of its snow over the years. It was a stark reality of how climate change is slowly turning the white snowy Himalayas into the hard bluish black rocky mountain. The participants got ready and went for a morning eco walk around the village including the old settlement. The narrow and stone paved alleys easily connects each households and other establishments such as school, ACAP office, police station, health posts. The trekkers will be able to walk through the pleasant quiet Gurung stone houses, fields, murmuring brooks and snowy mountains keeping you the company. Then, every once in a while you will see a mule train2 pass by.
The Exchange in Ghandruk Village
The interaction was held in ACAP office where the members representing a) Mother’s Group3 – both Central and Sub Committee, b) Tourism Entrepreneur, c) ACAP official, d) Youth members, e) Senior citizens, f) School Teachers, and g) local journalists eagerly presented the socio-anthropological history of Gurung community in Ghandruk, ACAP’s objective and future plans including handover to the community in few years’ time. The other issues discussed were how the climate change has impacted the agricultural practices, environmental degradation and tourism, influx of both internal and external migration and challenges to continue Gurung culture and practices, etc. The presentation from the community members also focused on their adaptation techniques to continue their livelihood. Mothers’ group, for example, has banned the use of disposable plastic packaged mineral water bottles and introduced the use of locally available safe drinking water system. The homestay that hosted our stay also runs Gurung Traditional Attire’s Museum which displays the traditional Gurung household, the dresses and also rents the dresses for the visitors to take pictures.
In response to the visitors’ query related to the use and transfer of traditional knowledge of natural resources in daily lives, the community acknowledged that only specific kind of stones and wood sourced from the surrounding river and the forest are used to build the houses. It was agreed that indigenous peoples are not only the volunteered ‘custodian’ of the natural resources but also a judicious ‘user’ of it, which along with time needs a clear and firm negotiation with the State. It was clear to us that ACAP conservation guidelines are followed by the community regarding the use and conservation of the natural resources in the area.
Interaction with Indigenous Gurung community members in Ghandruk Village
To sum up, the interaction was not only about the changes in nature but was also about how climate change is dictating the community’s choices on its livelihood, its existence and how it decides on what needs to be conserved, revisited and handed over to the younger generation. It is also about how these environmental changes effect the socio-political conditions of the community that quietly triggers migration be it economic or social, be it internal or external, be it a voluntary or involuntary displacement from their ancestral place.
The Reflection Workshop in Pokhara
Ms. Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn, AIPP Programme Officer, facilitating the reflection workshop in Pokhara
The exchange trip was followed by the reflection workshop where the participants had to share their learning from the exchange trip to Ghandruk. One of the reflection was how ‘Gurung women mother’s group in Ghandruk are clearly an active player in the community in comparison to the Tamang women’s mother’s group in Sindhupalchowk.’ This was discussed further to understand how the contextual living realities determine the indigenous woman’s interaction with the outer world and within her own community.
The reflection workshop had country presentation on different issues. Nepal presented on the Climate Change Adaptation and role of Indigenous Women in Nepal emphasizing how indigenous women’s knowledge of medicinal herbs can be significantly useful in situations like April 2015 earthquake in Nepal when the connection with the outer world was difficult.
The presentation on the community based early warning system, and transfer of indigenous knowledge to the younger generation were other enthusiastically discussed topics. The Filipino participants shared how the indigenous peoples in the Philippines continue to practice community based early warning system. For e.g., if “the cloud in the sky from north to west means typhoon is coming”, and therefore, depending on the urgency to inform everyone, community members will either go door to door to inform about the danger, or one of them will blow the horn for everyone to know AT ONCE. In the interaction thenafter, the Thai participants shared how engaging the youth in traditional ways of farming, weaving, etc. will smoothly prevent the loss of knowledge. This was also further shared in the use of customary laws to conserve the natural resources, i.e., how a particular hunting area is left, or the clear water resources are protected from litter or pollution.
The two government officials from Thailand and Nepal shared how their respective governments are keen to involve indigenous peoples while introducing government’s initiatives related to forest conservation, climate change, etc. The presentation from Thailand outlined the government’s key challenges while engaging with the indigenous peoples. Some recommendations such as indigenous peoples developing “the forest resource strategy” that can address these challenges for both the sides were also shared.
In response to this, some of the participants shared their critical analysis on how the indigenous network and the government are working on the issues related to indigenous community. They were of the opinion that indigenous peoples should be continuously and rigorously involved so that they can actually exercise free, prior, informed consent (FPIC). In this context, the participants also discussed how indigenous peoples at times have to make a conscious choice to educate their children in non-indigenous language, limit their own cultural and traditional practice in the changing time to ‘fit in’ with rest of the world’s fast pace. The participants viewed this situation as a growing challenge for indigenous peoples in their quest to enjoy their inherent human rights.
To summarise, considering the ‘easy’ trek to the homestay in Ghandruk, the intense interaction there with the Community, and a thorough reflection workshop on the whole process, learning and sharing, Ms. Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn, Environment Programme Officer of AIPP, one of the participant said, “Our knowledge and customary resource management practices have evolved through generations. It can contribute in the fight against the world’s greatest problem, climate change. However, the collective rights of our peoples to lands, territories and resources, which is key to the continuation of our knowledge and practices, are not adequately addressed by climate change plans, policies and programmes. We call on all climate change actors to be open to develop partnership with indigenous peoples and respect our land rights to combat climate change and achieve sustainable development goals (SDGs).” Needless to say, each of our countries are actively aligning SDGs in their national plans, therefore, indigenous peoples collective voice must be respected for the wider acceptance of such global initiatives.
For more information, contact Ms. Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn, AIPP Environment Programme Officer at email@example.com
1 Machchapuchhre aka Fishtail is not allowed for climbing – both professional and amateur. It is considered a sacred mountain looking over the Gurung community, and was therefore left untouched through the sensitive lobbying by Dr Harka Gurung, who is a key architect of Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP) and carved a niche introduction of Ghandruk to the world as the mystical, quaint, warm and lovely place to know the Gurungs of Nepal.
2 Mules, horses and ponies are still used by the villagers to transport goods from the city to the trekking houses.
3 Mothers’ Group or Aama Samuha is a functional women’s group all across Nepal was primarily formed to control the excessive alcohol consumption and the consequences there after. However, over the years, this kind of group has transitioned into a powerful social actor to identify and address the societal issues related to women and family. Depending on the volume of members and geographical area, each mothers’ group can have a central committee which precedes over the area or neighborhood cluster of the same group as in Ghandruk’s case.