Combining science with local knowledge: Ecosystem-based adaptation in Kok Klang village, Sakon Nakhon Province, Thailand

01 July 2014 | Article

Under the USAID Mekong ARCC project, IUCN Thailand is working with villagers in Kok Klang, Sakon Nakhon, to implement ecosystem and community-based climate adaptation and resilience building initiatives.

Kok Klang village is located in the Nam Phung River Basin, and is adjacent to the Phu Pha Yon National Park. Most of the villagers in Kok Klang are farmers; they grow rice, rubber, cassava, and sugarcane, and they collect non-timber forest products (NTFPs) such as mushrooms and bamboo shoots from the nearby forest.

To gain a better understanding of the community’s perception of their climate vulnerabilities, the project first conducted ‘community climate story’ activities. Together with the villagers, the project team analysed the climate hazards that have historically occurred in the village, and the ways in which crops and other livelihoods are affected by different hazards at different times of the year.

The most important climate-related hazards identified by the Kok Klang villagers are irregular rainfall, forest fire, and drought, which affect NTFPs as well as major crops such as rubber, sugarcane and cassava.

In a second step, the project team presented the ‘scientific climate story’ – the findings of the USAID Mekong ARCC study and the local vulnerability assessment – to the villagers. Main climate risks for Kok Klang village identified by this assessment are increased temperature, increased rainfall, and storms. Non-climate factors such as soil and ecosystem degradation and heavy reliance on monocultures are also important determinants that increase vulnerability. The most vulnerable livelihoods identified by this study are rubber, NTFPs, and livestock.

When adding these two ‘stories’, a more complete picture is emerging. While drought and irregular rainfall are important hazards based on the community’s experience, the community is also encouraged to monitor changes in temperature and rainfall that might affect their livelihoods.

“By combining science with local knowledge, we have gained a deeper understanding of the climate vulnerabilities and the ways in which Kok Klang villagers can increase their resilience in the face of future changes. Native species can play an important role in climate change adaptation; they can reduce reliance on monocrops, are generally less vulnerable to temperature increase, and help maintain genetic diversity”, said Bampen Chaiyarak, Field Coordinator at IUCN Thailand.

Potential adaptation options for Kok Klang village include: diversifying agricultural crops to decrease vulnerability to climate change; introducing native varieties that are more heat-resistant; introducing mixed cropping and agroforestry; improving water management in the community; and protecting the integrity of forest ecosystems.

Students from Kok Klang school were also invited to join some of the activities. “We need to learn how to live in harmony with ecosystems to be able to cope with a changing climate. Education is important for our future if we want to continue on a sustainable path”, said Wanchai Phichaikham, Director of Kok Klang school.