Insights from Jamaica on Indigenous and Ancestral knowledge and its relevance for climate action


The Indigenous and Ancestral practices of Jamaicans show ways to reduce climate vulnerability

Martha Brea River in Jamaica
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The Martha Brea River in Jamaica

My country Jamaica is situated in the English-speaking Caribbean just under 250 miles South of Cuba. My research is set in my home parish of St. Elizabeth, the third largest in the country nicknamed “the breadbasket” parish for its food producing prowess. The sole participant of the research was my father who was a reservoir of traditional knowledge from his lived experience. Through his perspectives he revealed indigenous practices as the legacy of African ancestry, plantation structure, a form of cultural retention and over time as a valuable means of adaptive response to climate change.  Skin colour was a sieve for social stratification, as it determined employment opportunities and societal elevation. This established the correlation with socio-economic status and nature-based livelihoods. This non-European perspective demonstrated the centrality of nature to survival versus exploitation.

Local communities have increased vulnerability but also increased knowledge in reducing susceptibility through solutions developed by experiencing impacts of climate change. Frequent and intense rainfall due to climate change results in significant soil erosion. In many farming communities, techniques have been employed to retain topsoil and also maintain soil’s nutrient content. Conservation methods include the use of trash barriers (organic waste) or live barriers such as cultivating pineapples or other suitable crops along the hill contours.  This method of retention also reduces dependence on chemical fertilizers. Mainstreaming this practice generates additional environmental safeguards as surface run-off into rivers and other water bodies carries fewer pollutants. In more recent times, fish catches have been affected, contaminated by pollutants from farmlands. 

Small-scale farmers have long been adapting to climate impacts. The application of organic mulch and cultural forms of micro-irrigation have proven highly advantageous during prolonged dry spells. These techniques have been modified into more sophisticated systems on larger commercial farms. Innovations to develop more robust climate responses are grounded in the traditional awareness in reducing vulnerabilities.

Local communities have long been reservoirs of indigenous knowledge making them critical in responding to climate challenges. The enhanced participation of local and indigenous communities in responding to climate change must be a priority. Documenting, applying and promoting traditional knowledge not only ensures the preservation of valuable information and safeguarding heritage but also proves to be an effective strategy in the fight against climate change.