What are Ecological Calendars?

Figure 1. ECCAP Logo, designed by Navajo Artist, Natani Notah, and Karim-Aly Kassam.

Figure 1. ECCAP Logo, designed by Navajo Artist, Natani Notah, and
Karim-Aly Kassam.

Calendars enable us to anticipate future conditions and plan activities. Ecological calendars keep track of time by observing seasonal changes in our habitat (Fig. 1). The nascence of a flower, emergence of an insect, arrival of a migratory bird, breakup of ice, or last day of snow cover – each is a useful cue for livelihood activities, such as sowing crops, gathering plants, herding animals, hunting, fishing, or observing cultural festivals.

Figure 2. Gathering fodder in Guddara. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

Figure 2. Gathering fodder in Guddara. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

Many human communities have developed unique and reliable systems to recognize and respond to climatic variability (Fig. 2). Over the course of multiple generations living in particular landscapes, people have accumulated knowledge of the relational timing of celestial, meteorological and ecological phenomena. Historically, these diverse ecological calendars enabled communities to coordinate livelihood activities with seasonal processes. However, due to colonization and industrialization, these calendars fell into disuse. In the third millennium, these calendars are pregnant with promise and require recalibration to new conditions and increasing variability due to anthropogenic climate change.

Why are Ecological Calendars Relevant?

Figure 3. Women sorting grain in Roshorv. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

Figure 3. Women sorting grain in Roshorv. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

The greatest challenge of anthropogenic climate change is lack of predictability due to irregular and unprecedented weather patterns. Developing anticipatory capacity – the ability to envision possible futures and develop a dynamic plan to deal with uncertainties – is urgent. In the context of climate change, ecological calendars will contribute to food and livelihood security. An estimated 70 to 80% of the world’s population continues to rely on food produced by small-holder farmersand herders (Figs 3, 4). Producing crops and raising animals, as well as hunting, fishing, and gathering, all require the ability to anticipate patterns of temperature and precipitation. Communities and researchers must develop innovative systems to recognize climate trends and adapt to a greater range of possible scenarios.

The Project

Figure 5. Speaking to Wakhi pastoralists in the Tashkurgan Valley. Photo: Siyu Guo.

Figure 5. Speaking to Wakhi pastoralists in the Tashkurgan Valley.
Photo: Siyu Guo.

The overarching aim of this project is to revitalize, recalibrate, and develop new ecological calendars by integrating place-based and indigenous knowledge with science (Fig. 5). Such a project demands an effective partnership with specific communities that are at the vanguard of anthropogenic climatic variation.
In our project, trandisciplinarity is not where climatologists, ethnographers, botanists, ecologists, educationists talk to each other, but where they collectively engage in conversation with ecological professionals such as farmers, pastoralists, gatherers, hunters, fishers and draw upon their practical wisdom. We have found in our research, from the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in the USA to the Pamir Mountains of China, that the conception of ecological calendars is alive and well. In many pockets of the world, communities are in tune with the seasonal rhythms of their lands and how it affects their daily livelihoods.

Figure 4. Roshorv. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

Figure 4. Roshorv. Photo: Karim-Aly Kassam.

This project aims to establish a proof-of-concept for ecological calendars in collaboration with six diverse indigenous and rural communities in the Pamir Mountains and the continental USA. With support from the Belmont Forum, along with the National Science Foundation (USA), the National Science Foundation (China), Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (Italy), and Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Germany), our international research team is collaborating with communities in the Shugnan Valley of Badakhshan, Afghanistan; Alai Valley of Osh Province, Kyrgyztan; Tashkurgan Valley of Xinjiang, China; and Bartang Valley of Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan. In addition, we are undertaking similar partnerships with the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in the Midwest and communities in the Lake Oneida Watershed in New York State, USA.

Figure 6. Focus group meal in the Alai Valley, Photo: Tobias Kraudzun.

Figure 6. Focus group meal in the Alai Valley, Photo: Tobias Kraudzun.

In July 2016, an international team of scholars and students hosted workshops in the Alai Valley in Osh Province, Kyrgyzstan, and in the Tashkurgan Valley in Xinjiang, China, to conceptualize ecological calendars research in the Pamirs. In addition to preliminary research, climate stations were established in the high altitude mountainous communities. In 2017, the research team will be returning to these communities to continue participatory human ecological mapping (Figs. 6, 7). In addition, we will establishing the project in the Bartang Valley in Gorno-Badakhshan, Tajikistan and Shugnan Valley in Badakhshan, Afghanistan. We will integrate bioclimatic data with human ecological mapping to generate hybrid maps for these regions. From 2017-19 we will be working with international partners and communities to develop:
(1) Workable ecological calendars integrating place-based ecological knowledge with scientific data;
(2) Proof-of-concept for application of ecological calendars internationally;
(3) Transfer of knowledge between communities in different bioclimatic zones;
(4) Curricula for inter-generational transfer and continued adaptation of calendars; and
(5) High-profile international conference on ecological calendars for food and livelihood security.

Who Is Involved?

Figure 7. Installing a climate station in the Alai Valley. Photo: Tobias Kraudzun.

Figure 7. Installing a climate station in the Alai Valley. Photo: Tobias Kraudzun.

The project team in the Pamir Mountains includes:
Lead PI: Karim-Aly Kassam, Cornell University, USA;
Partner PIs: Antonio Trabucco, Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change, Italy; Jianchu Xu, Kunming Institute of Botany, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China; Cyrus Samimi, University of Bayreuth, Germany; Ariff Kachra, University of Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan & Tajikistan; and,
Graduate Research Assistants: Talia Chorover and Kayla Scheimreif.

The project team in the US includes:
PI: Karim-Aly Kassam,
Co-PIs: Christopher Dunn, Amanda Rodewald, David Wolfe, Arthur Degaetano,
Post-Doc: Morgan Ruelle, Undergraduate Intern: Tamar Law.

Our civil society partners are: AgWeatherNet (Washington State University); American Geophysical Union; Cornell Biological Field Station at Shackleton Point; Deutsche Gessellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbait (GIZ); FOCUS Humanitarian Assistance (Tajikistan); International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD); International Society of Biometeorology – Phenology Commission; International
Union for Conservation of Nature; Man and the Biosphere Programme (UNESCO); Mountain Research Initiative (MRI); US Department of the Interior – Climate Science Centers; US National Phenology Network; Wakhan Pamir Research Project (Ca’ Foscari University of Venice); and World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF).

Author: Kassam Research Group, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York