Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Culture, Climate and the Environment: Local Knowledge and Perception of Climate Change among Apple Growers in Northwestern India

Academic journal article Journal of Ecological Anthropology

Culture, Climate and the Environment: Local Knowledge and Perception of Climate Change among Apple Growers in Northwestern India

Article excerpt


Human societies in mountainous areas have evolved specific ways of dealing with the constraints imposed by the environment. A number of anthropological studies have documented the existence of practices that can be considered adaptive in the context of mountain environments. In this paper, I present a case study of a society in transition, in the northwestern Himalayas of India, in which local knowledge-combining aspects of traditional knowledge and practice-is used by farmers to cognize and cope with the uncertainty in their environment. Focusing on the perception of changes in the amount and timing of snowfall over the last three decades, I present a non-reductionist and nested model of human-environment interaction that explains the perception and knowledge of climate as a function of micro-level livelihood practices, as well as enduring and widely shared cultural notions of risk and vulnerability. The model being proposed encompasses agency and cognition at multiple levels, ranging from the local to the regional, and is explicated with ethnographic information, which demonstrates the resilient and dynamic nature of local knowledge. The paper's major finding is that the perceptions of climate change in the region are shaped both by the local knowledge of crop-climate linkages, as well as the broader historical relationship with the environment.


Kullu Valley in the state of Himachal Pradesh in northwestern India has experienced a number of crop failures in the last 15 years that apple growers blame on a changing climate no longer suitable for apple production. Growers' perceptions of climate correspond closely with the meteorological record in the valley (Vedwan and Rhoades 2001). Not only the aspects of climate but even the climate categories, which are perceived as having changed, are those that scientifically affect apple production the most.

How are these perceptions of climate change and the adverse impact of climate change on apple production to be understood? How do farmers think about climate, and what may be causing the climate to deteriorate as far as they are concerned? Do these perceptions of climate change facilitate action aimed at ameliorating the perceived negative effect on apple production? If this is the case, then how does this occur? This paper links these questions together and answers them by offering a nested model of the perception of climate change. The model situates perceptions of climate change within the context of both local-level practices and the broader system of human-environment interactions, ultimately facilitating growers' response to the decline in apple production. While avoiding both environmental and socio-cultural determinism, the model is dynamic and capable of accounting for change over time in the system. It demonstrates how local knowledge of risk and vulnerability combines aspects of local knowledge-which is inter-generational and related to apple growers' traditional agricultural occupation, as well as identity as paharis (hill people)-with the more recent understanding of climatic impact on apple. An important goal of the model is to bridge the dichotomies-thought vs. action, natural vs. cultural realms, and practical vs. abstract knowledge-that often characterize anthropological accounts of human-environment relations in mountainous areas and elsewhere. A formulation of human-environment interaction such as the one being presented here has implications for our understanding of the cultural perceptions of risk and environmental vulnerability and their role in facilitating adaptive responses.

Situating Perceptions

In this section, I provide a summary of the literature relevant to answering the questions posed earlier. The relevant literature, mirroring the synthetic nature of the model, consists of several areas of theoretical research that are often seen as distinct and unconnected, but which must be brought together in this paper to account for the apple growers' perceptions and responses. …

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