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Considering Religion and Tradition in Climate Smart Agriculture: Insights from Namibia (lay summary)

This is a lay summary of the article published under the DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-92798-5_16

Published onApr 30, 2023
Considering Religion and Tradition in Climate Smart Agriculture: Insights from Namibia (lay summary)

Respect beliefs of Namibian farmers to help make their farms “climate smart”

In Namibia, many farmers follow traditional wisdom about the best times to plant crops and how to manage their livestock herds. Transitioning to newer, “climate smart” practices can help these farmers deal with situations like drought, but scientists must work with their beliefs to encourage them to try these methods.

In Namibia, farmers living in arid areas are especially vulnerable to climate change, because they depend largely on seasonal rainfall to grow their crops. Adopting climate smart practices that help them adapt to changing rainfall patterns, could therefore improve their food security.  

Despite this, many of these people are reluctant to try new methods, sometimes because they lack the money, land, or equipment to put them into practice. Other factors, like cultural and historic beliefs, along with religion, might also play a role, but until now researchers have had little information on the impact these factors have.   

In this study, researchers therefore wanted to understand the role farmers’ religious beliefs and respect for tradition have in the decision to switch to climate smart methods.

Initially, they read through existing scientific studies on climate smart techniques and their use and acceptance by farmers. They then interviewed 60 farmers living in semi-arid regions of the country, to better understand their beliefs and how these influenced their farming practices.

The researchers found that many of the farmers were reluctant to try new approaches, especially if these conflicted with traditional wisdom. For example, many of the farmers refused to use seasonal weather forecasts, because they felt that rainfall couldn’t be predicted but instead depended on God’s will. Farmers also said they planted their crops according to a traditional calendar and could use traditional methods to predict the weather.

Other climate smart suggestions, like selling cattle before a drought to prevent overgrazing and livestock loss, also came into conflict with traditional beliefs. The farmers said that cattle are a strong part of cultural identity and show how successful a farmer is, so they preferred not to sell them.  

In combination, these beliefs and traditions often meant that climate smart practices were not accepted by farmers, because these practices didn’t consider existing knowledge systems in their approach.

The researchers said that these findings provide an important tool for other scientists to use when planning climate smart initiatives in the future. They added that by treating cultural and religious beliefs as opportunities rather than barriers, future researchers could find new ways to encourage people to adopt climate smart farming strategies.

They also pointed out 3 key approaches that could encourage climate smart farming adoption in future. Firstly, they suggested recruiting traditional or religious leaders to act as “champions” for climate smart agriculture and to promote the use of climate smart techniques. 

Second, they said that scientists should try to combine climate smart methods with traditional methods, to help farmers accept these new practices.

Lastly, it is important to present climate smart practices in a way that ties into traditional ideas and values. For example, cattle are often an important part of social activities like weddings, funerals, and traditional celebrations. To encourage farmers to sell cattle rather than risk them dying in a drought, the researchers suggested positioning this as a good financial decision that improves their ability to participate in cultural activities in the future.

The study was a collaboration between scientists from South Africa and Namibia, and forms part of a book about climate smart agriculture in Africa. 


Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has the potential to increase the resilience of farming communities in semi-arid north-central Namibia that are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and variability. Although some farmers have adopted climate-smart practices, others have been slower to transition toward new methods. This chapter considers the role played by religion and tradition in CSA adoption in Namibia. It argues that religious and traditional value systems play a key role in decision-making for some farmers, and may prevent the: (i) use of climate forecasts in planning agricultural practices; (ii) sale of livestock when drought conditions are predicted; and (iii) uptake of novel or alternative agricultural practices. As such, adaptation practitioners should work with, rather than against, religious and traditional value systems in order to catalyse the uptake of CSA. We suggest: (i) positioning religious and traditional leaders as climate change champions; (ii) integrating scientific information with traditional knowledge; and (ii) framing CSA in such a way that it does not conflict with religious or traditional values.


This summary is a free resource intended to make African research and research that affects Africa, more accessible to non-expert global audiences. It was compiled by ScienceLink's team of professional African science communicators as part of the Masakhane MT: Decolonise Science project. ScienceLink has taken every precaution possible during the writing, editing, and fact-checking process to ensure that this summary is easy to read and understand, while accurately reporting on the facts presented in the original research paper. Note, however, that this summary has not been fact-checked or approved by the authors of the original research paper, so this summary should be used as a secondary resource. Therefore, before using, citing or republishing this summary, please verify the information presented with the original authors of the research paper, or email [email protected] for more information.

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