Mapping the past to create a sustainable future
Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2021 Laureate Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is harnessing ancient local knowledge to fight climate change in Chad
The Rolex Awards for Enterprise, started almost 50 years ago, are a springboard of support for bright minds that want to change the world. They form part of the Rolex Perpetual Planet initiative that fosters scientific exploration, inquiry invention and outreach in the ongoing effort to make our planet perpetual.
Learn about the Rolex Awards for Enterprise legacy and family, and meet the five Laureates for 2021 who are taking the fight to protect the earth and its inhabitants from the coral reefs of the Maldives to the caves of Greenland and beyond.
In this article, meet Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, who is leading the charge in realising the value of First Nation knowledge and oral traditions passed down from generation to generation.
Since time immemorial, throughout Africa and other parts of the world, nomadic groups such as the Mbororo people of Lake Chad have drifted with the ebbs and flows of the seasons in search of food and water. Sadly, the devastating effects of a changing climate have brought this ancient practice to its knees. Tribes like the Mbororo are fighting for their lives.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Sahel region of the Republic of Chad in North Central Africa. Lake Chad is a vital source of life in this landlocked country and three others, and more than 30-million people rely on it for water and sustenance. In only two generations, the people who live on and around it have watched in horror as drought has shrunk the lake to less than 5% of its original 25,000km2.
I combine science, technology and traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples from different generations, and map the knowledge to better manage the natural resources and mitigate conflictHindou Oumarou Ibrahim
Rolex Awards for Enterprise 2021 Laureate Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim is addressing this crisis head on through work that is on the cutting edge of contemporary academic and professional discourse: she is harnessing local knowledge that is thousands of years old to better the lives of communities that are being ravaged by climate change, and she is doing this by creating maps.
Maps are complex, politically and culturally charged documents that have played a part in defining identities for thousands of years. While maps and the ways they carve out land and borders have arguably been responsible for disputes and discord in many parts of the world, Ibrahim is cleverly turning this on its head. She is using them as tools of survival and conflict resolution.
A small pilot project by Ibrahim in the Chadian city of Baïbokoum brought together local herders and women to collate information on the availability of springs, food sources and sacred places in an effort to assist local government in better managing these important resources. This valuable knowledge, passed down for generations over thousands of years, is combined with 3D map technology to create a resource that both settled farmers and nomadic people can use to avoid conflict with each other.
For Ibrahim, the environment and human rights are synonymous. You cannot have one without the other. What makes her work remarkable is that she has made this project a success in a largely patriarchal society, where women are often relegated to the fringes. Her mapping project has brought women of all ages to the forefront of important discussions around food security.
Ibrahim’s work in Chad has harnessed community participation, science and technology to make the world a better place.
“I get my energy from people. I will stop when the world comes to understand how everyone can live in harmony with nature,” she says.
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