The Role of Local Knowledge in Sustaining Ecotourism Livelihood as an Adaptation to Climate Change
Agyeman, Yaw Boakye
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Ecotourism is a development strategy for many local communities in and around protected areas. Its ability to improve tourism opportunities, conservation and livelihoods is supported by many ecotourism studies. Such communities often employ diverse livelihood strategies to reduce risk and survive. As such, ecotourism becomes an integral part of a portfolio of livelihoods and assist with livelihood diversification. However, in some locales climate change is making livelihoods, including ecotourism vulnerable, due to its impacts on protected areas and their associated biodiversity. Climate change creates vulnerability as well as opportunities for adaptation. Climate change adaptation has become important in ensuring tourism sustainability, as it is critical in reducing the vulnerability of tourism. However, the literature supplies only limited knowledge on such adaptation at the local level. This may undermine ecotourism’s prospects in improving local livelihoods and conservation. There is a need to understand the lived and embodied everyday experiences of local communities who are experiencing tourism within the context of climate change. In particular, this research needs to capture local knowledge and understanding of climate change, and local efforts at adaptation. In understanding adaptation at the local level, it is important to understand how households construct their livelihoods, including the role of ecotourism. This study examined local perceptions and lived experience in sustainable ecotourism development as a livelihood adaptation to climate change in a case study site in Ghana. This examination and subsequent understanding provided a process for integrating local knowledge into livelihood adaptation as communities become more vulnerable to future climate change that will adversely affect traditional patterns of livelihoods. The study used the vulnerability-based approach which assessed vulnerability of households’ livelihoods to climate change and adaptations. Mognori Eco-Village in Ghana was used a case because of its geographic location in the savannah and experience of climate change as well as households` involvement in ecotourism activities. In focusing on lived experience, the study was guided by the philosophical ideas of Gadamer, as it lends itself particularly well for exploring the complexities and understanding of households’ lived experience with climate change. It also informed the recruitment of 22 households, use of conversation interviews and a focus group as well as data interpretation. The study found four main underlying essences that explain households’ lived experience with climate change: 1) adopting different livelihood strategies; 2) experiencing the impacts of ecotourism on assets and activities; 3) experiencing current vulnerability conditions and developing adaptation strategies; and, 4) sustaining ecotourism by building future adaptation strategies. The first essence suggests strategies such as intensification/extensification, livelihood diversification and migration as broad adaptations for survival. The second essence supports the use of ecotourism as a form of livelihood diversification that complements other non-ecotourism activities. The third essence describes the vulnerability to climate change the local adaptations use to reduce vulnerability. The last essence suggests local agency in overcoming adaptation constraints to improve adaptive capacity to sustain ecotourism as an adaptation strategy to climate change. The study found that local adaptive capacity exists to support ecotourism. However, the capability of the local community is limited and recommendations are made for government and other stakeholders to further support the local adaptation that is underway.