The impacts of climate change are already being felt worldwide, particularly on our food systems and health. Changes in extreme weather events, temperature, and rainfall variability threaten food security by decreasing global food production and increasing the risk of hunger and undernutrition. Projections indicate these food-related health impacts will far exceed all other climate-related health risks. And the effects of climate change on food systems are expected to be widespread, complex, and variable, both geographically and temporally.

Achieving food security requires learning how to monitor changes in food systems, and then monitoring for learning and adaptation. A promising strategy to support these actions is called ‘community-based monitoring’, an approach whereby groups work together to track and respond to issues of community concern. The extent of collaboration can vary (e.g. consultative, collaborative) along with its potential benefits (e.g. skills development, timely and relevant local information). Many Indigenous communities have been doing this – observing, conserving, and protecting the environment – for millennia. How then, can Indigenous communities and knowledge systems track and respond to challenges at the food-environment-health nexus?

Our new paper published in Environmental Research Letters aims to answer this question by reviewing and synthesizing the literature on community-based monitoring. In doing so, we capture its characteristics and opportunities to guide food security initiatives in the context of climate change.

What key things did we learn?

1) The extent of collaboration in community-based monitoring appears to be high, with systems more often classified as collaborative (51%) than externally-driven (37%). Indeed, effective monitoring generally occurs when communities monitor things they personally connect with and care about, rather than for externally-driven needs. And community engagement is also important for generating local ownership and understandings of environmental change, and to facilitate the development of local climate change adaptation responses.

2) Wildlife, natural resources, and environmental change are most often monitored in such systems, highlighting their importance. This raises the question: do conventional definitions of food security (and their assessments) adequately capture the dynamic nature of Indigenous food systems? The need for inclusive food security assessments and actions is only increasing given the current and projected changes in climate and its disproportionate impact on Indigenous food systems.

3) The impacts of climate change were acknowledged by many of the reviewed articles, but few reported on actions to monitor such impacts. The limited consideration of climatic indicators could be explained by the lack of consensus on how food systems resilience to climate change should be assessed. Yet, many Indigenous communities have knowledge of climate and weather and have developed adaptation strategies for ensuring food security. How can we use both Indigenous and Western knowledge systems to develop a deeper understanding of pressures on the environment as they arise?

While we have some ideas on how to address these issues, this research perhaps raises more questions than provide answers. We encourage researchers to grapple with these questions and ensure that monitoring systems are inclusive and responsive to the needs of its communities. When viewed as a whole, our findings provide an evidence-base of community-based monitoring efforts worldwide – its uses, characteristics, and opportunities – thus serving as a resource to inform future community-based adaptation efforts.


Lam S, Dodd W, Skinner K, Papadopoulos A, Zivot C, Ford J, Garcia P, IHACC Research Team, Harper SL. Community-based monitoring of Indigenous food security in a changing climate: Global trends and future directions. Environ. Res. Lett. (online first).

Photo by mypubliclands on / CC BY

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