Using Indigenous knowledge to understand and manage the agri-health effects of climate change

Dr. Sherilee Harper

An Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Medicine at the University of Guelph, Dr. Sherilee Harper is leading a team of investigators studying climate change and its impact on Indigenous food systems, security, and safety.

Dr. Sherilee Harper, University of Guelph
Photo courtesy of University of Guelph

Achieving food security for an ever-growing global population is one of the most critical challenges facing the world today. Climate-related changes, such as rising and falling water levels, present challenges for the global agriculture sector, possibly leading to crop failures, making livestock more vulnerable to disease, or changing the availability of country foods like caribou and other wild foods in northern communities.

Fragile water systems, foodborne diseases, and a reduction in the availability of wild food are having a disproportionate effect on Indigenous and other vulnerable populations which rely on the environment for survival.  In addition, factors such as culturally defined gender roles and age can also impact vulnerability and resilience.

Dr. Sherilee Harper of the University of Guelph is leading a multi-national, multi-sectoral team of researchers examining these issues and contributing to our understanding of how the food-related aspects of climate change may impact the health of the world’s Indigenous populations.

Leveraging ongoing partnerships with Inuit (Canada), Batwa (Uganda), and Shawi (Peru) populations, the research team will apply rigorous qualitative and quantitative research methods to gather the evidenced-based data needed to inform decision makers at every level.

Working within these regions, the program has three research areas of focus:

  • Community-driven environment and health surveillance;
  • Projecting climate change impacts on agri-health outcomes; and
  • Developing region-specific strategies to change, inform, enhance, and expand climate change adaptation interventions and adaptation planning.

This participatory, community-based study will be foundational, providing future initiatives with practical guidance on how to integrate Indigenous and western knowledge and methodology, creating a dynamic community of scientific leaders and partners with expertise in Indigenous agri-health and climate change.

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