Supporting Traditional Tribal Agriculture

Northern Great Plains

Featured image for the project, Supporting Traditional Tribal Agriculture


A research team based at Cornell University has spent several years working with a community of Lakota and Dakota people in the northern Great Plains region of the United States. In order to create new ecological agropastoral calendars, they have been analyzing local ecologies, as well as farming and livestock-grazing practices. The team has been able to determine which climatic and hydrological variables are relevant to the critical transitions in crop and forage development, and to gather ecological information on what climatic factors drive the culturally meaningful plant and animal cues. The missing link between an understanding of cue ecology and an understanding of crop/forage development is an understanding of the climatic conditions that will shape crop/forage development in the future, but expressed in terms of meteorological variables relevant to cue ecology.


The developed app process downscaled climate forecasts and translate them into bio-meteorological units relevant to the construction of ecological calendars. It parses climate forecasts, whose variables are in terms of degrees Celsius and millimeters of rain, and generates degree-day curves that are relevant to forecasting both the pests and the cue plants. Click here to view.




Many historically productive agricultural and pastoral practices are being made obsolete by climate change. In particular, crop choice and the timing of activities during the season–activities that require some ability to anticipate meteorological events–are made more difficult in a changing climate.


Tribal communities often use ecological calendars – a practice that ties agricultural activities not to a solar or lunar calendar, but to environmental cues such as the flowering of a particular plant species or the migration of particular bird species. Ecological calendars allow human activities to track changes in the natural world and therefore offer some of the anticipatory capacity on which livelihoods and food security depend.


Ecological calendars are built on correlations among agricultural and ecological events–correlations that are disrupted by climate change. The challenge in updating old calendars, and in establishing a system for their periodic modification as the climate continues to change, is in accessing, analyzing, and interpreting the relevant climate projections, and in presenting the resulting information in forms that are readily understood by the community.


Ted Wong – Co-Founder, Bellweather Climate Strategies

Collaborating Organization(s)

The Thriving Earth Exchange (TEX) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) are collaborating to use cloud-computing and Earth and space science to advance solutions to community challenges related to natural resources, climate change and natural hazards. After an open call for projects, four winners were chosen whose projects exemplify this goal. Each prototype is being moved to the AWS platform where they will be made publicly available for other communities to use and expand upon. Read more.


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