Deaths, starvation, deforestation, higher prices of essential goods and uncertainty about the future are some of the consequences that the eight-month-old Russia-Ukraine war has wrought on Kenyans and other Africans.
The war is also threatening the existence of the Congo rainforest, the second largest of the three remaining rainforests in the world. The other two are the Amazon and Southeast Asia.
This had led to revision of family budgets and abandonment of clean energy like LPG to charcoal and firewood.
Kenyans have witnessed highest ever fuel increase, with petrol retailing at Ksh179 per litre, up from Sh159 in early September. Diesel now costs Sh165 up from Ksh140 while kerosene retails at Sh147 in contrast to Sh127.94 previously.
According the latest data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), 3.5 million Kenyans, including a million children under the age of five and 100,000 expectant women, are facing starvation.
Five billion trees
The new government under President William Ruto is putting in place short and long term measures to address the situation.
“We have distributed subsidised fertiliser to farmers at a lower price of Sh3,500. My government has also set aside Sh900 million for relief food in 11 out of the 47 counties that are grappling with dire consequences of drought,” Ruto said during the Mashujaa Day celebrations.
He has also promised to spearhead the planting of five billion trees in the next five years and another 10 billion by 2032 to increase tree cover to 30 per cent. Kenya’s tree cover now stands at eight per cent.
“We will secure and protect public forests, rehabilitate and restore all degraded water towers and other forest ecosystems. We will also fence all fragile water towers and other ecosystems to protect them from encroachment,” Ruto said.
He has called for a speedy resolution to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “I will join the international community for the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine so that we can get on with what we are doing because climate change is already a big enough problem, I don’t think blame game will help in that equation,” he said.
Uganda President Yoweri Museveni was humorous in his advice to citizens on food.
“Recently when the Europeans started fighting amongst themselves and prices of commodities including wheat skyrocketed, I advised you people, to eat cassava. Some media houses made it a laughing stock. Now, I have been vindicated,” Museveni posted on Twitter.
The World Agroforestry report: The charcoal value chain in Kenya: Actors, practices and trade flows in selected sites shows that more than half of the 50 million Kenyans have been using charcoal for the last six months. But the consumption increased because of Covid-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war. Prices of LPG, petrol and diesel are highest in the last 40 years.
The research shows that 85 per cent and 15 per cent of the charcoal sold in Nairobi and Mombasa, respectively, come from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Uganda and South Sudan. Kenya banned illegal logging and related activities five years ago. This shows how this trend is a threat to the Congo basin.
The charcoal trade is done by five men who live in Nairobi. They have their own trucks which they use to transport goods from Mombasa to Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and DRC. When the trucks are going back to Kenya, some of them carry charcoal from DRC and Uganda.
Transporters using the Busia route shipped the highest volume of charcoal per trip (160-170 bags). When demand is high, the transporters hire long-distance cargo trucks on their way to Mombasa to transport charcoal at a flat fee of Sh300 per bag.
A transporter on the Busia-Nairobi route could make a profit of Sh330 per bag; this translates to a profit of Sh211,200 per month if the transporter carries 160 bags per trip per week.
According to Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), the whole of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is facing starvation due to Covid-19 and war in Ukraine. In Kenya, the perennial food shortage has been compounded by the war and drought.
FAO data shows that the war in Ukraine has disrupted supply chains across the world and more so in Africa as the continent heavily relies on Russia and Ukraine for the supply of grains like wheat and rice, fertiliser and energy. The two countries are among the leading suppliers of grains and fertiliser.
“Last year, there were 278 million people in Africa in need of food assistance. This is set to increase and could add up to 3.1 billion around the world who will be unable to have a meal next year,” the 2022 FAO State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World says.
FAO data shows that 26 million people in the DRC, who constitute more than a quarter of the population, are in need of food aid. This makes the country the number one region in the world that requires urgent food aid. The situation is has been caused by Covid-19, violence by the M23 rebel group and war in Ukraine.
Dr Susan Chomba, yhe director at Vital Landscapes, Food, Forests and People at the World Resources Institute (WRI) said Africa’s food situation is worse and the war in Ukraine is not making it better. She says deforestation in the Congo rainforest is not only a threat to DRC but all people in Africa.
She said Sahel countries like Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal all depend on the Congo rainforest.
“Those investing in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, DRC, Tanzania, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Somali, Djibouti and indeed the rest of Africa should to the Congo basin rainforest,” Chomba said.
She said WRI researches show the Congo Basin is to millions of people who depend on it for food, charcoal and medicinal plants. “Apart from all these benefits, the Congo rainforest also plays a role in regulating rainfall patterns across the continent. If it disappears, freshwater and food supplies for some of Africa’s most vulnerable populations will cease,” Chomba said.
She lamented that deforestation rates in the rainforest, particularly in the DRC, which has been lower than in the Amazon and Southeast Asia, is rising.
According to Global Forest Watch report of 2018, The DRC lost the second largest area of tropical primary forest than any country in the world.
“This loss is scary given that the destruction is carried out by small-scale slash-and-burn farming, usually done with hoes and axes, not machinery,” Chomba said.
University of Maryland researchers have projected that if this trend continues, Congo rainforest will be no more by 2100.
Chomba said WRI shows that large-scale deforestation in any of the planet’s three major tropical forest zones (Amazon, Congo Basin and Southeast Asia) would leave the climate on their respective continents warmer and drier.
This story has been published by Standard Media Group in collaboration with Pulitzer Center’s Rainforest Investigations Network.