How mitigative law earned county seat of honour at Summit

Vihiga Governor Wilber Ottichilo. [File, Standard]

When advocating for Vihiga County residents to plant bamboo, Governor Wilber Ottichilo holds that growing bamboo and indigenous trees would help fight climate change and restore the Maragoli Hills forest which bears the greatest brand of deforestation.

“Bamboos are sustainable because they at most take about a few years to fully mature compared to most trees. When you cut down bamboo, it will regenerate in record speed and cause less environmental degradation,” says the governor.

He says most trees take too long to regenerate and the damage caused to the environment when felling or uprooting trees is humongous.

He says that developed countries like India, Australia, and parts of Asia had adopted the crop to fight climate change and even poverty.

But it’s not just the governor’s advocacy that sets the county apart. Of note is that the county has a climate law - the Vihiga Climate Change Act - the first in the country, that forms the blueprint for mitigating global warming at the community level.

The Act, among other things, provides for sensitisation of the community on climate change that is viewed by many rural communities as an alien.

The county is currently reaping fruits of the mass drive of planting bamboo on February 2 during the World Wetland Days.

It has been big on climate mitigation matters to the point of its governor being made the head of the climate change docket in the Governor’s Council.

Some 5,000 bamboo were planted on the day in what marked a milestone beginning of a culture shift towards eco-friendly resource consumption and green construction.

Nelson Muyela, a conservationist in the county who majors in selling and growing bamboo agrees that it was time for the county to shift to the crop which he says “is more profitable than maize.”

He says the Ottichilo-sponsored Act that promotes its cultivation was noble and made reality of the fight against global warming.

“I sell bamboo seedlings for between Sh 400 and Sh500. Then I also burn charcoal, make toothpicks, chairs, baskets, and many artefacts using bamboo wood,” he says.

 “Some people enjoy bamboo shoots as vegetables even as the crop forms a good carbon sink anywhere you plant them,” Muyela says.

He believes that, with time, the locals will adopt the crop to avoid the heavy utilisation of timber and related forest resources that have seen forests like the Maragoli Hills and Kakamega diminish.

Statistics from the American Bamboo Society show that there are nearly 1,450 bamboo species globally with the potential to grow 60 centimeters or more daily.

But such growth is highly dependent on the region’s climate and soil health according to Muyela even as he admits that bamboo remains the fastest-growing plant globally.

Statistics from the Global Forest Watch show that from 2001 to 2022, Vihiga lost 676 ha of tree cover, equivalent to a 5.6 per cent decrease in tree cover since 2000, and 406 kt of CO₂e emissions.

The governor holds that as he embarks on the ambitious climate programmes backed by the Act, the global west should work on financing for the damages they cause developed countries. 

“There is a need to address the bottlenecks facing County Governments, particularly in accessing global climate finance to facilitate climate interventions, and develop the requisite regulations to enable carbon trading and equitable sharing of benefits,” said  the governor who has earned his county a seat of honur at climate summits the recent being the African Climate Summit held in Nairobi this week.

In the summit, he led fellow governors in presenting a topic ‘Sub-National Financing for Accelerated Climate Action’ that mainstreamed the need of funding climate change mitigation at grassroot levels.

The honour came even as he was a notable speaker at the third Pan-African Parliamentarians Summit on Climate Policy and Equity held between May 16 and 17 (2023) at the Pan-African Parliament Headquarters in Midrand, South Africa.

In the summit, he shed light on the crucial topic of mainstreaming Climate Change action in Sub-National governments where Vihiga was hailed as a model that could be replicated across Africa in the quest for Climate Change, a Climate Change Act has been enacted to address adverse effects associated with Climate Change.