Action towards climate change must start with our local communities

A farmer carries farming tools to her sorghum field in the arid Turkana County, northern Kenya. [File, Standard]

During the 1970s, Emma and her siblings spent evenings harvesting fruits and vegetables from their father’s farm for the local market.

Their father ran a sustainable farming business that met the family's essential needs. Fast forward to today, Emma is a mother of two and can barely afford basic necessities for her family as a farmer.

According to figures from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) for the second quarter of 2022, the agriculture sector’s contribution to the country’s GDP has decreased for the third consecutive quarter. This was attributed to unfavourable weather conditions that characterised the last quarter of 2021 and the first half of 2022. The rising temperatures has had a detrimental impact on food production.

In addition to the primary causes of climate change, deforestation and forest degradation were identified as substantial sources of carbon emissions. A report by the Global Forest Watch reveals that Kenya lost 368  kilohectares of tree cover in the past 20 years, equivalent to an 11 per cent decrease in tree cover since 2000 and 179 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

The reduction in tree cover is alarming and is already causing severe effects on people and local communities. Farmers have had to grapple with minimal earnings and increased food insecurity at a time when global inflation rates are at an all-time high.  

Kenya has made significant progress in improving conservation efforts. On the sidelines of the COP27, it was recognised for its contribution to ensuring that communities adapt to climate change by streamlining funds to reach the most vulnerable. Although this is a great achievement, much more has to be done to protect our forests.

Our rainforests play a significant role in stabilising the climate and maintaining the water cycle. They act as carbon sinks and help in conserving our biodiversity, reducing detrimental impacts from soil pollutants, protecting watersheds and reducing the effects of harmful chemicals on human health and the environment.

The conservation of our forests and natural resources is vital to our fight against climate change. In addition to absorbing greenhouse gases and controlling water flows, they also safeguard local communities from extreme weather and sea level rise. Our local communities and small-scale farmers must be at the forefront of our conservation efforts. Indigenous communities protect 80 per cent of the biodiversity left in the world. They need to be educated and empowered on the importance of climate-smart agriculture, environmental conservation and restoration mechanisms in order to lead the fight from the frontline.

There is a need to educate and equip small-scale farmers on adapting to new weather patterns, diversification and reforestation in order to build sustainable livelihoods and food security on the continent.

One of the countries that have been walking the talk when it comes to the preservation of its forests is Gabon; 88 per cent of its total surface area is covered by rainforests which absorb a total of 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. This has played a significant role in the country’s climate mitigation efforts.

In Kericho and Bomet counties, James Finlay (Kenya) Limited has partnered with the Initiative for Sustainable Landscapes Kenya (ISLA) to restore and protect 60,000 hectares of natural forests within the Southwest Mau Forest. A key driver of forest degradation in this area is overgrazing by livestock, which damages vegetation and inhibits natural forest regeneration. To tackle this, ISLA is working with farmers in forest-dependent communities to intensify their dairy production.