Firefly Frequencies podcast
Listen to the Firefly Frequencies podcasts here.
For podcasts related to Reclaiming Pedagogies, please visit the page here.
Reclaiming Pedagogies, Episode 6: Climate Resilience in Africa by Stella
Below is the transcript.
I have a keen interest in climate resilience, since I did my doctorate. My thesis was on a nowcasting system for flash floods, that would deliver early warnings to rural sub-Sahara Africa. That’s where my passion for climate resilience began, because I became more aware of vulnerability in rural Africa.
This brings me to the question, why climate resilience and not decarbonization for Africa?
I’ll start with the research done by Oxfam and the Stockholm Environment Institute. This research reported that, from 1990 to 2015, the contribution by the richest 10% of the world’s population, was 50% of the cumulative carbon emissions, while the poorest 50% were responsible for (only) 7% of the cumulative carbon emissions. I’m also reminded of the statistic, that Africa’s contribution is only about 3% annually. Therefore, with regard to the question, why climate resilience and not decarbonization? Africa reducing its footprint would not make a big difference on the whole. Vulnerability on the other hand, would make a big difference to Africa- it is more urgent. So, a move towards adaptation and resilience would be more fitting (as opposed to decarbonisation).
The other reason why, climate resilience and not decarbonization, is that Africa’s access to financing is very limited. Therefore, prevention and risk reduction through adaptation, would be more fitting, because it would mean savings, translated from less loss and damages. Which is, for Africa, the way to go. The need for adaptation (itself), is included in the Paris Agreement. It requires financing (whether soft interventions or hard interventions, both would require financing for implementation). A provision was made for developed countries to finance adaptation in the developing countries.
The truth is, that the carbon inequality between the developed and developing countries, (lets refer to them as the global North and the South), which is a result of carbon activities by the North, that have led to climate change — because as we know, we refer to human activity as the main cause of climate change- has led to climate events that seem more prevalent in the South, which is the least responsible for carbon emissions.
It’s been reported that, the effect of a 1.5 Degree increase in temperature, the point we hope to cap global emissions at- it’s effect on Africa is largely speculative. There’s unreliable data, and limited data collection systems to draw definitive actions from.
With regard to carbon inequality, it is important not to point fingers. Empathy towards those responsible in the global North, who seem unresponsive, denialist or slow to action, is important. Somehow, it’s easier for the suffering to tap into empathy. But in return, it would not only be easier, but also befitting, for the North to be empathetic to the suffering in the South (that is already ongoing). This might be naïve on my part, but I feel that empathy is the only way to go, to get both worlds to a communication space, that translates into action space, bringing change to the conversation that’s currently not yielding the change needed to combat climate change.
My doctorate introduced me to the climate resilience theory, which I like, because it’s very wholesome. It discusses climate change, the link between climate events and vulnerability in people who are exposed to these climate events. This presents an opportunity to introduce adaptations, to reduce this risk. It follows, that the more they’re able to navigate climate events, they tend more and more towards resilience. So, that’s the climate resilience theory, in a nutshell. It points to climate change, vulnerability, adaptation and resilience.
Climate change in Africa
Climate change in Africa is mainly manifested through droughts, floods and temperature increase. And then, as you go towards the coast, the sea level water rise, becomes an issue. I’ve always thought (at the back of my head), that the dry and hot weather in the Sahara Desert to the North- that’s pushing South- and the Namib Desert to the South (and the Kalahari Desert), could meet some time in the future, turning Africa into a large desert-land-mass; which is possible with climate change.
Anyway, the point is, about 60–70% of Africa is rural sub-Sahara Africa, while about 60–70% of the African population lives in rural sub-Sahara Africa.
Most of the livelihoods of people living in rural Africa are farmer livelihoods- agriculture being the mainstay of most economies in Africa. With farming being mainly rain-fed, climate change in the form of droughts, floods and temperature increase, makes farmers highly vulnerable. Climate change also means low food production and food insecurity. With more climate change in the offing, and with a projected population increase in the future, food insecurity is bound to increase.
For these populations, it’s also important to note that, as people tend more towards vegan diets to reduce our footprint (I’m vegan), to reduce the negative impacts that has to forests, these populations that suffer from malnutrition (due to the lack of food or inadequate access to food, and oftentimes, a lack of clean water), require that their diets are supplemented with meat and dairy for added nutritional value. Therefore, even as we discuss veganism as one of the solutions (to global warming), it’s important that we consider the dietary needs of these people.
There’s a way to measure the vulnerability in communities like these (farmer livelihoods, or the livelihoods at the coast like fishing), by finding out the vulnerability of their livelihoods. This is through a tool. It’s called the livelihoods vulnerability index. It measures three things; exposure to risk (whether you’re talking about drought or forest fires), adaptive capacity (if the risk occurred what capacity would a community have to tackle it) and sensitivity (does the risk affect access to food, and clean water, to health services?). The more and more the climate events, the floods, droughts, increased temperatures (and most recently in Africa, the locusts which affect these farmer livelihoods mostly), the more and more they are trapped into poverty.
The higher the vulnerability, the more the need for adaptation. An assessment of vulnerability is important for the recommendation of adaptation measures that best fit the community; because no two communities are entirely the same- vulnerabilities are different, and the resources available to them are different, and many other aspects will vary.
Adaptation can be through soft or hard interventions. Soft interventions include education and the creation of awareness, which we know through research, that it reduces the level of vulnerability of those at risk. I’d like to mention, the creation of awareness through social media- it’s powerful, is why activists lean into it, but it’s inaccessible to rural Africans, who need the awareness the most. The information gap (however), is addressed through for example, government initiatives that engage communities; often on the basis of their farming activities, in order to improve food production, because as I mentioned, agriculture is a mainstay of our economy. Information can also reach communities through vernacular tv and radio stations. It is not effective enough, to say that rural Kenya for example, has a level of awareness that is commensurate to the risk that rural Kenya faces, but at least we can point to these actions (by government for example) that aim to address that problem.
On the other hand, are hard interventions. These include infrastructure that’s built to reduce exposure to floods- such as sea walls or drainage canals. It could also be, planting trees to break wind, to reduce the rate of evaporation of water after irrigation, or provide shade to crop during hot weather.
For these measures (for their development and execution), it’s important to rely on women, the youth and indigenous people. Their perspective, because they are the vulnerable ones, cannot be ignored- especially because these solutions seek to address their vulnerability the most. Therefore, their input is invaluable.
Climate smart agriculture is an adaptive approach for farmers. This encompasses a variety of measures such as soil management, which could mean less reliance on pesticides- which as we know, are not good for soils- it could be water management so that they have other sources of water such as the building of dams or canals, as opposed to waiting for the rains, which is what’s most prevalent right now (theirs is mostly rain-fed agriculture).
Another adaptation measure would be for farmers to diversify their livelihoods. For example, if a drought is expected, meaning low food production and income from it, then to engage in other economic activities that reduce their vulnerability would help to bring in some income from something else. This could be- some communities go into honey making, could be cloth making- any other activity that is away from farming.
Women in particular, aside from being allowed to diversify their livelihoods, should also be paid as much as men for work done. They are more vulnerable, but are also in many cases, left to care for themselves and the children. In central Kenya, women are left to do a lot of work in a home, they often become breadwinners, because the level of alcoholism in men is very high; and as my mum says, a lot of brews are not sold before being tried and tested with these men. So, therefore, women are often left to take care for the families, in ways that were not planned or even manageable at the time.
If they were to diversify their livelihoods through, deforestation (for example) to sell timber, to sell wood or charcoal, would not be a good move, because we know that we need trees. Burning of charcoal for example is very rampant in Africa, it is responsible for nitrous oxide emissions- this is a gas that’s 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This example goes to show, that not all solutions turn out to be good, in the long run, which we refer to as maladaptation- and is something that, within adaptation plans, is important to consider.
Another adaptation measure would be to increase their access to credit, especially because rural Africans have limited assets, usually related to their activities (so we’re talking about farm tools, crop and livestock as literally all their assets). So, floods and droughts could easily leave them without the means to make living. Access to credit could be a safety net for them, give them the support needed to start over, and this could easily safeguard their livelihoods.
An adaptation measure that isn’t addressed comprehensively (or enough, as it should) in National Adaptation Plans is migration. Migration, in the age of climate change, with increased temperature, food and water being scarce, people are bound to move to survive. In Africa, these conditions have often led to conflict, with little resources to accommodate communities, they’re left to fight for it. This is a very human reaction, and with climate change untamed, there’s bound to be more conflict in future.
Rural populations in Africa are known to have limited adaptive capacity, because even though the Kenyan government (for example) is devolved, there are poor policies, poor frameworks, interventions are often top down, and therefore not really addressing the needs of these people in rural Kenya.
Other initiatives by organisations (such as LOABOWA by the way, the one I founded), include creating awareness around climate change- many other people have been stepping up to do this, because the gap is really obvious and so, many people are moving in to fill the gap- and the climate crisis, because the level of awareness in Africa is very (very) low, and this is not only in rural Africa, but in urban Africa too.
There are quite a number of community initiatives in rural Kenya, the most common is people coming together, to put their savings together. Women are very active with this, through these groups we refer to as ‘chamas’- it’s a very common thing in rural, urban Kenya, women coming together for merry-go-rounds and ‘chamas’ as we call them. These are great support systems, a safety net for those involved. In Africa, there isn’t social welfare or social security, and therefore this (access to credit) increases their ability to navigate climate events, because they have access to money, in case their assets go with a flood or get destroyed during a climate event, and so therefore, they are better able to navigate these climate events.
In Ukambani (which is a place, South Eastern Kenya) there’s a farmer who uses a drought resistant tree, the Mukau tree (in English it’s the Melia Volkensii tree). It’s a fruit tree that provides shade for crop, preventing the crop from wilting dry — because remember the tree does well during the drought season and so therefore, for farmers who need to continue farming through hot and dry seasons, they could use this tree. As he learnt how to navigate drought seasons, he decided to share the knowledge with his community, and now he travels to other counties and countries sharing this knowledge with others suffering from the harsh conditions, he’s been able to overcome.
There’s another farmer, called Mlesh, he’s (actually) Maasai. I’ve met him on a platform where we discussed agroecology- and his work is inspiring. He started a farm where he runs classes for others to learn soil and water management techniques- for the same purpose, to be able to navigate the dry hot seasons as well as a flood and manage water during the time.
During covid-19, access to food for people living in Nairobi was tested, because food comes from other counties. Therefore, when the city was conned off from the other counties (to reduce the rate of infection), there was a challenge, food was not as fresh as usual. Trucks needed to be checked at checkpoints, there was a lag, and food was never the same. This shows the need for food resilience, because when climate change poses a threat to food production in rural Kenya, urban areas feel the shortage.
It’s been proposed in a number of papers, that experimentation has been suggested as a tool, that could be used to solve the lack of adoption of climate smart agriculture in Africa; because the issue of expense, spans across rural Africa, and experimentation- through experiments and probably, accidents- could allow for solutions that are designed around the current resource potential of these communities.
Also, from the Kenyan government, there has been some positives, like the banning of plastics. There was an immediate reduction in the number of fly-by plastic bags.
In our constitution we also have the climate change act, which means that the national and county governments start to tackle climate change at every level, a bit more coordinatedly.
I’d like to also appreciate that Kenya submitted its NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) that were submitted recently and has also drafted it’s National Adaptation Plans. So, looks like Kenya is positioning itself well, to be able to achieve its targets- with regard to the Paris Agreement.
Caveat; But looking back, Kenya is (and has been) really good at making plans, coming up with really sharp documents, but faulters at executing. And as we know, a climate plan without action will cost Kenya, will cost Africa, because of our vulnerability and the number of vulnerable peoples that we have here.
Stella Nyambura Mbau PhD
Founder & CEO LOABOWA