Planet Earth: Our Loving Home
 
Kenya: Experiencing an Acute Crisis Due to Global Warming      
Caring viewers, welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home where we will present excerpts from our interview with Mr. Shem Otoi Sam, program officer for the Kenya Youth Development Trust, regarding the major challenges Kenya faces in relation to climate change.

The current climate change situation in Africa is not good. For example, as we’ve learned, this serious change in Kenya epitomizes every other country in Africa both north of the Sahara (Desert) and down south of Limpopo (South Africa); it’s uniform.

And it’s a concern for us Africans as you know, that Africa basically relies on agriculture, an agrarian system. With climatic change, most Africans do not have the capacity to adapt with the climatic change. Some of the crops that they grow commercially or for subsistence purposes may not survive during climate change. So it’s a dire situation in Africa.

A lot of factors have led to global warming, because of reduced forest cover the plants do not absorb enough carbon, so these gases end up heating our environment. And we might as well add the livestock factor because we know that a cow produces as much carbon as a car. So because of the livestock, it also increases the amount of greenhouse gases in the environment. So actually man’s activity, especially in growing livestock and our manufacture industry has led to global warming.

The Trust is a youth-led non-governmental organization that promotes environmental protection, social justice and youth empowerment. Mr. Sam majored in environmental chemistry at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenya Youth Development Trust currently is trying to conserve our environment, especially the Mau water catchment area. Mau is the main water catchment area in Kenya and all of the rivers in Kenya flow from Mau. So we are planting trees, mobilizing young people to plant trees in the Mau in order to preserve our water.

Kenya is regarded as the center of East Africa in terms of politics, economics and culture. The nation’s many magnificent national parks, havens for wild animals, are adored by tourists around the world. But even this beautiful country is not exempt from the devastating impacts of global warming.

The country’s eastern shoreline is extremely vulnerable to sea-level rise. With a rise of only 30 centimeters, 17% of Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city, is expected to become submerged. From 1960 to 2003, Kenya’s mean temperature gradually rose one degree Celsius. And the resulting drying trend has had a huge effect on the entire nation. For example, the country’s mountain glaciers are melting faster than ever.

I’ve been to Mt. Kilimanjaro once. That was in 2003 when I was a student. The ice cap, the area covered by the ice on Mt. Kilimanjaro’s peak was around five square kilometers. Today it’s less than that five square kilometers and it’s projected that maybe in the next 10 or 20 years there might be no ice on top of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We know it’s because of global warming.

There’re some parts in Kenya that were formerly covered by vegetation. Due to drastic change in climatic conditions, some vegetation has now disappeared. So when it rains, water is flowing down the lowlands, sweeping everything with it. So the rain has been a big cause of flooding. In other areas we have drought because some forest cover has been cleared. So there’s a reduction in water catchment.

“The Great Migration” is an annual 1,000-kilometer journey in which two-million wildebeest, zebras and gazelles move clockwise through the Serengeti region in Tanzania and the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The main reason for this massive movement of animals is water and pasture scarcity.

Remember the migration of animals at Serengeti was declared one of the wonders of the world because large herds of animals migrate, but it isn’t as magnificent as it had been because of reduction in water level in the river. The water level went low. So most animals migrated into Tanzania and have not come back. It has really affected the migration of the wildebeest in Maasai Mara and Serengeti.

The animals depend on the pasture. When there is very little pasture, they move to where they can get a lot of pasture. But as observed, the reduction of forest cover in the Mau there was little pasture in Maasai Mara, Serengeti and maybe Amboseli (National Park) also. That’s why the migration isn’t as spectacular as it used to be before.

There are fears that Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest lake and the lifeline of 30-million people, may eventually dry up due to droughts and significant evaporation accelerated by global warming. The lake’s water level has dropped a staggering 11 meters, and substantial biodiversity loss is occurring.

I grew up along Lake (Victoria). I come from Kendu Bay. There used to be a lot of catfish and mudfish. It has changed. One of the reasons why it has changed, the temperature of the water has changed, which does not favor breeding of fish.

The migration of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, or the area around the Earth near the equator where winds from the Northern and Southern hemispheres come together, affects precipitation patterns in Kenya. The country’s rainy season is divided into two periods. The so-called “short” rains come between October and December, and the “long” rains between March and May. During these times, the rate of precipitation is normally approximately 50 – 200 millimeters a month.

Recently, however, the short rain season has been lasting longer, while the long rain season has been getting shorter and weaker. Statistics show that since the mid-1970s a decrease of over 100 millimeters of rainfall has occurred in the long rain season.

We should start with Nairobi, which is the capital city of Kenya. It’s always raining here in Nairobi but as you can see, it’s very dry and it’s not raining. In other parts, the Rift Valley Province, especially Uasin Gishu (district) which is Kenya’s breadbasket.

They always do their planting in March. It didn’t rain in March. They’re actually planting now in April. That shows how much climate has changed in Kenya, and the rain patterns have also changed. In some parts of Kenya like, (the) northeastern (area), it’s a dry area but this time it’s drier. It actually took five years before rains fell, so it’s very dry.

Global warming-induced droughts and desertification have decimated Kenya’s crop yields, particularly in the north. The short rains did not come between October and December 2010 and the long rains (March through May 2011) were sparse. The lack of sufficient precipitation has thus severely affected Kenya’s food security.

As of October 2011, East Africa is being affected by the most severe food crisis of the 21st century due to the region’s worst drought in 60 years. Among the 1.2-million undernourished children in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, 400,000 are at risk of dying. Up to 3.5 million Kenyans, mostly in the north, are going hungry.

In Kenya, especially for the last three years, we’ve been experiencing drastic food shortages in arid and semi-arid areas as well as those very, very drier patches all over the country. Because all those years there have been low crop yields due to environmental factors and climate change, so the food that was harvested by farmers wasn’t sufficient to feed the population. So mostly, like in 2008-2009, Kenya decided to import maize to feed the people of Kenya. Even the National Cereal Produce Board that is concerned with keeping extra surplus grains didn’t have all that maize to feed the people.

Even today we have a seed shortage. We don’t have enough seeds in the country for the farmers. The prices of basic commodities have a direct correlation with the food shortage. Basic commodities, rice, maize flour, wheat flour have gone up, sugar cane has also gone up. So it has a direct correlation with the change in the climate.

Forests play a tremendous role in absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, but deforestation not only erases these invaluable carbon sinks, but also releases stored CO2 back into the air. We must also have a responsible citizenry. I would recommend that every citizen, where possible, they try to grow trees, use safe and clean energy. You (should) also try to use public transport as opposed to personal cars.

According to the US-based non-profit Rodale Institute, which conducts organic agriculture research, organic farming uses 45% less energy and even less water than conventional farming methods.

I would really encourage people to go the organic vegan way. I will just give you a small example. In Rift Valley, which is the food basket of Kenya, they use an inorganic fertilizer, and when rain falls this inorganic fertilizer is swept down into the main water system. This not only totally affects aquatic life, but it also affects the human being. The other bit of this is why must people consume meat when it’s so deadly?

People should adapt to the vegan lifestyle, which is very healthy, and (assures) low cholesterol in the body. The people will live long and the environment will be much friendlier. We’ve done a lot of research with young people, especially in agriculture. We have a program in Kenya Youth Development Trust that deals with economic empowerment for young people.

We encourage the young people to practice agro-forestry. That way they can have their food, they can grow tomatoes, vegetables and also plant trees. . So we’ve also done research on where we can grow what crop; for example some parts of Nyanza (Province) can do well in production of pineapples

An organic vegan diet can quickly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and also reverse the world’s food and water crises. May all Kenyans, and indeed the whole world, soon become aware of the severe environmental impact of the livestock industry, quickly adopt the humane, plant-based diet, and thus end climate change.

Our sincere thanks Mr. Shem Otoi Sam for sharing your insights on the detrimental effects of climate change on Kenya and informing us of some of the constructive steps that the Kenya Youth Development Trust is taking to remedy the situation.

For more information on the Kenya Youth Development Trust, please visit www.KeyDeT.org

Attentive viewers, thank you for joining us on Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. May we always take excellent, compassionate care of the environment.

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