Kenya has endured three severe droughts in the last decade (2010-2011, 2016-2017 and 2020-2022). The most recent drought resonates as the most severe and prolonged. Lives have been upended, livelihoods shattered, and vast populations displaced from the only homes they’ve ever known.
Akili Communities span across various ecological systems including semi arid landscapes where the impact of climate change is hard felt by pastoralist communities. According to Mark Karbolo, a pastoralist and Community leader among the Maasai community, the recent drought has made 80% of Livestock Range land farmers in Narok County poorer, a reality that has forced them to seek alternative ways of living.
“To survive, they’ve had to prioritize the number of goats and sheep reared in comparison to cows. Chickens have also been included in the type of livestock reared as well,” he continues to state.
Meat and milk is often the primary diet of this community, however; Mark Kaborlo confirms that, “the lack of consistent rainfall has seen the community adopting a different diet, one that includes vegetable consumption; a food item that is not considered a cultural food to the Maasai community.”
Severe droughts are only one of the consequences of climate change in the 21st century. In Mt Kenya region, where Akili is seeking to impact 300,000 smallholder farmers, other challenges have been experienced including forest fires and destructive floods, further highlighting the urgency of the issue. Climate change, a phenomenon that can be described as a steady increase in the warming of the planet (global warming), has a hard hitting and direct impact on our health, the environment and the global economy.
Who bears the responsibility? We all do! Our culpability is woven into the tapestry of our actions. It’s in the carbon and methane-emitting cars we drive, the forests we fell, in our reliance on chemical inputs and mechanization in our agricultural activities. While this remains a global issue, global warming causes the most harm on undeveloped or developing countries.
Although these countries only contribute 1% of greenhouse gas emissions, UNDP tells us that undeveloped countries will suffer at least 99% of the consequences caused by climate change. This manifests itself in developing countries as unpredictable weather patterns, increased water stress, floods, poor health conditions, and so forth. Given that developing countries such as Kenya mostly rely on agriculture for economic growth and stability, the repercussions are already severely experienced.
The Hongera Project
The Hongera Project, a venture Akili is currently undertaking in partnership with Dutch Green Business, will mitigate the above-mentioned problems, particularly in the Mt Kenya and Aberdare regions of Kenya by offsetting more than 2.8 metric tons of carbon emissions per year. The project has two components; the planting of trees and the distribution of energy efficient cookstoves. Together, these initiatives will contribute to slowing down the rate of deforestation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and protecting the health of small scale farmers.
The Solution With Trees
Mt Kenya is considered a water catchment area, praised for its majestic mountain, rich, fertile soil, rolling hills and vibrant lush forests that seem to stretch endlessly. This magnificent area, however, is also home to a people who rely largely on agriculture. Their livelihoods inadvertently contribute directly to destructive activities such as illegal logging, especially among smallholder farmers. This is slowly degrading the health of a once thriving ecosystem that supports over 2 million people in Kenya.
These farmers, often obstinate in their old ways of farming such as monocropping and heavy plowing, experience high yield losses due to the debilitating effects of climate change. Their low income challenges are therefore further exacerbated, and for a country that depends largely on agriculture, the health of its economy doesn’t bode well at all.
The solution? Facilitating the planting of at least 3,000,000 million trees through an agroforestry model. To make this possible, Akili works with communities to establish or strengthen tree nurseries which support the initiative. But planting is just the beginning… ensuring that these trees survive and flourish in the long-term, is really the goal. A feat that is only possible through partnerships with local, farmer-led community organizations.
Trees clean the air by absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and releasing oxygen in exchange, hence why they are referred to as carbon sinks. According to Terra Mater, an adult tree can absorb up to 22 kilograms of Carbon Dioxide annually, with forests worldwide estimated to store up to almost twice as much carbon as they produce.
Furthermore, as stated by the World Resources Institute, forests absorb up to 30% of global carbon dioxide emissions annually. If we account for natural forest regrowth – a restoration method that allows for the natural regrowth of a forest – annual carbon emissions can be reduced by an additional 23%.
The 30% carbon dioxide reduction from forests, and the 23% carbon reduction from naturally growing forests have a significant potential to reduce temperatures in cities by up to 8 degrees Celsius, helping slow down global warming.
The Solution With Energy Efficient Cookstoves
These same farmers own households that use the traditional three stone cooking methods for meal preparation; a reality that exacerbates the felling of trees for wood fuel. The pressure is felt by both the land, and the people, as users inhale the harmful smoke emissions of the three stone fire. Studies have shown and proven that this type of smoke contributes to an increase in respiratory health problems.
“Every time I used the three stone method to cook, my eyes would hurt, and my chest problems would worsen. Dizzy spells were a constant struggle as I tried to keep the fire going and have a meal prepared in good time, “ Esther Wambui from Hombe region, Sagana, says in a somber tone.
The health problems developed from using the three stone cooking method caused a strain on Esther Wambui’s productivity and her finances.
“I had to walk long distances just to get treatment at a hospital for my respiratory conditions because I couldn’t afford transport fare. A whole day would be wasted, when I could have been tending to my farm, selling my crops and making money to take care of my children.” Esther Wambui from Sagana region.
The Hongera Cookstove, is a scientifically designed energy efficient cookstove that helps solve this problem as well, with each stove contributing to an emissions reduction of 2.8 metric tons of carbon per year. We are executing a planned distribution of over 150,000 cookstoves.
“The Hongera Cookstove is a blessing that has changed my life for the better. I now have time to focus on growing and selling my crops, allowing me to earn an income and take care of my four children. Thank you Hongera,” Esther Wambui from Sagana region.
A Project for a Holistic Solution
The Hongera project spearheads a two pronged approach, specifically, tree and cookstove distribution, to address the root problem through Community Led Development Projects. One good example is the projects’ collaboration with Community Forest Associations (CFAs) who own and manage tree nurseries.
Existing CFAs-owned nurseries are contracted to supply tree seedlings as suppliers to The Hongera Project, alongside their sales to their own communities. In this way, we are able to nurture the creation of a self-sustaining community. Community Development Projects help remove the need to cut down trees for economic sustenance, and instead, teaches the community better ways to create income and grow.
“Working in partnership with Akili Group as a contracted nursery worker has diversified and increased my income stream. My financial health has significantly improved.” Lydia Wangeci, contracted farmer at Hombe Nursery.
This project seeks to create systematic change that can be felt over years to come, both nationally and internationally.
Harris, N., & Gibbs, D. (2021, January 21). Quantifying Carbon Fluxes in the World’s Forests. World Resources Institute. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.globalforestwatch.org/blog/climate/forests-carbon-emissions-sink-flux/
Harris, N., & Gibbs, D. (2021, January 21). Quantifying Carbon Fluxes in the World’s Forests. World Resources Institute. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.wri.org/insights/forests-absorb-twice-much-carbon-they-emit-each-year
John, E. (2022, October 2). . . – YouTube. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.eea.europa.eu/articles/forests-health-and-climate-change/key-facts/trees-help-tackle-climate-change
What Is Climate Change? | United Nations. (n.d.). the United Nations. Retrieved August 23, 2023, from https://www.un.org/en/climatechange/what-is-climate-change