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In east Africa, farmers see drought as “a consequence of human action”

In east Africa, farmers see drought as “a consequence of human action”

A side event during the UN climate change conference in Bonn. ©Sean Hawkey/WCC

05 December 2017

By Fredrick Nzwili*

In east Africa, some good rains in October and November 2017 have created hope for communities recovering from several months of severe drought.

The people’s struggle against the extreme effects of climate change presents a compelling case for global action. Now, many here hope the rains can help them compensate for the prolonged drought that has depleted livestock and food reserves, resulting in escalating food prices and great suffering.

Only a few months ago, farmers watched extreme temperatures destroy crops, deplete water sources and scorch grazing fields.

“The rains are a great relief. We are planting and we hope the rainy season will last long enough,” said Muthusi Maluu, a small-scale farmer in Machakos, eastern Kenya. “As you can see, we are yet to recover from the impact of the last drought.”

He explains that the seasons have become unpredictable, sometimes with rain falling for a few days and then disappearing as the crops germinate. This view is corroborated by many ordinary citizens in Kenya and other parts of eastern Africa.

“We learn in seminars that this has to do with climate change, a consequence of human action,” says Rose Mutie, another small farmer in the region.

These Kenyan farmers - like millions of others elsewhere in Africa - are often hurt by excessive floods, droughts and other extreme weather conditions linked to climate change. Damages to their livelihoods often leave many people in need of humanitarian assistance.

“We are compelled to educate our congregations about all aspects of their lives. I think there is enough evidence already,” said Rev. Joseph Njakai, an archdeacon in the Mt. Kenya West Anglican Diocese.

Prof. Jesse Mugambi, professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Nairobi, observes: “The current ecological crisis is, above all, a crisis of applied ethics. There is too much leadership without ethics, and too much moralizing without leadership.”

Mugambi, also an ecologist, is a member of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Working Group on Climate Change.

Beyond the global action, he urges local communities to plant more trees, undertake more adaptive farming methods and engage in activities that collect, harvest, store and conserve as much water as available every season.

There must be political will on the part of both the powerful and the powerless, to change the status quo, according the ecologist.

“If during every dry season, dams are excavated for harvesting rain runoff, enough would be collected for the next dry season,” said Mugambi. “Such a cycle repeated over several decades, coupled with ecological rehabilitation, would convert Africa from a food-deficit region to a food-surplus region.”

Learn more about the WCC work on Care for Creation and Climate Justice

* Fredrick Nzwili is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya.