Seeking alternative solutions to climate disasters

Youths in Mwea, Kirinyaga County carbonising rice hasks to produce biochar fertiliser, which is extremely rich in nutrients and good for rebuilding the soil. 


What you need to know:

  • These women from Gem, Ugunja, and Alego Usonga sub-counties in Siaya have emerged as pioneers in securing their families' food needs and achieving financial independence.
  • They made a collective decision to shift from relying solely on maize, a crop that was failing due to climate change.

When Anyango Ahenda lost her husband in 2021, her world crumbled, and the idea of becoming the sole breadwinner for her family seemed terrifying. “I felt overwhelming pain, hopelessness, and emotional turmoil. Our society's patriarchal norms dictate that women shouldn't farm or plant trees. I couldn't foresee how my family would cope with food insecurity,” says Ahenda, the founder of Aloro Widows Group in Siaya County.

However, her life took a positive turn when she joined forces with 20 women groups associated with the Siaya Muungano Network. This network operates under the Voice for Just Climate Action (VCA) programme in Kenya, supporting locally-led climate change solutions for women, youth and vulnerable groups. These women from Gem, Ugunja, and Alego Usonga sub-counties in Siaya have emerged as pioneers in securing their families' food needs and achieving financial independence.

They made a collective decision to shift from relying solely on maize, a crop that was failing due to climate change. Instead, they embraced a range of traditional African crops known for their resilience during drought conditions. Crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, sorghum, finger millet and local vegetables like black nightshade became the backbone of their agricultural practices. Ahenda shares, “A friend invited me to a training session on empowerment and climate change awareness. After the sessions, I defied societal norms that forbade women from farming and began cultivating diverse crops.

”This transformation allowed her not only to provide for her family's needs but also to advocate for widows' rights throughout the county. Ahenda’s story weaves directly into a new movement – the Global Tapestry of Alternatives (GTA) – which seeks to build bridges between networks of alternatives around the globe and promote the creation of new processes of confluence.“The world is facing multiple crises,” said Dr Vasna Ramasar, associate senior lecturer in the Division of Human Ecology, Department of Human Geography and a Research Affiliate at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies in Sweden. She is a member of the GTA core team.

“The world is faced with climate collapse, biodiversity loss, loss of livelihoods, war and conflict in many regions, levels of inequality that are the highest in history, diseases and epidemics, authoritarian and dictatorial regimes replacing democratic ones alongside growing hyper-nationalistic trends, various forms of neo-colonialism, and we must look for alternative solutions,” she said.

Ramasar was addressing journalists when GTA met Kenyan civil society organisations during its first assembly that took place in Nanyuki, bringing together participants from 25 countries across the world to discuss alternative solutions to the existing crises. According to David Karanja, the training coordinator at the Organic Agriculture Centre of Kenya, Kenya is an agricultural country, but farmers have always grappled with buying expensive fertilisers, farm inputs, and seeds.

“Instead of the government spending billions of shillings on subsidies of imported fertilisers, it should take an alternative route to invest in massive production of effective organic fertilisers such as bokashi, biochar among others,” he said. He noted that many organisations across the country are now able to produce effective environment-friendly fertilisers for commercial purposes, and they are far cheaper than subsidised synthetic fertilisers.

“With the right policies and political goodwill, this can be turned into a huge industry to generate employment, protect the environment and improve food security,” he said. Martin Muriuki, the executive director at the Institute for Culture and Ecology, noted that the use of indigenous knowledge can be a perfect alternative to adapting to climate change and protecting biodiversity among other things. “We have evidence that indigenous knowledge works and this should be brought on board as an alternative way of handling and adapting to the impacts of climate change,” he said.

Simon Mitambo, the founder of Society for Alternative Learning and Transformation, believes in the philosophy of connecting people back with nature. “We have to stop looking at plants and animals as natural resources and by doing so, the flora and fauna will naturally deliver ecosystem services to humanity,” said Mitambo.

He noted that in many communities, most elders never went to school, and so, most people look at them as illiterate “But the truth is that these elders are very eco-literate, and therefore very resourceful,” he said. His organisation therefore brings elders to a space where they feel they know something, and they have a story to tell that can be appreciated as an alternative way of mining knowledge. Organisations like Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), which have made significant progress in enhancing food production across the continent, have also been persuaded to look at other alternatives in the new strategy so as to address emerging challenges to leverage on the gains made so far.

The new strategy that runs from 2023 to 2027 has been tuned to respond to recent global and African catastrophes including famine, Covid-19, drought, fall armyworms, climate change, soaring food, fertiliser and energy prices, and the conflict in Ukraine.“We have demonstrated that when farmers have access to choices of inputs (such as appropriate seeds and fertilisers) and when those inputs give a clear yield, differential farmers adopt and their lives change, and this only happens sustainably when markets are available to the farmers,” said Dr Agnes Kalibata, AGRA’s president during the launch of the new strategy.

She noted that the strategy will see AGRA do more of what works for farmers and that it will help her organisation understand markets better. “In all this, we must bring more youth, more nutrition and be smarter in the use of environmental resources,” said Kalibata. “The world is standing on the abyss of collapse,” said Ramasar, noting that collective, solidarity-based action across the world could help pull it back, and take in a different direction of peace, equality, and ecological harmony.

Back in Siaya, Rose Omondi recalls her journey, where she initially faced resistance from her husband when seeking land to plant crops. However, she found an alternative by secretly obtaining land from a friend and successfully cultivating sorghum. This act eventually won her husband's approval to plant trees in their compound.

To bolster their livelihoods further, the women have diversified their income streams by raising chickens, goats, sheep and pigs. This strategy allows them to sell animals in case of poor harvests, providing them with an alternative source of livelihood. According to Ramasar, 60 per cent of the world is fed by subsistence farmers like the Aloro Widows Group. “In Africa, we have our own solutions, we have the knowledge, we have the seeds and everything we need in order to make our continent a perfect place to live,” said the South Africa-born academician and activist.