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Shaping a Just World

16.12.2022

Kenyan woman changing the lives of women and girls by working towards climate resilience

Climate Tracker journalist Hellen Shikanda on a conversation with Kenyan activist Monica Yator.

 

By: Hellen Shikanda

Monica Yator left Baringo in Kenya for Egypt with her heart full of hope. She is in Sharm el-Sheikh for the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) to highlight the need for inclusion of women and girls, especially those from the indigenous communities, in the climate agenda. In Baringo, where she lives, her community has experienced its fair share of the impacts of climate change—specifically, flash floods and droughts.

Baringo is located in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The lakes there, including Lake Baringo, have been rising, causing disruption of livelihoods and displacement of people. Last year, a team of experts released a report entitled Rising Water Levels in Kenya’s Rift Valley Lakes, Turkwel Gorge Dam and Lake Victoria, which linked climate change to the rising lake levels. One of the main explanations for the rising water levels is »hydro-meteorological variables due to climate change that have led to increased moisture availability as seen in the rainfall data and discharge of the rivers feeding the lakes. There is also increased soil in runoff occasioned by land use changes which have increasingly added to the siltation of the lakes as seen in the sediment load in the rivers«, said the report. Other reports show that, as a consequence, around 400,000 people were displaced from their homes. While Yator, who comes from Marigat in Baringo County, was lucky not to have been one of these people, many of her agroecology trainees were in fact displaced.

»I train women and girls on agroecology to help them become resilient to climate change. My community is known for keeping livestock. Most of the time, it is the men that own the animals and take care of them. When the livestock are ready for the market, it is the men who take the money. My training empowers women because I feel like they are left behind. We can’t keep on depending on men when we can do things on our own,« Yator told Climate Tracker. »I realized that women spend most of their time at home and so I decided to take advantage of that, helping them to use the farmland that they have with a specific focus on organic farming. In Baringo, we either have long spells of drought or flash floods. Recently, we were also affected by the rising lakes and some of the people I train had to move to higher ground. Since some land in Baringo still belongs to the community, they had to squeeze into other people’s homesteads and that derailed the plan of equipping women and girls with new skills,« she added.

 Yator, who is the founder of the Indigenous Women and Girls Initiative uses her knowledge of agroecology to train the women and girls in Baringo County so that they have an alternative source of livelihood. One of the techniques she teaches them is »double digging«. She explains that double digging involves removing the topsoil layer by exposing the subsoil, breaking it up and then adding organic matter and finally replacing the topsoil that had initially been removed. »Double digging is a gardening technique used to increase soil drainage and aeration. It is typically done when cultivating soil in a new garden or when deep topsoil is required,« she adds.

 Because the area is prone to flash floods, she also teaches another technique called swales. »Swales, also known as bioretention, filter or infiltration strips, are broad, grass channels used to treat stormwater runoff. They direct and slow stormwater across grass or similar ground cover and through the soil. They follow the contours around the base of a natural or created slope, redirecting stormwater and filtering runoff as it sinks into the soil, instead of keeping it in one place, like a rain garden,« she explained.

 The trainees mostly plant crops that mature more quickly, such as arrow roots and potatoes. Yator also encourages them to plant indigenous trees that help in carbon sequestration. »This training has helped women to embrace agroecology as an alternative source of livelihood. These days, they have no time to go and fetch firewood which destroys the forest cover. With the organic kitchen gardens that they now have, the market is also expanding and they are empowered to earn their own money. I have also noticed that teenage pregnancy has declined in my community. Here at COP27, I ask leaders to move out of the boardrooms and work with people at grass-root levels to inspire action towards resilience in climate change adaptation,« she said.

 

Hellen Shikanda is a health and science journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya. Her story portfolio expands from Ebola, drought, fossil fuels, climate financing, to threat faced by birds globally. Graduated with a BSc in Communication and Journalism from Moi University in Kenya, she had attended a Nation Media Lab Traineeship in Multimedia Journalism from Aga Khan University.


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