How Harmonizing Conservation and Community Empowerment Can Secure Our Economic Future

Let’s take a break from the stress­ful pol­i­tics and protests to focus on some­thing clos­er to home — a riv­er near your vil­lage. If you’re over 30, you might remem­ber a time when that riv­er was clean­er. Per­haps you fished there or fetched drink­ing water. Today, that riv­er is much more pol­lut­ed, no longer sup­port­ing aquat­ic life or pro­vid­ing potable water.

Back in 2021, Water Wit­ness Inter­na­tion­al revealed that glob­al fast fash­ion brands were sig­nif­i­cant­ly pol­lut­ing African rivers. This under­scores how indus­tries are harm­ing our rivers, atmos­phere, and nat­ur­al resources, which affects bio­di­ver­si­ty and sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. This kind of pol­lu­tion is not just an envi­ron­men­tal issue but a social and eco­nom­ic one as well.

How can we in Kenya and across Africa tack­le such severe envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges to min­i­mize their social and eco­nom­ic consequences?

Last week in Nairo­bi, I attend­ed the Inter­na­tion­al Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature’s (IUCN) first-ever Africa Con­ser­va­tion Forum. Over 700 envi­ron­men­tal­ists, indus­tri­al­ists, and gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives from across Africa gath­ered to find answers. As a strong believ­er in pan-African­ism, I was thrilled to net­work and help devel­op major inter­ven­tions for pro­tect­ing our nature. I’ve grouped these solu­tions into four main areas.

First­ly, Africa’s envi­ron­men­tal chal­lenges can­not be solved by any sin­gle coun­try. Uni­fied, cross-sec­tor action is cru­cial. African coun­tries must col­lab­o­rate, shar­ing resources, knowl­edge, and strate­gies. For exam­ple, nations shar­ing riv­er basins must work togeth­er to ensure sus­tain­able water man­age­ment prac­tices ben­e­fit­ing all com­mu­ni­ties along the river’s course.

Sec­ond­ly, there is an urgent need to address the inter­twined crises of cli­mate change and bio­di­ver­si­ty loss. Farm­ers in parts of the low­er east­ern region of Ukam­bani have nev­er seen a mature maize cob due to errat­ic rain­fall over decades. Cli­mate change has sti­fled not just maize yield but bio­di­ver­si­ty. It’s time to take deci­sive action, boost­ing agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty and bio­di­ver­si­ty through sus­tain­able farm­ing practices.

Kenya’s Cab­i­net Sec­re­tary for Tourism and Wildlife, Dr. Mutua, empha­sized the impor­tance of trans­for­ma­tion­al change, urg­ing actions beyond rhetoric to deliv­er tan­gi­ble results. This call for imme­di­ate, inte­grat­ed actions reflects the urgency of the sit­u­a­tion. We must now move from plan to action.

Third­ly, agri­cul­ture, a major dri­ver of bio­di­ver­si­ty loss, was a sig­nif­i­cant theme at the forum. Par­tic­i­pants called for adopt­ing agroe­co­log­i­cal prac­tices and nature-based solu­tions that ben­e­fit both ecosys­tems and com­mu­ni­ties. In Kenya, we must adopt agro­forestry, which com­bines trees with agri­cul­ture to improve soil health, increase crop yields, and pro­vide farm­ers with addi­tion­al income.

Final­ly, the forum high­light­ed that any suc­cess­ful con­ser­va­tion strat­e­gy must pri­or­i­tize peo­ple, par­tic­u­lar­ly Indige­nous Peo­ples and local com­mu­ni­ties. For instance, wildlife con­ser­va­tion in Tsa­vo West Nation­al Park must address the need to boost sus­tain­able liveli­hoods for the Tai­ta com­mu­ni­ty liv­ing adja­cent to the park. As I always say, show an African per­son how to make mon­ey from trees, and they will grow those trees them­selves, with­out wait­ing for you to pro­vide seedlings. Empow­er­ing local com­mu­ni­ties through edu­ca­tion, train­ing, and finan­cial sup­port can fos­ter a sense of own­er­ship and respon­si­bil­i­ty towards con­ser­va­tion efforts.

In this regard, I sin­cere­ly urge the Pres­i­dent to deploy the Green Econ­o­my to jump-start Kenya’s econ­o­my. UNEP defines a green econ­o­my as low car­bon, resource-effi­cient, and social­ly inclu­sive. For exam­ple, tax incen­tives encour­ag­ing investors to set up region­al elec­tric car fac­to­ries will cre­ate thou­sands of new jobs for our youth and lessen pol­lu­tion. Such ini­tia­tives will also enhance the abil­i­ty of local cor­po­ra­tions to fund con­ser­va­tion projects, reduc­ing reliance on for­eign enti­ties that some­times impose ungod­ly conditions.

Africa needs to increase invest­ment in its nat­ur­al resources to strength­en its economies and soci­eties. The forum showed that busi­ness mod­els involv­ing women and youth are high­ly ben­e­fi­cial. Effec­tive con­ser­va­tion efforts require col­lab­o­ra­tion between gov­ern­ments, pri­vate sec­tors, and civ­il soci­ety, along with improved edu­ca­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Pub­lic edu­ca­tion on con­ser­va­tion and how to con­tribute is cru­cial for long-term success.

God gave us nature. If we become faith­ful stew­ards of this nature, it will give us sus­tain­able liveli­hoods. Think green, act green!

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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