Environment

Why Our Environmental Conservation Efforts Must Have a Human Face

My peace­ful New Year’s break in my vil­lage in Kitui, was abrupt­ly inter­rupt­ed by the relent­less roar of a chain­saw. The sound per­sist­ed for hours, spark­ing my curios­i­ty. On a quick bike ride to inves­ti­gate, I dis­cov­ered the rea­son, Mama Kamene. In a des­per­ate attempt to raise her son’s school fees of Ksh 52,000, she was strug­gling with a faulty chain­saw to cut down numer­ous indige­nous trees. Her plan was to sell fire­wood to a near­by sec­ondary school. But the school’s offer, I learnt, was only Sh8,000 per truck­load, and Mama Kamene would still need to spend half of it on trans­port cost and a few fur­ther expens­es on the chain­saw oper­a­tor and the cre­ation of a way leave for trac­tor access. She, there­fore, need­ed to make at least four­teen trips to cov­er her son’s out­stand­ing fees. Oth­er­wise, the Form Four can­di­date risked being sent home, or not report­ing at all.

Trag­i­cal­ly, when I fol­lowed up with her yes­ter­day, Mama Kamene’s sit­u­a­tion had wors­ened. The school had just informed her that they had an over­sup­ply of fire­wood and could not accept her con­sign­ment in lieu of school fees, leav­ing her son’s edu­ca­tion in limbo.

As a pas­sion­ate envi­ron­men­tal­ist, I was, no doubt, dis­turbed by the sheer sight of s indige­nous trees going down. But the real­i­ty of Mama Kamene’s sto­ry remind­ed me of what many nature lovers are increas­ing­ly com­ing to terms with the need to address the real dri­vers of envi­ron­men­tal destruc­tion rather than just the symptoms.

First, the plight of Mama Kamene and a third of Kenyans liv­ing in pover­ty, demon­strates the urgent need to pro­vide sus­tain­able liveli­hoods for every Kenyan since pover­ty results in envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion and envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion in turn results in poverty.

Sec­ond­ly, it is crit­i­cal to address the demand side of this fire­wood busi­ness. With about 10,500 sec­ondary schools his­tor­i­cal­ly using this source of ener­gy as the cheap­est cook­ing option, there will always be a large num­ber of Kenyans seek­ing to sup­ply the same. Pres­i­dent Ruto’s direc­tive for schools to switch to cook­ing gas by 2025, sup­port­ed by addi­tion­al fund­ing of Kshs 500 mil­lion from the Nation­al Assem­bly, is a sig­nif­i­cant step in the right direc­tion. This ini­tia­tive should be fol­lowed up to ensure it actu­al­ly begins to make a dif­fer­ence on the ground.

Fur­ther, The Finance Act of 2023 zero-rat­ed LPG (cook­ing gas) to low­er its prices, but these prices haven’t dropped as expect­ed, forc­ing schools to con­tin­ue using fire­wood. Such dis­con­nect between pol­i­cy for­mu­la­tion and imple­men­ta­tion is prac­ti­cal­ly repli­cat­ed in var­i­ous oth­er fields of our econ­o­my lead­ing to fur­ther neg­a­tive effects such as Cli­mate Change.

To address these gaps, I sug­gest that gov­ern­ment poli­cies be drawn with a human face. Pol­i­cy­mak­ers need to thor­ough­ly under­stand the root caus­es of the issues they seek to resolve. With­out this, the poli­cies risk being self-defeating.

Learn­ing Insti­tu­tions on the oth­er hand, as cen­ters of knowl­edge, need to be aware of the envi­ron­men­tal impact of their actions and take proac­tive steps. They shouldn’t just wait for poli­cies to low­er cook­ing fuel prices, for exam­ple, but active­ly advo­cate for their cre­ation and imple­men­ta­tion. The 5,000 Pub­lic board­ing schools in the coun­try should lead this advo­ca­cy for more afford­able cook­ing gas. They can fol­low the exam­ple of Unyaa Pri­ma­ry School in Kitui, which uses bio­gas instead of fire­wood. My expe­ri­ence with the Kenya Water Tow­ers Agency, spon­sor­ing their bio­gas set­up, shows that fund­ing for such clean cook­ing solu­tions is fea­si­ble. Accord­ing­ly, I encour­age cor­po­ra­tions to invest their social respon­si­bil­i­ty funds in estab­lish­ing bio­gas infra­struc­ture in schools, uti­liz­ing the abun­dant resource of human and ani­mal waste for a sus­tain­able fuel source.

Mean­while, I pray to God Almighty to enable me to pay for Kamene’s son School fees as he reports to school for a cru­cial year. By the way, just like many of your neigh­bors she also has oth­er school going chil­dren. Make your prayer too. Think green, act green!

 

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Founder and Chair­per­son of Green Africa Foun­da­tion, an orga­ni­za­tion that was found­ed in the year 2000 that cham­pi­ons Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment in Africa.

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