By George Achia

When Kenfrey Katui completed his studies from Moi University in 2010 at the age of 26, little did he know he would venture into a totally different field from his area of study at University.

As a Sociology graduate, Kenfrey was at a crossroad on how he would put the skills and knowledge he had acquired from the University into use, given that, this was not initially his study area of interest and the limited availability of job in the field.

“When I applied for the University courses after completing my high school, I had a lot of interest in pursuing accountancy related courses. In fact, Sociology was the last course in my selection list. Fortunately, or unfortunately, that was the course I was offered to study,” he nonchalantly recalls.

Kenfrey’s case is not peculiar. Most Kenyan students have found themselves studying courses they never applied for, thanks to the then Kenya Universities Joint Admissions Board (JAB)’s random placement of courses to students.

But his turning point on what he would do with his after-campus life was very quick, and not as a surprise to him.

“While growing up, I have witnessed forests around me get destroyed, watching the beauty of our land deteriorate and the future of our children threatened as a result,” he recalls, adding that “the wild fruits I enjoyed as a child are fast disappearing, our air is becoming dirtier every new day and I am not sure if the next generation will even have a shade.”

To him, this was a pressing issue that needed an intervention, immediately.

He adds that the current state of the environment around his community after his graduation, and even way before that, after massive destruction and the urgency to preserve and regenerate the natural environment and improve the communities’ resilience to poverty and climate change, necessitated the establishment of Saving and Conservation of Our Planet Earth Intervention (Scope Intervention).

Scope Intervention is a youth-led organization founded in 2012 by Kenfrey, now 35 years old with a son, to promote community based environmental conservation initiatives, fight climate change, improve communities’ resilience to climate change, fight poverty and empower communities to be drivers of their own destiny.

Community engagement and education led by Scope Intervention on importance of environmental conservation

“There was a need to empower local people as a way of building sustainable societies. As a young man growing in this area, I saw the need to promote collective responsibility in safeguarding our environment,” he says.

Growing up in the slopes of Kerio river in Elgeyo-Marakwet County, one of the 47 Counties in Kenya, Kenfrey knew that what was laying ahead was adaunting task, something he was ready to face.

At the time, the impact of climate change was already being felt across the globe, with developing countries like Kenya starting to feel the heat.

Like everywhere else, impact of climate change in Kenya is perhaps the most considerable environmental challenge of our time, affecting ecosystems, water and food resources and health among others. The adverse effects on the Kenyan landscape have been witnessed with increased rainfall and droughts and destruction of environment.

Land and environmental degradation is one of the most serious challenges affecting the Kenya, causing an estimated annual economic loss of $390 million (Sh38.9 billion) or three per cent of the GDP.

Further, degradation of water catchment areas due to human settlement, agricultural activities, and encroachments has had huge impacts on environmental conservation efforts.

Environmental and climate change experts agree that forests have important environmental benefits including the conservation of water catchment areas, and also act as carbon sinks. This mitigates against, and provides adaptation to climate change.

“Climate change has been felt in the level of rainfall amounts and variability and the seasons for the rains have changed with drought seasons becoming more frequent. Deforestation of Kenya’s water towers has had negative effects on the economy because the country depends directly on the eco-system,” explains Prof. Shem Wandiga, climate change expert and a lecturer at the University of Nairobi.

Prof. Wandiga notes that the importance of environmental conservation and the management of natural resources in steering the socio-economic development of the economy can’t be gainsaid. 

With a starting gear in the name of Scope Intervention, Kenfrey was out to address some of these environmental challenges as a result of climate change in five neighbouring counties of Nakuru, Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Uasin Gishu, Narok and Nandi.  

His organization works at community level to fight climate change and promote socio-economic development.

“We employ human rights and responsibilities approach in building a safe and sustainable planet; a model that recognises responsibilities the local communities have towards their environment, while promoting protection of human rights and justice,” says Kenfrey.

Since establishment of Scope Intervention, the organisation has pioneered some innovative adaptation measures in his community and those that border it to help combat effects of climate change.

Some of the adaptation solution he has initiated include Rehabilitation of Mau Forest Complex and Water Towers by adopting 100 Ha of the forest for rehabilitation. This effort has saved the Mau Forest from depletion.

Mau forest is the largest remaining indigenous forest in Kenya, covering over 400,000 hectares, and is the largest of the country’s five water towers as well as the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem.

The complex forms part of the upper water catchment area and it is the catchment source for Lake Victoria and the White Nile. It also has numerous rivers originating from it which carry Mau’s waters throughout western Kenya from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Natron in the south.

The forest provides invaluable ecological services, in terms of river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, recharge of groundwater, reduced soil erosion and siltation, water purification and promoting biodiversity.

“To curb the destruction of Mau Forest, we partnered with the government of Kenya through Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the local community including local Community Forest Association and other groups to adopt 100 Hectares for rehabilitation in 2015,” says Kenfrey

He adds that the adoption involves planting of the trees and talking care of them until they can survive on their own.

So far, they have planted over 100,000 trees within the 100 adopted ha with both indigenous and exotic species. Further, Scope Intervention is also building the capacity of the local community in sustainable forest management and helping them adopt alternative sources of livelihoods that will promote the conservation of the forest.

‘Fruit and Tree Project’ is another innovative initiative being implemented by Scope Intervention in the area. It is designed to improve the state of environment while improving their livelihoods and nutrition.

The project is being implemented through schools in Baringo County, one of the counties highly vulnerable to effects of climate change. It involves donation of fruit tree seedlings for establishment of fruit tree farms in the schools and enhancing the capacity of school going children to initiate and promote environmental conservation initiatives in their schools and homes.

School going children take part in tree planting exercise as part of the partnership between Scope Intervention and schools in Baringo County

“In the long run, the fruit trees planted will help improve the state of the environment, reduce greenhouse gas emission, yield fresh locally grown fruits that will be a supplemental source of nutrition to our school and the surrounding communities and also provide income when sold,” says John Tarus, the head teacher of Lolotorok primary school, one of the schools implementing the project.

Through Scope Climate Leadership Program, says Tarus, the organization has empowered school children and communities with necessary skills to help in the fight against climate change.

Though, lately, Scope Intervention has been facing some challenges hindering success, Gladys Cheruiyot, the communication and advocacy officer at the Scope Intervention says that significant progress has been achieved in terms of restoring environment in the Kenya’s six counties.

Our biggest challenge is funding. We can do a lot more in terms of tree planting and improving capacities of the local communities in environmental conservation if we can access more financial support and bring on board more partners to support these efforts.

These efforts have gone a long way to support Kenya’s government initiatives to upscale afforestation and re-afforestation efforts in order to increase tree cover and subsequently enhance carbon sinks. This is in a bid to bring forest cover nationally to the 10 percent minimum required by the United Nations from the current 7 per cent.

Such youth-led solutions have demonstrated that youth-led and community-based initiatives are making tremendous contribution in the fight against climate change which mainly impacts heavily on local communities including mothers and children. These initiatives should be able to cushion the country against the vagaries of a changing climate both in the short term and long term.

This story was supported by InfoNile with funding from the CIVICUS Goalkeepers Youth Action Accelerator.