Can literacy lessen climate change impacts in Eastern Kenya?

Caroline Wambui – WNN Earth Watch

Eastern Kenya boys in tree
Boys play in a tree in Kutui village in Eastern Kenya in an area where much of the farm crops were destroyed by drought and climate change in 2008. Image: Shortie66/Flickr

(WNN/PSM) Nairobi, KENYA, AFRICA: The wrath of climate change affects both those who well understand what this phenomenon is and those who do not.  During the Millennium summit in the year 2000, 189 countries signed the Millennium development goals (MDG) in New York. There was a growing understanding that poverty, development, and climate change are intertwined.

Efforts for economic and social development have been largely successful but have been countered by natural disasters such as famine, hurricanes and tsunamis all relating to climate change. There seemed to be a resolve to increase understanding of these problems, their causes and also to improve chances of innovation for adaptation. The second of the seven MDG’s is to achieve universal primary school education by 2015. That is a short three years from now and it would be inaccurate to report this as having been achieved in many parts of the world.

The saying that ignorance is bliss might not apply in every situation. Sometimes, lack of education and ignorance is a big factor that exacerbate impacts of climate change. In the hills of Iveti, in Eastern Kenya, electricity, internet and smartphones are as peculiar as a crown on a bull’s head. This is where we met the innocent face of little Mumo.

He is a standard 4 pupil which is equivalent to level 4 in elementary school but knows not of climate change. Mumo is oblivious of the increasing temperatures that force his mother to stay up all night queuing to fetch water or the recent erratic flooding that has hit the area since our visit a month ago, due to changing climatic patterns.

He helps in the farm every year in picking coffee beans during the harvest season but has no idea what happens to it afterwards. Maybe they use the coffee to make necklaces, furniture or for making dresses. He really does not know.  This is common in his village where although they plant coffee, many have never had the luxury of drinking a cup of processed coffee. However, Mumo’s family doesn’t care either since needs in the village are more basic than that.

With just one primary school in this area, Mumo walks seven kilometers everyday to get the free primary education offered by the government. The ratio of teachers to pupil is 1:60 and there has never been a library in the only school in the area.

Coping with illiteracy by 2015 is a goal that will erode with time if these conditions continue as deplorable as they are. Going to school, for these children and many in rural Kenya means that they will not be married early. They also get to learn new crafts like weaving, modeling or carving that earn their families income.

Villagers of Iveti have learned strategies to protect soil and water by mulching, terracing, and filling up shallow channels with stones to prevent soil erosion. This is done through visits from officers from the Ministry of Agriculture. More so, children are taught agriculture as one of the subjects in primary school. These tactics have enabled families to fed for themselves and have enough surpluses that are sold to earn income. Mumo’s family makes almost $70- $250 per month from the sale of vegetables which enables the father to go to buy books and also cloth the family.

As 2015 draws near, illiteracy levels in the small community of Iveti remains high. Mumo still walks 7km to get basic primary education. In doing so, he is learning life skills and in little ways, adaptation strategies to impacts of climate change such as drip irrigation when water is scarce and is able to pass this knowledge to his family. Increasing efforts for literacy could go along way in helping the people of Iveti and their future generations adapt to the wrath of frequent and harsh drought and floods attributable to climate change. More children like Mumo could be reached and more families could earn that much needed income to sustain themselves and in doing so, be able to cope with changing climate patterns.


Caroline Wambui is the Team Leader for Soluions for Survival’s Team Kenya. Caroline is also an environmental science graduate from Kenyatta University, Kenya. She is a keen environmentalist with a specific interest in climate change, and is currently undertaking her masters in Environmental Sciences, water and aquatic systems.


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