Climate Change in Kenya is changing women’s lives

Ann Kobia Makena – WNN Features

Mother and son in Kenya desert
On July 16, 2011 a boy and his mother struggle with the dusty wind looking for water in Wajir, Kenya. This is the impact of climate change in Kenya. Experts say that through long range efforts with environmental conservation this scene could be improved. Image: Jervis Sundays/Kenya Red Cross Society/USAid

(WNN) Nairobi, KENYA, AFRICA: Under a swiftly shifting landscape in rural Kenya, climate change and its impacts have drastically changed numerous lives in the African nation of Kenya, especially for rural Kenyan pastoralists who depend almost exclusively on rainfall and adequate water supplies. Water in local ecosystems has been shifting as changes in local rivers, lakes and waterholes have been the deciding factor for numerous families who have moved away from home areas due to extreme drought.

With multi-dimensional roles as mothers, providers and often heads-of-households, women in rural areas of Kenya are also most often the managers of local on-the-ground natural resources. This is especially true for Kenya’s women farmers because of their reliance on nature and nature-based income sources. Women farmers in rural Kenya often hold the key to food security in the region.

The majority of the world’s small-scale farmers are women. In fact women produce most of the world’s food.

But climate change has made the risky business of farming all the more difficult. More frequent crop failures mean women work harder and families eat less.

“Climate change threatens to lock poor people and women in particular in a vicious cycle of poverty,” said Founder and Director of Kenya Climate Justice Women Champions Cecilia Kibe in a one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network.

As rural family incomes reach some of the lowest levels ever in Kenya, husbands have been leaving their homes to seek work in urban areas. Those left behind are women and children.

Often left alone to deal with climate based conditions, women and children are also the first in line to become the victims of climate unpredictability and wrath. Drought and flash floods have become part of the national landscape that have caused critical changes in the lives of those most vulnerable.

“Droughts cause more death and displacement than cyclones, floods and earthquakes combined, making them the world’s most destructive natural hazard. They are expected to increase in frequency, area and intensity due to climate change. There is therefore an urgent need for coordinated drought and proactive policies,” said Michel Jarraud of the World Meteorological Organization during the recent March 2013 High-Level Meeting on National Drought Policy organized by the United Nations in Geneva.

Instability in rainfall has been causing regional concern as prolonged and increasing expansion of deserts throughout the African continent continue. This issue is at the heart of the March 2013 UN High Level Meeting. But how are the women farmers and pastoralists of Kenya dealing directly with climate changes inside their region?

“Women are at the centre of [the] climate change challenge; they have been disproportionately affected as victims,” outlines Director Kibe of Kenya.

“It is more difficult for grassroots women who find themselves managing families in very strenuous circumstances where traditional livelihoods are under threat and where men are often absent,” Kibe adds.

Agriculture is the main economic stimulus for Kitui County in the eastern region of Kenya. With its arid and semi-arid ecological zones impacts on the environment under climate are glaring and threatening the survival of small-scale farmers and agri-pastoralists, a majority who are women.

A diverse array of impacts has been hitting the Kenyan region including increasing water scarcity, erratic and unreliable rainfall, more frequent and severe droughts and disappearance of animal and plant species, among others.

As women farmers throughout Kenya try to survive their small-scale agribusinesses growing maize, peas, beans, and cow pea crops are being greatly impacted. According to the USDA- U.S. Department of Agriculture corn production for Kenya is down 100,000 metric tons this year over the previous year’s production, although it is showing above the five year average for production.

“The estimated decrease in production is based on several factors including delayed planting due to the late onset of Kenya’s 2012 rainy season and poor availability of fertilizer and seed, higher than average precipitation in April and May, and an outbreak of Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) disease,” says the USDA as indications that rainfall changes are causing alterations in food production become apparent.

Other women farmers who are involved in raising chicken and zebu cattle. Some women in Kitui County are closely involved with livelihoods that work directly to serve the community. This service includes fiber-sisal farming, gathering and selling of water and/or selling of wood and charcoal.

Because of their reliance on nature–based income sources, rural women in Kenya are often the ones who know first, before anyone else, how climate change impacts are affecting their communities. Uniting , amplifying and strengthening grassroots women to get involved in the climate change response is a core focus of Cecilia Kibe and the Kenya climate Justice Women Champions.

Too often Kenyan women, and women throughout the continent of Africa, who have closely witnessed climate patterns for decades are ‘stepped over’ as global scientific experts are given new and increasing resources to study and discuss climate change impacts worldwide. There is no doubt today that data and assessment are important factors in an ever changing field of climate-watch technologies but “Where are the women?” say advocates.

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