Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network holds a youth consultation meeting in Kakamega

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2020 is perceived as the super year for biodiversity and nature, owing to the repeated calls for urgent solutions to the current global climate crisis. With the continued rise in global temperatures, unprecedented loss of biodiversity, and the risk of losing many species of plants and animals due to related extinction, 2020 provides an excellent and probably the last opportunity for relevant stakeholders to implement nature-based solutions and lay down viable policies that will reverse the trends, sustain humanity, and guarantee the future of our planet.

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Young Kenyans have not been left behind in this realization-many of them agree that a youth-centered approach is vital if governments and other stakeholders are to achieve the much-needed stabilization of our ecosystems whose services humans depend on for survival.  The Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN Kenya), a chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (www.gybn.org) convened in Kakamega from 18th to 20th February 2020 to discuss the provisions of the Zero Draft document of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). As a crucial part of the policy formulation process, the perspectives of young environmentalists play an important role in shaping the future of conservation. It is encouraging to see that the Convention of Biological Diversity allows input from different role-players, including youth.

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Since 2018, the Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network has been holding consultation meetings aimed at documenting input from young people at grass-root level in various parts of the country, with the policy statements being forwarded for consideration by the CBD. Some of the aspects the youth have considered to be of significant impact in shaping the post-2020 global biodiversity framework include gender, human rights, inter-generational equity, wild animal welfare, nature-based solutions, and inter-generational knowledge. The youth hope that the next framework of the Convention will see increased action and support to achieve more than the outgoing Aichi targets.

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During the Kakamega meeting, which also saw the participants visit the soothing Kakamega Forest, and home to several endemic species including the African Grey parrots, the following was discussed:

  • While some of the topics GYBN Kenya had proposed in its earlier submissions to the CBD, such as inter-generational equity, gender, human rights, and active engagement of local and indigenous communities in conservation were highlighted in the text, it was evident that some aspects were still missing and/or needed an emphasizing language.
  • In some discussions, heated debates and controversies arose from topics such as the legalization of hunting as a sustainable way of utilization of natural resources.
  • Young people also feel that the youth agenda needed more emphasis to be placed on capacity-building, youth-focused innovation and incubation centers for conservation, and provision of sufficient resources for youth-led action on conservation, if the next framework is to be successful.

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  • The issue of carbon emissions was also discussed deeply, with young people expressing the need for countries to urgently cut on the current huge emissions by increasing the 2030 targets to considerable percentages (above 80%), streamlining national policies to be in line with the global targets. Legislation and funding that reduce carbon emissions by more than 50% by 2030 and zero net emissions (climate neutrality) by 2050 should be put into effect.

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  • It was also proposed that a national scientific body be formulated by the relevant stakeholders (including youth) to oversee the implementation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework.
  • An emphasis on private sector engagement, the contribution of all sectors to the post-2020 global goals, and streamlining conservation in national priorities.
  • Companies should align their climate targets with post-2020 goals. Companies should also provide comprehensive reports on the climate-related risks they face, and how they can work with the Convention to effectively address them.
  • Support to local communities and indigenous people should be elaborate, specific, and enhanced. People should be made aware of the critical importance of ecosystem health and be offered support, resources, enabling policy, and collaboration opportunities with the governments, civil society, and all relevant stakeholders.

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  • Youth-led and youth-inclusive nature-based solutions that support the post-2020 global biodiversity targets should be supported by enabling policy and adequate funding.
  • Countries should consider the declaration of a global climate emergency and mobilize all stakeholders (including youth) and other enabling factors to address the crisis.

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  • To enhance sustainable production and consumption, a target on related awareness and advocacy should be made more specific and ambitious. The target should also be expanded to included due diligence in supply chains ensure human rights and environmental impacts are monitored and evaluated.
  • Investments in nature should be increased. Nature protection should not hinder economic growth but must provide an opportunity to improve livelihoods, create employment, and sustain life.

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Environmental Responsibility; A business imperative or a moral obligation?

WWF forest resembling human lungs/photo by World Wildlife Fund.

So, the last time I went to the streets advocating for conscious consumption patterns and environmental stewardship-one of my friends, Anna,-with a peal of sarcastic laughter, asked me, “Sasa hii kitu unalipwa tenga ngapi?”-(So, how many dimes are you getting paid for this stuff?). I had not expected such a question from her. It made me giggle, and equally replied, “Not much, it’s self-employment”. With this response, she exclaimed and said  “Apana bestie mimi siwezi weka bidii kwa kitu silipwi alaaah!” – (No my friend, I simply cannot put in efforts where I’m not getting paid). With this shocker from my best friend, I shuddered.

This short conversation it formed one of the best lessons I have learned from the conservation front- money is a great obstructor to conservation efforts, especially in this maniac age. Should conservation be monetized? Do people understand the in-depth value of physical and non-physical incentives derived from conservation? Could this be sustained if monetary compensation was realized? If so, how do we convert conservation gains into tangible monetary values that people can easily identify with?

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While mining companies such as Coal Extraction plants have converted viable ecosystems into money points, there must be a way of changing perspectives of people to start viewing nature otherwise. Not all that generates money is profitable- the longterm detrimental effects of climate change, induced by mining, for instance, has far-reaching consequences.  It no longer surprises me when locals expect monetary compensation for things as simple as picking up litter they spilled! With the fast-changing world, there is an urgent need to connect every single dot. The connection between waste collection and employment creation through innovative recycling mechanisms is one we cannot afford to ignore. Besides, we must realize efficient policies that inculcate conservation into the natural systems of operation at homes and work, in private and in public. The provision of waste collection points alone can no longer be justified as a sustainable solution. People must be empowered to know the source and end-point of wastes, and the underlying value in living green. In a passionate conservation world, it will no longer be necessary to entice people with handouts and lunches to attend tree-growing exercises.

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With diminishing natural resources and ever-increasing populations, the conversation on sustainable production and consumption patterns and habits is one we must have.  Time is up for stakeholders to understand the need for more disruptive methods of food production, ethical processing methods, and acceptable levels of consumption.  I yearn for a day Kenya will have an effective policy framework that will drastically reduce if not eliminate the current circles of unbelievable food wastes! Kenya’s bad production, processing, and consumption patterns are not only seeing us dash down the climate crisis road, but creating an enormous imbalance between production and consumption.

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We love life- and that is perfectly okay. Unfortunately, most of us would die protecting our own lives than the source that gives us the right to live. A shift in mindset is very imminent.  If only we started thinking about how we can conserve the sources of our water than where we will get the next drop, if we thought of restoring ecosystems to revive productivity than continuous food aid campaigns, if we thought about preventing riverbank encroachment and related pollution than water purifiers- we would have attained a higher level of global sustainability and unmatched conservation liberation. Can we start thinking in the reverse order?

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There is an urgent need to shift from the current bribery of conservation to committed and incentivised protection of our natural systems, and to a large extent, our being. I’d regard handouts as the highest form of bribery for pledging allegiance to the commitment of taking action towards reversing trends of the climate crisis we are experiencing.   A reversed way of thinking places the benefits at the end, which is the right order-that we have to sustainably manage first before we reap the goodies, which can be translated into monetary value. The link between conservation and economic growth is quite clear.

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The good thing-we do not pay for most of the natural benefits of natural endowment. Bad thing- we expect compensation for taking part in the conservation agenda.  Environmental conservation is a full-time job and the person who has made it a part-time job hasn’t completely done their part. See, if everyone did what is supposed to be done-planting a tree, not littering or picking up litter, refusing disposables, reusing or recycling, educating people around we would all be working for the environment and reaping more of its benefits that we don’t even pay a dime for. Isn’t this enough pay?

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How about we flip the coin now, huh! Put Mother Earth in this shoe? In the first place, she wouldn’t even want to fit it because we have done all sorts of crazy things to this shoe that it’s not even appealing anymore. I mean who would want to wear a tattered shoe? Who would want to wear a shoe that embarrasses them? Who would want to wear a shoe that no longer fits them anymore? Wait, did you even ever realize that earth and heart consist of the same letters only the spelling that differs? Probably then we will start caring because we will understand what a heart does. From simple biology the heart pumps blood throughout the body via the circulatory system, supplying oxygen and nutrients to the tissues and removing carbon dioxide and other wastes. Death is what occurs when the heart stops beating because it can no longer perform these functions.

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The earth is our bigger heart that provides and gives life to all our smaller hearts. Is it not a heart when it supports the vegetation and the trees that sequester carbon (IV) Oxide and give off the clean air vital for human survival? Is it not a heart when it pumps the streams we drink from? Is not a heart when it provides food from the lakes, rivers and even the wild? And if we terminate life for this bigger heart it will lead to the ultimate death of our smaller hearts as well. Dabbing the earth as the kindest heart is the most insightful reality talk you will probably ever hear. We know why? Because it’s the world’s greatest bank we’re all withdrawing from with the least concern of any deposit made to it in return.

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At the moment our kind heart is hurting. Because the last creature to make way into it has compromised it from effectively performing its functions. Deforestation that tampers natural air circulation and balance, the encroachment of our water catchment areas, over-abstraction of our waters, over-exploitation, and pollution.

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The actual value of conservation is very much underestimated. The value of forests, for instance, is mostly only seen in terms of timber and timber products- but do you know much biodiversity a small piece of natural forest can support?  How about a river stream with clean water? It is, in fact, difficult to peg the actual price on ecosystem goods and services. How do you valuate ecosystem services such as climate regulation, nutrient cycling, and habitat provision? This type of conservation awakening is needed if we have to attain most of the United Nations goals.

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While the nature and magnitude of particular problems vary between countries and regions, environmental degradation and exhaustion of natural resources have now become a global concern. A 2015 estimation of the Global Footprint Network shows that the ecological footprint of humanity exceeds the earth’s bio-capacity, with humans using the equivalent of 1.7 planets as of 2018. Humanity’s ecological footprint exceeding the earth’s carrying capacity commonly referred to as the Earth Overshoot Day marks the date we (all of humanity) have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. Earth Overshoot Day has moved from late September in 2000 to August 1 in 2018 and recently July 29 in 2019. This implies that as the days go by the more we climb up the calendar in using up all that nature has replenished and the situation can’t get any scarier than knowing that we may probably one day die not because we hit our lifespan but because we lacked the basics of survival.

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The art of being conscious of the planet with regards to the fact that we ought to hand it to our next generations in a state that they will not be denied of their needs should stop being a partisan issue.  I challenge you today to go out of the ordinary. Dare to be different. Take action to protect the environment every day. Educate people around on why climate change is a problem and what they can personally do about it, take actions in preserving endangered habitats, conduct beach clean-ups, sensitize on sustainable use, protection and conservation of our coastal ecosystems, raise awareness on the important of wetlands, take actions to protect world’s flora and fauna even. Make this commitment a priority and not an option.

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In impact creation, there’s always space for everyone to do something! Don’t feel small. Get out of the sit-back and watch arena to the stand-up and act. The efficacy of a solution is first taking the responsibility that we are part of the problem and not sitting at the comfort of the blame game arena. Stop wondering why others haven’t done something about it or hope that somebody else will do it. Somebody is there already-you!

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Guest Article By Esther Maina.

Esther Maina is a passionate conservationist, green entrepreneur, marine conservation ambassador, and an advocate for the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). She is a recipient of Sustainable Consumption and Production in Africa Second Edition Fellowship by the United Nations Training and Research.

African Youth Declaration on Nature, Why a New Approach is Needed for its Success

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The 2019 World Wildlife Fund (WWF) youth conference which took place from 22nd to 24th May 2019 brought together over fifty young passionate conservationists and practitioners from over 24 countries. The special event, which took place at the African Wildlife Foundation(AWF) office Nairobi had a theme dubbed Youth for Nature, One by One until Nature Wins Them All, aimed at underlining the role of young people in safeguarding the future of the continent’s natural resources in relation to the new conservation framework to be adopted by countries in 2020. The call for young people to converge at such a time when Africa’s nature is on the downward roller-coaster due to pressure from many prevailing factors could never have been better timed.

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Several recent scientific reports point towards a worrying trend of biodiversity loss. One of the main assessments on the status of Africa’s nature, contained in a summary report released by IPBES confirm that the continent has indeed lost much of its biodiversity, and recommends deliberate, bold, and hastened measures to restore the damage and prevent further loss. With this in mind, it is inspiring that there are parties who appreciate that the future of Africa’s nature lies in the investment we make in its youth. Whether this is a case of holding on to the last hope or just the realization of the long-forgotten lot of conservationists, the gesture shown by WWF and AWF remains in order. As the last generation with a chance to reverse nature loss and restore related values, young people are tasked with the huge obligation of mending the damage created by their forefathers. While the older generation may not owe us an apology since they may have acted from a point of ignorance or wanting the continent to develop, they must realize that it is time they paved way for a different generation to try the conservation game from a different approach. Nevertheless, their goodwill and support for youthful efforts are highly required.

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The Youth Conference also took place at a precious time in history when consultations are in top gear at all levels, as various parties position themselves strategically in preparation for a major convergence of stakeholders- the fifteenth Conference of Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The meeting which will take place in China around November 2020 is a crucial one as it will hopefully see the adoption of a new global biodiversity pact, which is popularly known as the Post-2020 biodiversity framework. The new outlook that is meant to bring a radical change in the conservation sphere is also set to replace the Aichi targets whose implementation period comes to an end in 2020. Preliminary reviews of the Aichi Targets, which have been in effect since 2010, do not show promising results. The outright failure by member states to attain these goals, failing by as far as below 50%, points to the need for a new and informed approach if at all any new framework is to be successful. Some of the ways in which stakeholders are gearing themselves for the new global conservation outlook is by forming viable campaigns, alliances, and position papers. The WWF campaign, famously recognized as the “The New Deal for Nature and People” seems to push for a conservation target that will enhance the wellness of natural resources while safeguarding the interests of human beings.

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Back to the youth conference-one of the outstanding outcomes of the discussions in the meeting was the formation of a youth declaration that represents the general concerns of an average young conservationist in Africa, and their commitment to realizing a more sustainable continent. It is worth mentioning that this declaration was formed with much respect for the priorities of the African region regarding the Post-2020 biodiversity framework. Just to refresh our minds, as I mentioned earlier, parties are actively engaged in consultation for the Post-2020, and the African region has not been sleeping on this. In April, a regional consultation meeting was convened in Addis Ababa, where 8 key priority areas were highlighted and agreed upon as the main concerns of the region moving forward and into the CBD COP negotiations-be sure to read more about this in my next blog post. Integration of these priority points into the youth declaration creates a very clear position of the willingness by young people to work with their elders towards a better environment for the younger generations.

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Some of the aspects clearly brought out in the declaration include the need for consolidated efforts, recognition of the role of youth in conservation, respect to indigenous people’s rights and traditional knowledge, and policy advocacy. While this may be the first youth declaration of its kind-considering the focal areas and module of formation-it go down in history as an addition to many other tried attempts by youth from the continent to unite their voices towards the conservation agenda. The big question then arises-how can this declaration stand out and be counted as the most successful? It is not a secret that the challenge is now bigger since the agents of nature loss continue to diversify and become complex. On the flip side, this is an opportunity for the African youth to show what they are made of, that they stand for what they commit, and that they are ready to go all the miles in pursuit for a better version of the continent they call home. This will only be realized if a tangible on-ground change is felt and attained-otherwise it will just remain a document as it is right now. The declaration then puts all of us at a crossroad- to make or break.

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The first and very important step for the youth is to find ways of making this work, and putting a timeline of every committed action. My utmost desire would be to see a detailed action plan come out of the declaration, with smart targets. The need to customize the contents of the declaration to fit all age groups cannot be overemphasized. Translations that will ensure youth at the grass root level identify themselves with the provisions of the statement are crucial, especially for languages majorly identified by the African Union. Young people should commit to finding support and solutions to problems, be innovative, and stand by each other like never before. Leveraging on the platform created for them by Africa’s conservation giants (WWF and AWF), young people should now seize the moment and break the chain of having many conferences that do not yield many results to show.

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The differences in Africa’s conservation approaches is something young people must consider moving forward. It is clearly evident that the East and South, for example, do not speak the same language when it comes to sustainable wildlife conservation. How the youth will harmonize their efforts and overcome such rifts remains to be seen. With varying regional priorities created not by our own making, but of our older generations, it is time to step out and support that which enhances the well-being of all.

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To be more effective, the declaration should be looked at a tool that plays 3 important roles- land use, financial, and action. In essence, the statement should provide a basis for reviewing land use as a major driver of nature loss, raise the needed financial resources for the implementation of the related action plans, and created undivided merits on which grass root work is based.

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Here is the full declaration:

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0003The comment section remains open for your views on the declaration. Does it speak the language you understand and stand for?

 

How do we integrate biodiversity into mainstream conservation discussions?

 

50581428_2151825441549894_7013552728169250816_oOver the recent past, there has been an increased concern on why and how we should integrate biodiversity into discussions in which not us (conservationists) are talking to each other. Ladies and gentlemen, to unpack this, allow me to briefly take us back to history of human beings-how long we have been here on earth, the aspect of language as a form of communication, our respective impact so far on biodiversity, where we are headed and the need to integrate biodiversity into discussions that go an extra notch.

  • The world was formed just about 4.5 billion years ago, with the first genus of the human lineage, Homo, evolving from my continent, Africa about 2.5 million years ago. Homothen spread to Eurasia and evolved further. In East Africa, where I come from, Homo sapiens evolved just about 200000 years ago.
  • The development of first stone tools for use by mankind marked the very first attempt by us, humans, to disorganize the natural elements of planet Earth; which also passed as an important milestone in human cognitive development.
  • Further cognitive development resulted in the formulation and mastery of language, another great achievement of mankind which happened about 700000 years ago. However, this also provides us with a chance to ponder on whether communication can be used to reference the start to the end of our once beautiful planet or a lifetime opportunity to keep sharing and collectively addressing biodiversity-related challenges.
  • If the latter is the case, why then are biodiversity topics confined to a few indoor discussions chaired and attended by experts? Let’s look at Africa, for example, a continent that is the cradle of mankind, one of the areas where the language was invented and the use of tools (economy and social development) was first witnessed. This is a continent that continues to sustain the world due to its richness in biodiversity. For this to be guaranteed in the future tense, community dialogues that make Africa aware of its biodiversity value, threats, and opportunities must be held.IMG-20180204-WA0044
  • How then can we utilize our language ability, the one we, in this room, understand, the language of conservation, which is more fluent than ever, to create a more inclusive, consolidated, and action-oriented dialogue on biodiversity across the world?
  1. There is a need to embrace a bottom-up approach to biodiversity discussions. In May (last month), I was here in Paris to attend the 7thSession of the IPBES and I was keen to look at the report compiled by a team of experts and summarized for use by policymakers. One of the elements I noted with great admiration was the highlight on the need to tell the full story of Africa’s endowment of nature. However, what lingered on my mind was “What contexts should we create in order to have the full story and who is best placed to tell the narratives?” In my humble understanding, the people who live with and directly interact with biodiversity understand well its contributions to them. Therefore, ladies and gentlemen, when we talk about dialogues on biodiversity, let us always remember where they should begin.35349767_1244960785636277_661931219969114112_o
  2. Dialogues that sprout from the ground have a great ability to help policymakers in establishing priorities in biodiversity management, access-benefit sharing, and inspire grass root action for conservation. I coordinate one of the largest youth networks of young people who dedicate much of their personal and career lives to the conservation of biodiversity in Kenya. Through our monthly youth forums, we have not gained deep insights on policy gaps, but also urgent the need for biodiversity conservation to be community-centered and mainstreaming. The story of Kenya’s ban on plastic ban, where a young person’s depiction of plastic menace in his community prompted the government action, remains one of the classic examples of how ground action can influence green policies.
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  4. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the role played by existing indigenous and local knowledge to the management of biodiversity cannot be underrated. Unfortunately, this important element of conservation is slipping out of our hands faster than we can imagine. While academic research and expert reviews are equally vita, we need to acknowledge dialogues that amplify local knowledge as a backbone for biodiversity sustainability.
  5. The need to mainstream biodiversity into other unrelated conversations and sectors continues to draw the interest of conservationists across the world. If taken boldly, this step has the potential to guarantee the future of this planet. However, we must appreciate that most of the other industry players do not understand many concepts of biodiversity conservation and that for them to take viable actions, there is an additional need to break down the jargon to a local perspective. But then again, local perspectives need local people.WhatsApp Image 2019-04-18 at 21.16.03
  6. It is estimated that by 2050, 70% of the world’s population will be living in cities. This also means that while the current cities are rapidly expanding, new ones are yet to come up-which directly translates to new infrastructure, new buildings, new cultures, and ultimately “new people”. But where is biodiversity in this? While we may not see any value in limiting the growth of cities, there is great hidden value in ensuring that this development takes place in harmony with nature. This ladies and gentlemen is a big discussion we must continuously have.50803459_2151822481550190_5698739354826964992_o
  7. When we talk about development, the divide between the North and South remains clear, and so is the conservation knowledge gap. Are we ready to integrate biodiversity into such “big” discussions?
  8. Let’s not forget, a current lot of young people are the ones who will be contributing to the 70% world city population by 2050, and, therefore, deliberate efforts must be seen to engage them in these dialogues.50887213_2152613701471068_3525191547467333632_o
  9. Many community-centered topics have been discussed in relation to climate change such as the interlink between climate action and gender, human rights, and equity. What about biodiversity conservation? We often tend to retreat to expert groups to discuss global biodiversity issues. An example is the conference of parties where member states meet experts, talk to each other in languages only they understand, and come up with celebrated agreements and policies to be implemented on the ground. We can all go back to track the effectiveness of these on the ground and their respective success rates. If they are not effective enough, then the need for another approach is crucial.
  10. Are we prepared for honest discussions about our dietary patterns, no matter how painful they can get? For example, we the consumers of meat and dairy products, must understand that we play a critical role in biodiversity loss and related threats. The animals we feed on consume a considerable amount of energy from plants, which in turn get the energy from the sun. The more animals we consume, the more plants and energy, respectively, needed to sustain this planet. Do we even care about this? Have you ever wondered if a chicken and a cow have the same ecological footprint? If not, well a chicken feeds on almost nothing really- a few grains here and there, food remains, sometime a small leaf, some warms, and water. This has a less contribution to energy loss compared to grazers. Are ready to adopt sustainable consumption habits?IMG_5641
  11. Are we ready to have candid conversations about our general lifestyles and their impact on the sustainability of biodiversity. Well, the fact that I’m writing this article on a plane to Paris makes this question to even harder to ask. I won’t even mention that this is the second time in a single month that I’m making this trip-my carbon footprint at this rate is making my heart sink. But just what other options do we have for faster and safe movement across continents? Is this an innovation challenge? How about green energy? Are we ready to drop our appetite for conventional fuels and adopt greener alternatives for our homes and industries? The sad news-the more biodiversity we lose, the more energy we shall need. If a region became hotter due to climate change, you would require more energy for cooling systems, for instance, further increasing your impact. IMG_7509

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Fighting Climate Change Through Community Activism

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There are no free resources in the world, and time isn’t excluded in this fact. Time seems to be running out for young people across the world to act and it’s proving to be costly. Using basic mathematics, whenever the time factor changes, other parameters change as well. For example, it is estimated that by 2050 the eutrophication of Oceans will increase by 21%. Today’s youth will bear witness to not only the eutrophication increase, but the resulting extinction of species unable to adapt to this changing climate. This is a concept well understood by the Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network – a group of young people who have decided to utilize all available tools to reach tangible change while the time ticks down.

Having started in 2017 with just two members who were strongly committed to bringing fellow young people together to conserve Kenya’s fast-dwindling environmental resources, the Kenyan chapter of the Global Youth Biodiversity Network (GYBN) has achieved beyond expectations. Since its inception, the network has reached out to over 6,000 young people, utilizing the power of community activism to pass their messages along. The chapter’s activities are geared towards creating awareness through education, knowledge formulation through research, and leadership skills building.

35360801_1244961528969536_5905481896292253696_oA youth-led community clean up exercise.

The Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network has risen up to be one of the top performing environmental youth platforms in the country that is working on viable nature-based solutions to current threats to the environment. By working closely with stakeholders, the group is changing the attitudes and perceptions of the community, businesses, government, and fellow young people to realize the urgent need for working mechanisms that will sustainably conserve our natural resources. Using a well-structured framework of action, these young people have formed a national team of grassroots coordinators who educate, train, and enhance the participation of local communities in safeguarding the future of the environment where they live, starting with the prevention of the possible loss of biodiversity. These dedicated nature champions are changing the conservation narrative one step at a time.

Speaking to young people in a youth conservation summit organized by the group in Nandi County on January 25, 2019, Maryanne Muriuki, Co-Founder and current Country Co-Coordinator of the network stressed the need for “young people to be involved in the right way, with the right leadership to back them.” To achieve this, Maryanne said the Kenyan Youth Biodiversity Network is “pushing for collaborative action among young people, in close consultation with government, the private sector, and between the global North and South to achieve the real transformation that will lead to a general halt in biodiversity loss.” She added that “this is not just cheap-talking, we are walking our vision by ensuring that every meeting, match, forum, symposium, or workshop evidently highlights the role of young people in ensuring the future of the planet is guaranteed, the specific actions needed, and there is sustainability in any proposed solutions.” Answering on why the Kenyan chapter settled on the community activism as the tool for youth-led change, Maryanne stated that “Young people need to employ a more disruptive model that is backed with commitment, action, and a clear vision.”

While attending the event, I was interested in finding out what led to the formation of such a network. So after the event, I pulled her aside to understand more about this incredible group.

“The need to come up with a national platform where young people could harmonize their work, efforts, and voices in relation to biodiversity conservation is what greatly pushed us to form the Kenyan youth biodiversity network,” said Maryanne, the Chapter’s Co-Founder.

Maryanne went on to imply that nature brings together all human beings, and that is why there is a growing demand for a modelthat will ensure unified efforts, youth innovation, and government goodwill to achieve the common good.

“As a youth platform, we are constantly seeking answers to modern climate change questions and wondering how young people can play a central role in it. We are going as far as asking religious leaders to influence their congregation to adopt sustainable means of living such as smart agriculture, water and waste management, and plastic pollution,” added Maryanne. The youth group is integrating aspects such as gender, human rights, economics, construction, and finance into their quest for a more practical post-2020 global biodiversity framework that will take effect in 2021. The new working policy and action plan will be spearheaded by the United Nations Convention for Biological Diversity (UN CBD) to which the GYBN is aligned. This comes after the expiry of the current global decade of biodiversity that has been in effect since 2011 and comes to an end in 2020.

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The new goals that will replace the current Aichi Targets will be launched following the discourse of the Conference of Parties (COP 15) that will take place in Beijing, China, in 2020.  The youth group has identified five main working pillars of their operation:

  1. Biodiversity loss prevention,
  2. Research and publications,
  3. Policy advocacy and review,
  4. Networking and economic growth, and
  5. Sustainable agriculture.

True to their vision, the young people in this network have that a lot can be achieved by integrated efforts, boldness, and harnessing the power of collective efforts to address the common threats to Kenya’s biodiversity. The group has, for instance, spiked a cross-sectional dialogue between young people and their local and national administration in a bid to provide sustainable solutions to the challenges of conservation and ensure the voice of young people is heard and addressed.

In November 2018, the chapter converged young people from 17 African countries in Nairobi, Kenya for a capacity-building workshop on youth-led biodiversity conservation. Amongst the invited guests were various government officials including the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment and Wildlife. Influential speakers such as the President of the African Wildlife Foundation and other organization and private sector leaders were also present to take part in the dialogue that resulted in a bold action framework that will see the transformation of conservation in Africa. Most of the insights from such discussions are summarized by the youth chapter and included in regional and international consultations and policy meetings, including the Conference of Parties.

The theme of “leaving no effort untouched” has seen the Kenyan youth biodiversity network go extra miles in deriving community youth integration tools that are more reliable and easily identified by the growing generation. A good example is the group’s perfect exploitation of digital platforms to ensure young people from across the country are actively involved and updated on the events, activities, reports, and planned work. Its WhatsApp group has more than 225 members, almost reaching the maximum the platform can hold, along with Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and hashtags to engage youth across all platforms. They have organized two online youth challenges in which the winners were gifted merchandise and online celebration as Heroes of the Earth.

Jackem Otete, the chapter’s Grassroot Youth Coordinator, states that the main aim of creating such interactive tools is to “enable young people to hold conversations that will create solutions that can be contextualized based on regional-specific priorities.”

The youth group has organized several awareness forums for young people aimed at documenting the input of youth in conserving their immediate natural resources. In June 2018, a walk was held in Busia County, and similar events and activities have been held in Nyandarua, Nairobi, and Nandi Counties across Kenya. In April 2019, the conservation group will take part in the Global March for Elephant, Rhinos, and Lions. The Kenyan chapter is also organizing the first-ever awareness and advocacy caravan on Ocean Conservation to be held in Kenya, where 200 young people will travel by road from Nairobi to Mombasa, covering a distance of 500KM with several stopovers to engage other young people, policymakers, and the general communities on the need to ensure the sustainability of Kenya’s marine resources. Through such efforts, the group is constantly able to hold leaders accountable for conservation pledges they make to young people in relation to conservation.

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A youth-engagement summit in Nandi County, Kenya.

Through these campaigns, more young people in Kenya are aware that they cannot afford to miss an opportunity to stop landscape degradation, climate change, and other conservation concerns because this may be the last generation with an opportunity to do so. Volunteers in the program have realized their ability to generate real change, seeing that community activism works! Youth are more confident in using their voices to express themselves and their concerns to decision-makers and stakeholders. Also, young conservationists have discovered that cooperation is key in attaining sustainable climate change mitigation. The County Government of Nandi, for example, has committed and employed more young people in their environmental docket who are now actively designing viable modules for the area’s resource conservation. The Kenyan youth biodiversity network has even garnered support from the African Wildlife Foundation, helping the group to gain credibility and visibility in their efforts.

Emmanuel, who is the programme’s coordinator, acknowledges a number of bottlenecks that have hindered the group from achieving some of its targets. Designing a universal system that addresses main threats in the biodiversity conservation space is a task that the chapter is looking at.

“We are always challenged to constantly and collectively look at systems that address underlying causes of biodiversity loss such as over-extraction, pollution, agriculture, and over-population. To attain this, we must consider ways in which all the development can be done within the walls of conservation,” says Emmanuel.

Inadequate financing, lack of enough legal policy and political goodwill, and a deliberate lack of youth inclusion in planning frameworks are additionally some of the hurdles the group face. However, the chapter is positive about working within and outside their capacities to ensure effective youth-led solutions to biodiversity loss.

The Forest of Corruption in Kenya, A call for Effective Policing

Before you label me as corrupt, allow me to sincerely thank all of you. First for nominating this blog as the best environmental blog in Kenya 2018. Second for your continued support through voting me in at the BAKE awards. I’m truly humbled and grateful, please find it in your hearts to understand how deeply grateful I’m. Tomorrow, 07/05/18 is the last voting day and all fingers are crossed. I was in this gratitude mood, minding my own business (of course my daily business involves thinking deeply of how we can at least hold on to the few natural resources that have withstood humanity, and, feeling happy that even the scented madams in Nairobi are beginning to embrace nature, and doing “dirty” work like urban gardening. You see, Nairobian ladies are the most interesting human beings to hang out with-when in the farm, you may easily confuse them for astronauts ready for a moon tour, based on the heavy protective gear they put on just to save their nails and hair. And I’m not talking about everyone, of course we have dutifully objected girls here who never mind keeping short nails that don’t cry too much when immersed in soil.

Besides, I wasting away the weekend with friends (You all know Mike and his drama-so this weekend he decided to host us for a reunion. I can’t wait for the day he will call us for a tree-planting escapade). The volume of wisdom that pours out of this young bachelor after a glass of his favorite is enough to transform the whole world. For a second you can confuse him for a married lad who just won an Oscar. That’s the sole reason I hang out with him but, as the price, I have to first ensure he has drained a few glasses. So we are sited, my ears deeply engaged to Mike’s sense-no sense-sense tales, struggling to save the important and delete the unnecessary. With Mike, it is always a time to edit information. My phone is on silent and in the deep pocket as I have been robbed twice at this joint-the places Mike take us though.

The hotel waitress, a young beautiful piece of flesh, with some well shaved and redone eyebrows, an appealing scent from which cologne I couldn’t guess, deep red lipstick that complemented every smile and the random hugs she gave Mike when taking new orders (Mike is the only friend who takes that long to order something simple-he has to ice each order and give precise instructions like “ensure it has been chilled today for three hours, five minutes”). The blue tight jeans elaborated her so well and made her the perfect description for the job, a low level of attitude that makes her stand out from the rest, and a short flowery top wear that revealed half of her stomach and underwear lining. She was there to supply us with meals and drown Mike, making him even more vocal. We all start with meals except Mike, he eats when ready to go home. His explanation-food should be used a blanket to liquor.

The female version of God’s wonderful creature was kind enough to switch television channels from Arsene Wenger’s farewell match against Burnley to the local evening news. Guess the top highlight- Task Force Reveals Deep-rooted Corruption At the Kenya Forest Service. The news anchor, whose voice was deeper enough and the TV’s volume loud enough to silence Mike’s, clearly explained how the task force mandated to scrutinize the pathetic situation at the Kenya Forest Service had come up with a devastating report.  So devastating was the story that at the end of it, I was ready to join Mike in ranting how useless a government we have-that which has never recognized things until when they are out of hands. As I have always said, our forests will remain a cash cow for some uncouth, unqualified, and tribal individuals at the service until effective and working policies are put in place.

The report presented by the Task Force last week to the minister of Environment gives a deep insight on the fact that while the country is battling the menace of illegal logging and deforestation, the root cause lies within. In just 50 years, we have lost about 5% forest cover, loosely translated to 1% every 10 years. If you have any energy left, you can help me continue with this arithmetic, and extrapolate how much forest cover we will have left 80 years from today, if the current forest cover is 7.4%. Is the answer scary?

Unfortunately, the answer is not frightening enough to a few officials at the Kenya Forest Service, according to the Task Force. In fact, these guys seem to thrive when our forest cover dwindle. With money on their mind and zero experience on the ground, the tribally-appointed officials are quick to dish out licenses to corrupt companies in the logging sector. Besides, while we all are sited here thinking the Service is guided by policies that control forest harvesting, the scrupulous individuals are making extra money (or should I call it extra paper?) by allowing logging that is outrightly not recommended.

Recently, we all saw the photos doing rounds on social media, of government vehicles ferrying timber in various counties, under the watch of the very persons we tasked with the mandate to conserve our forests. That is half surprising to me. What is fully surprising is the extent to which this menace has spread, with some of the top officials being the main castigators. A section of the task force’s report reads: ” By so doing, the service has overseen the immense destruction of our forests, systematically ruining our water towers, and bear the full responsibility of devastating our environment”.
Let’s refresh our tired minds on this issue a bit. In 1986, the then government, which people consider as one of the failed regimes in Kenya, based on its gross violation of human rights, imposed a ban on logging indigenous trees. This was a time when we had less sophisticated tree-felling machinery compared to today, yet the government, corrupt as it was then, saw the need to protect our natural ecosystems. The ban has since been effective. Now, let’s fast-forward our minds to 2018. Could this be the reason why Kenya Forest Service officials no longer see the need to protect our forests? Do they think the 1986 ban expired with the Moi regime?

Well, I admit that I’m pointing the finger so far. And I also admit that some of us are the forces being the unbearable behavior by the Forest Service. Look, we are in 2018 for all sakes, claiming that a certain community fully depends on forests for livelihood and culture is good. Is it also good appreciating that we can live off our forests while still maintaining our cultural norms? Is that statement confusing? Do communities who live deep in our forests do more good or harm? However, one thing is for sure, that forest-based communities in Kenya have a deeper sense of mercy towards our forests than our Nairobi-based Forest Service officials. Once we come up with good answers to some of these questions, that’s when we can fully answer the Sudoku puzzle on why Ndakaini Dam is still empty despite the current heavy rains.

Nowadays, it is relieving and unbelievable when you come across a pristine forest in Kenya. Most of the times when I visit such forests I long to meet the owners and initiate a handshake. Surprisingly, you will note that most of the untouched forests are not under Kenya Forest Service. Is it not surprising? Okay, I’m not surprised by this fact. Well, we all understand the important role played by timber and timber products in our daily lives, but that should not be the reason to cut down the lives of our future generations.

I strongly feel that for a viable conservation body to put in charge of our diminishing, vulnerable, and delicate forests, there is a need for a strong policy framework to be put in place. The new law should ensure that all tenders to private firms in the logging business are reviewed by a committee before being awarded. An individual company should not have an upper hand over the others for any reason whatsoever. Also, the forest services must provide public information regarding logging and how the trees are replaced by new ones. The public should be allowed to audit and make useful comments on areas where logging has been done, for proper restructuring.

The corrupt officials who are ruining generations should not be asked to be asked to leave office. On the contrary, they should be prosecuted and all the looted money recovered, to reclaim the lands that got ruined under their care. The new policy must also look into how recruitment is done at the Kenya Forest Service and the specialization of the employees. Lastly, the government must realize that while Kenya Forest Service is grossly understaffed to the extent of being ineffective, the course has hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates in Kenya.

Reminder: The National Tree Planting Day will be held on Saturday, 12th May 2018, at Moi Forces Academy, Nairobi. Let’s show up and do our country a favor. You can plant a tree from wherever you are.

Have yourself a treeful day, won’t you?

Charcoal Burning Ban, Kenya’s Easter Bun

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Happy Charcoal-free Easter mates. During such times, we all enjoy buns, especially the sweet sugary ones that your mama makes just before dragging you to church. Of course the other times are when you pass your bar exams, win an environmental award, or successfully avoid pissing her for a minute. This is also the time when forests and animals are destroyed in nearly equal measures. Forests for firewood and twigs for Good Friday matching and holding roasted meat. However, if the new developments are to go by, this may be the last Easter you are sacrificing forests to mark your celebrations, in Kenya. Just like a small bun which leaves you yearning for more, the 90-day logging ban may be not be sustainable. However, it provides a perfect foundation for further review of actions that make our forests safer. The recent developments have been fastened by the unanimous decision by Kenyan role-players and policymakers to join the conservative wave started by Kitui Governor, Her Excellency (This is the title she gets from me for being an environmentalist either at heart or at politics- I don’t know- either way, she’s good a champion for this matter) Madam Charity Ngilu. She has given us a lovely bun in the form of a charcoal-burning ban that will hope will be made the order of the day.

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Well, we all understand that in Kenya, everything including and not limited to environmental resources are managed by cartels-the dubious, politically-connected, greedy, arrogant, unfortunately-rich souls that stop at nothing until they get their egos massaged.These are the sorry type of people that run the charcoal industry, with their sons and daughters graduating to illegal loggers, poachers, and, if domestic, cattle rustlers. Isn’t it frustrating that these are the people Ms. Ngilu is dealing with? No wonder she is battling with endless court cases, a vivid show of how cartels fight back. No sane human being has the guts to fight for the continued destruction of forests and the environment. Charcoal smoke isn’t perfume, in fact, recent studies place the fumes as not only a health hazard but an environmental nuisance. Precisely, this is how I view the polluters (read cartels) and their endless appetite for biodiversity degradation-all these people are walking health hazards and a great nuisance to the environment. How else would you describe a person who is ready to clear the few bushes off a dry a county like Kitui? A rip-off of a person.

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Ms. Ngilu has given environmentalist a life lesson-that fighting for environmental conservation has to start somewhere, that the journey is tough, and that once a single voice is heard, many others will join. I’m happy to see many others, including selfish souls like my Governor, sign the pledge to fight deforestation in their backyards. Just like a sweet little bun, the ban is welcome. You should have seen the smile on the faces of birds when they heard that Kenya is finally trying to do something about their habitat. Even the evil Indian house crow is happy, smiling from as near as Athi River with a finch’s egg in her mouth. She is particularly happy because conserving forests will enable to transfer Kenya and reach the interiors.

Kiambu Governor, His Excellency Ferdinand Waititu, a man of few words, or is it few English? -is also in full support of this motion. Dear environmentalists, this time around we have the full support of all the people we have been praying for to join hands. In my last chronicle, I applauded His Excellency Tobiko, minister for the environment for spearheading the conservation narrative. I love the way he is putting lazy blood in the porous Kenya Forest Service on toes. For most of these employees, it is now “either work or take your cartel home” kinda environment since Tobiko walked in. And for a guy who has worked as a public prosecutor before, there has never been a good time for Kenyan forests to try regaining their lost hope. Even Her Excellency, my mum is for this move. The rate at which she is planting trees this rainy season is commendable.

So, here are the surprise guests who have joined our conservation table, championing for a ban on charcoal production in Kenya and we are all excited to have them. All Governors are in (I know, it is shocking news, but don’t be surprised mate, even your Governor is in this-doesn’t matter whether physically, in prayers, or on paper). Environmental Governors aside, the fabulous Kenya Red Cross is in as usual- the number of devastating people the society has handled due to environmental calamities like floods and drought cannot allow them to remain behind in the fight for sustainable natural resources. The bun even gets sweeter as the National Treasury has its hand in this as well (provided they don’t create any financial scandal around this noble thing). As expected, revamped Ministry of Environment is our guest, the Vision 2030 (yeah, I know, this campaign places us within the vision, but, as environmentalists we need more years to attain our goal-it is when we are starting! Can’t you see we are mobilizing support? hhhh). Okay, the USAID (from the American People? oh, yeah, we need some help), and, capture this, Christian Association Ministry. Dear cartels, if the Christian Association can be for us, who can be against?

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Even Moses’ burning bush wasn’t really burning to charcoal. God saw the need for the trees to survive. And, of course, I won’t mention the Garden of Eden. Don’t expect me to. But I will mention the fact that if Adam and Eve had formed cartels as powerful as Kenya’s that thing would have been condemned to charcoal, timber, and firewood before evening time when God came looking for His creatures. Even the serpent would have lacked somewhere to hide, and the two humans, clothes to wrap around their waists once the leaves dry. Adam and Eve’s cartel would have taken God to heaven courts of course, demanding for an order to stop Him from interfering with their business since “their family depended on it”. Kenyans and courts! We are so excited about courts that very soon we shall no longer make appeals, rather sue individual courts to higher courts for decisions that don’t favor us.

Our biodiversity conservation and climate change mitigation plates are not full, never were. We are still accepting think tanks, movements, and all individuals of good will. I will be glad to usher in the atheists to work closely with the Christian Association in this. As the youth, we are ready for this, conscious, energetic than before, and well ahead of time to see that Kenya’s forest cover increase to surpass the desired limits. However, we must be fully aware of what we are dealing with, despite the good political and community goodwill that we are currently enjoying. The likes of the inefficient NCIC who summon governors like Ms. Charity Ngilu for condemning cross-County charcoal trade a force to deal with. I still don’t understand how banning charcoal-burning in one’s County, and its consequent sale to neighboring Counties can turn into a sweet bun for NCIC to enjoy.

Being a delicate game, we definitely hope that the political attention we have at the moment won’t be shifted to Miguna Miguna’s story, leaving our efforts hanging. Hey, you politicians-sorry, partners-Their Excellencies-please focus! We have to do this. Let’s conserve! Now that we know the fact that most of these cartels are friends of our partners or our partners themselves, we can rest assured that something is going to be done-at least. Even if it means giving our forests some breathing space, just to impress us. You can imagine the amount of oxygen that shall be available when trees are finally left to breathe.

While at it, can the government make kerosene and gas more affordable as alternatives to Kenyans? Maybe cut down the taxes on these commodities instead of trees, my Excellencies. Sustainable charcoal burning? Will the 90-day ban prove effective?

The Kenyatta University Environmental Week will be taking place from Monday 9th April through to 13th April at 8 am to 5 pm. Have you registered for this intensive and interactive event? Please do it here: https://goo.gl/rqzWB9

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