The world needs forest communities’ leadership, knowledge and equal participation to meet our global climate goals.
As some of the most developed countries in the world cope with heatwaves and the rising cost of electricity to cool their homes, African countries have been hit even harder by the devastating effects of climate change. Severe and changing weather patterns have become a normal occurrence, with agriculture affected the most. The lack of regular rainfall is wreaking havoc on the livelihoods of forest communities in Africa, especially in Kenya. Millions of Kenyans in different parts of the country now face severe hunger, with experts warning that the situation will worsen over the coming months, and that many people will be at risk of dying of starvation.
As the Media and Communications Officer highlighting stories about rural communities in the Kasigau Corridor REDD+ project in Kenya, I am personally impacted by the stories I have been covering related to climate change. For instance, my heart goes out to a subsistence farmer in the project area who has, for the past 2 years, been unable to harvest any crops because of the lack of rainfall, making it impossible to feed his family. Teachers have been telling me the harrowing tales of children coming to school on an empty stomach, who are unable to concentrate properly in class sessions, with some even fainting. Human-wildlife conflict has become alarmingly high in certain hotspot community areas in the project. Due to elephant movements in these hotspot areas, school children must be accompanied by their parents in the morning and evening and some miss out on early morning and late evening lessons. Because these forest communities living in the frontline are adjacent to wildlife-rich areas, they must deal with thirsty and hungry wildlife foraging close to their homes for food and water.
The world is preparing for COP27 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Egypt to bring governments together to accelerate global efforts to confront the climate crisis. The question is, will it bear any fruits? How is the success rate and progress of the previous conferences working out? During COP26, the world fell short of fulfilling its pledges to reduce global warming by 1.5 degrees Celsius. These developed countries, who are the very ones worsening the climate crisis, failed to collaborate and create real solutions.
Still, there is a group most affected by the climate crisis and mostly unheard of. These are rural communities that have been protecting indigenous forests for generations without any compensation. They are already taking a fast approach to forest protection by partnering with REDD+ project developers such as Wildlife Works to drive economic investment through forest and wildlife protection. Despite resources being stretched across the region, Wildlife Works is working with hotspot communities to reduce the impacts of human wildlife conflict. Other interventions include working with communities on sustainable income generating ideas through livelihoods workshops.
“Forest protection through REDD+ is critically important to climate change mitigation and the overall health of the planet. That is where most of the focus should be geared towards. We are forgetting that the way to ease the challenges of the changing weather patterns is to start with local solutions.”
If world leaders think and act from a local perspective, it will enable these communities to fight climate change and build resilience to climate impacts. It is high time world leaders started investing in local solutions by involving members of the rural communities. By bringing rural communities on board, we are not only protecting their livelihood, but protecting future generations.
Across the world, these communities are dreaming of change. They are dreaming of improved access to water, education, and healthcare. They dream of seeing their living standards improved and of seeing a better future. They want world leaders to act by involving them in the decision making process of creating real solutions. Now.