Cancun climate summit: “Listen to the poor, they have all the solutions”

Samson Malesi Shivaji, National Livelihoods Coordinator at Caritas Kenya discusses with a community in Machakos a project to build a dam. Credit: Samson Malesi Shivaji/ Caritas Kenya

By Samson Malesi Shivaji, National Livelihoods Coordinator at Caritas Kenya


I work very closely with communities at the grassroots level on climate change adaptation and it is this African and Kenyan perspective I presented at a side event held by Caritas, the World Food Program, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Accra (African Climate Change Resilience Alliance). Our projects focus on climate change adaptation and capacity building.

At our pilot project bio-farm in Meru in Central-Eastern Kenya for example, we capture the livestock’s dung which is an important source of greenhouse gas emissions to channel it into a biogas production. The produced energy goes to 15 households that didn’t have access to electricity before. Then the manure, which is the remains of the biogas production system, is used as dung and therefore reduces the amount of fertilizers needed. We will now extend this project in Kenya.

One project I am particularly proud took place in the Machakos diocese. When we arrived in Machakos two years ago, people were on the brink of starvation. Due to a drought, they couldn’t grow crops anymore and the livestock had died. We provided support to construct a dam for a reservoir. What struck me was how motivated people were to change their situation. When we wanted to get an excavator to build the dam, they told us they would rather build it with their hands and get the money for other projects instead. So they dough a dam for a 20 000 m3 reservoir with their bare hands.

This experience of being able to do something together encouraged them to continue. They build lots of other small dams in the village, agreed on planting 6 fruit trees per family to cope with erosion and as source of income. Now, this community is really stabilized and has a permanent source of water.

I think a lot of delegations at this summit have not yet understood that people can help themselves if only they get a little support. There needs to be more connections between civil society and the governments.

We asked people in our communities if they know what climate change is. And they do, but without understanding the scientific definition of it. Climate change for them is the rivers  they saw when they were young and that have now dried up. It is the fact that they can’t grow crops anymore, that there is less rain and a greater variability in rainfall and that temperatures are rising. Having lived with the change, these people often know best how to deal with it. I had to learn that in Machakos myself. We arrived there with our minds made up and the people there showed us they had all the solutions.

I think Caritas is here in Cancun to stress the moral aspects of the discussions, that this summit is not about power, but about people, including the poorest, and that we need to achieve climate justice. I feel a bit like an ambassador for the people from the communities I worked with in Kenya.

When people from Machakos heard that I was going to Cancun for the climate summit, they told they think they have what it takes to adapt to climate change, but just needed support to get things going. We call this “indigenous knowledge”, the type of knowledge this communities have about the places they live in, and it is very important. But with the fast rate at which climate change is happening, these people also need better technologies and support to cope. And that is where the delegations here in Cancun need to take action.

This morning, I went to a meeting with the Kenyan prime minister at the conference centre. He was interested in what Caritas has to say. I hope that this will lead to some form of cooperation or support for our projects. We’ll see.

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Filed under Advocacy, Climate Change, Food, High-Level Meetings and Events, Latin America, Mexico

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