Developing countries are those hardest hit by climate change. And that includes Kenya, my home country, which is heavily dependent on a climate-sensitive sector: agriculture. But do droughts and water shortages inevitably lead to violent conflicts, as is often claimed? How is climate change viewed in rural Kenya – and can adaptive strategies already be found there?
In order to explore these questions, I investigated the conditions in the small district of Loitoktok. Located at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro near the border to Tanzania, it is representative of rural, emergent Kenya: agriculture and infrastructure are expanding; wildlife tourism is stable. However, it is also home to several ethnic groups – which means there is always a certain potential for conflicts. Making matters worse, studies have confirmed that climate change has already resulted in less precipitation, higher temperatures and increased animal mortality rates.
In Loitoktok I took a closer look at commercially viable ecological areas like food production, fauna, water and medicinal plants. As these factors are important for the district’s economic growth, I determined their respective economic values and researched governmental climate adaptation strategies. Above all, however, I analyzed the different networks already in place – e.g. between institutions, farmers, NGOs or government offices. This approach provided me with a good overview of the local interconnections and allowed me to recognize which areas were well-connected and which weren’t. I also collected the responses of 154 people from the respective sectors, based on a questionnaire, group discussions and consultations with experts. Their answers provided valuable insights on the respective actors’ views concerning climate change, on whether they attempt to intervene when conflicts arise, and on who potentially resolves these conflicts, and allowed me to identify differences in how the various sectors approach climate change and conflicts.
Interestingly, the findings show that there are a wealth of local networks for agriculture and livestock farming, while there are far fewer in the water sector and effectively none for medicinal plants – most likely due to the fact that the last of the three is still not recognized by the government. My data also showed that conflicts as a result of climate changes don’t necessarily have to happen: above all, the heavily networked areas are already working to prevent them. For example, actors in the agriculture and livestock-farming sector are now shifting to more robust seeds and animals, collecting rainwater, or practicing afforestation to combat the effects of soil erosion. In sectors where the actors are barely connected by networks, the cause is most often a lack of coordination or financial power, a lack of personnel or – in the case of medicinal plants – a lack of appropriate legislation.
In attempting to pave the way for improved climate adaptation in Loitoktok and other regions like it throughout Kenya, my method can be used to identify areas in which the relevant actors are not yet connected, and to demonstrate how these areas can improve their networking, which promotes more effective resources management. After all: the actors in closely networked areas communicate more on climate change and its effects, which helps them to adapt – and helps to make sure conflicts aren’t a foregone conclusion.