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Advocacy & Networking

Farmers are the New Voice of Conservation

Cathreen Kareaikwa is what you may call a typical African entrepreneur driven by both a passion to serve her community and the desire to turn up a profit. She is the outgoing coordinator of the Tharaka Nithi Environmental Change Network (TECNet), a conservation advocacy network whose existence has been facilitated by ICE as part of its strategy to build and strengthen local institutions to champion the conservation cause in Tharaka Nithi County going forward. TECNet, like MaYaMa in Machakos is the vehicle farmers are using to articulate their concerns regarding the conservation of their environment, water and agriculture. The network draws its membership from over 22 community groups working in the county. Besides being a TECNet coordinator, Cathreen is a farmer with a passion for value addition. “I do dried vegetables, make handicrafts like baskets, bracelets, necklaces and so on,” she adds. Cathreen also does leather tanning whose end product she uses to make works of leather. Last year Kareaikwa’s tree nursery had over 7,000 seedlings. “I came to learn about ICE through the RIDEP when I was invited to a seminar on advocacy and the environment,” she explains. In Tharaka Nithi county ICE is working through the Rural Initiatives Development Programme (RIDEP Kenya), a local partner, to implement similar activities to those it is directly undertaking in Machakos. “RIDEP is our implementing partner in Tharaka Nithi County. But above all, we are both like-minded change agents advocating for safeguarding Tharaka’s fragile ecosystem and so working together is a strategic decision we have made to create more synergy in our efforts,” elaborates Martin Muriuki, Programme Officer of ICE. Since making this connection with ICE, Cathleen has been involved in a number of advocacy activities through TECNet including organising and leading a major tree planting campaign on Mashujaa Day that saw over 2,000 trees planted in different places in the locality including in churches, schools and government offices. “Through the advocacy skills we have acquired from ICE’s training, we are now able to engage our county leaders including our local Member of County Assembly (MCA) on environmental issues such as the uncontrolled cutting down of trees. We are able to dialogue with them for the enactment or enforcement of existing laws to curb the same,” Cathleen adds. Some of the training Cathleen has received that she is already putting to use includes the organising and execution of public activities such as mobilising the community to participate in mass tree planting. She has also honed her skills in negotiation. “As a result of our collective voice as TECNet, the farmers are receiving recognition as a strong voice that needs to be heard,” she brags. TECNet is in fact in the process of acquiring custody of Gikingo Hill from the county government. Gikingo Hill is an important source of the region’s rich biodiversity which is now threatened by extinction as a result of years of overuse by the community. The hill is also a major tourist attraction in the area. “Our main work, once the transfer process is concluded, will be to reforest the hill and thereafter manage access,” she says. This will be similar to what the Akamba Customs Group in Kivaa is doing reinstating the sacred Kivaa hill to its former glory. Still in its formative stage, TECNet is already showing great promise as a voice for pro-conservation in the region. “We just need to work hard to strengthen TECNet so it can continuously become an effective vehicle for advocacy in environmental conservation,” Cathleen recommends.

Advocacy & Networking

Shaping Environmental Conservation Through Networking

Besides the transfer of innovative agricultural farming technologies to farmers, the Institute for Culture and Ecology (ICE) is also involved in building the capacity of local institutions to champion the course of environmental conservation in their localities. In Machakos, it is doing this through the Masinga, Yatta, and Matungulu Advocacy Network (MaYaMa). MaYaMa was established in 2014 to provide a vehicle for collective bargaining by farmer groups from Masinga, Yatta and Matungulu sub-counties that are involved in the conservation of the environment and agriculture. The network is also sensitising farmers in general on the options available to them to combat the challenges of climate change such as water harvesting, enterprise diversification and conservation. The network is ably steered under the chairmanship of Kioko Wathome, a farmer who hails from Matungulu. “With the support ICE is providing the network through Enhancing Community Resilience to effects of Climate change (ECoREC) project, the project has managed to train us on best practices in farming including conservation agriculture, water harvesting and diversification into other enterprises such as vegetable and fruit farming, poultry and rabbit rearing and cattle keeping,” he says. “We are also working closely with relevant government arms to achieve our objectives,” he adds. In less than a year MaYaMa has managed to achieve a lot. “ for instance, we participated in the development of the Machakos Agricultural Development Fund bill where our inputs as representatives of farmers were captured and incorporated in the bill,” he explains. The network is also working closely with Water Resource Users Associations (WRUAs) to protect water catchment areas. In Syomboni in Kyeleni ward, MaYaMa undertook a major tree planting campaign to protect the collapsing banks of Athi river. “We planted over 2000 trees along the banks of the river to prevent further collapse during the rainy season. This has been affecting farming activities located near the river hence reducing yields,” he says. MaYaMa is also working to protect springs and other vital sources of water. Through MaYaMa, the community has been sensitised on the need to conserve water through the digging of trenches and water pans. “The farmers can then use this harvested water to do plant kitchen gardens and water their seedlings,” he adds. Judith Kaloki echoes Wathome’s words. Kaloki has been farming for over 8 years. “I grow a variety of indigenous food crops, vegetables and fruits,” she indicates. Besides being a farmer, Kaloki is also a contact person for ICE in Masinga. She holds a certificate in Agriculture from the Meru College of Technology, now a fully-fledged university and is a member of the Mwangaza Group. “Mwangaza group is a member of MaYaMa and currently has 15 members. Kaloki hopes that some of the technologies introduced by ICE will be adopted widely in the sub-counties. “Most farmers have put their newly acquired knowledge to good use however there is still a lot we need to do improve the uptake,” she feels. Groups need to be sensitised more on the long-term benefits of technologies such as Zai Pits considered to be labour-intensive. “This is where MaYaMa can play an important role of sensitisation to spur more adoption,” she adds. Kaloki also feels there is need to find ways of increasing youth participation. Their involvement will spur more youthful enthusiasm which will ensure continuity,” she observes. Farmers in Masinga, Yatta and Matungulu have seen the benefits of the power of numbers. Through networks such as MaYaMa, their voice can be heard even at policy level. They provide a crucial vehicle for collective bargaining which gives power to the local farmers to shape future development agenda in the sub-counties. “There is nothing more powerful than that,” comments Kaloki.