Q&A: How to Involve Kenya’s Local Communities in Adapting to Climate Change?

Kenya
Moushumi Chaudhury - August 02, 2016

Farmers in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya experience frequent drought. Photo by Trocaire/Flickr
Farmers in Tharaka Nithi, Kenya experience frequent drought. Photo by Trocaire/Flickr

Kenya faces several disparate climate change impacts, such as severe droughts in some areas and extreme floods in other parts. It’s a challenge for the adaptation planners tasked with helping vulnerable communities become more resilient.

WRI held a training in Kenya for members of government agencies, NGOs and the private sector on tools to evaluate, plan for and prioritize adaptation. Phillip Oyoo from CARE International, an adaptation planner who works with local communities in Kenya, was one of those participants. I caught up with him to talk about the challenges he faces in his work, and how he thinks emerging tools can help address Kenya’s climate adaptation challenges.

What are some of the impacts of climate change that Kenya is facing at the moment?

We’re seeing changes in rainfall trends in terms of rainy seasons becoming shorter and unpredictable. Twenty years ago, the onset of long rains would take place in March, but it’s now shifting to April. People from northeast Kenya are also now moving to cooler, highland areas because temperatures are increasing. People who used to be herders from the northeast are now becoming involved in small businesses, or have moved to Lake Victoria to take up fishing.

They are also moving into peri-urban areas. Because of this rural-to-urban migration, you are now seeing people in urban areas sustaining families in rural areas who are not able to grow as much food as they used to because agricultural productivity has decreased due to climate change. You can call them “climate migrants.” This is causing tension between ethnicities because you have migrants coming in with new cultures.

What are some of the adaptation solutions you’ve been pursuing to overcome these challenges?

We’re using a participatory scenario planning (PSP) tool. PSP is a tool that enables multiple stakeholders from communities to government agencies to come together to plan for adaptation. For example, they may share and interpret weather and climate forecasts together, which are then used to create scenarios for future planning by communities. PSP enables community members to have a voice in this process. Traditional forecasts that give historical perspective on climate trends are also invited. Traditional information is then fused with scientific information on climate and weather through the PSP process. We need to learn how communities use weather information, and how this knowledge can inform adaptation plans.

Can you share an example where PSP led to real changes on the ground?

In Kirinyaga County, weather forecasts were used during a session on PSP to plan for flooding. The scenarios developed through the PSP were quickly adopted and used by the county government to design an early warning response system, which enables affected communities to, among other actions, move to safer locations away from the flooded areas. The early warning information is disseminated via text messages or flags of different colors, depending on the context or location. The early warning system helped local businesses to purchase and stock commodities (such as livestock drugs) in preparation for the flood. The county government later coordinated among multiple government agencies to respond and reduce future impacts of the flooding. The county government appreciated the importance of weather forecasts and planning through the PSP.

What have been some of the hardest parts of implementing PSP as tool for adaptation planning?

Participation is the hardest. Sometimes the convener of the PSP process—often someone from an NGO—becomes the main voice, because he/she controls the resources. Then the process does not become salient to local community members directly impacted by climate impacts and adaptation, such as farmers. The community voice can be lost due to “higher” level actors and technical personnel dominating the process, which prevents community voices from being “ventilated.”

Although there are different ways to use PSP as a tool for adaptation planning, what is it about PSP that is so attractive to those working on adaptation?

It embraces and acknowledges the need for plurality. It brings together different stakeholders so that impacts are looked at more broadly. Participation is the greatest appeal.

For more information on WRI’s work on tools to prioritize adaptation options, visit the Supporting Readiness section of this website.