From the climate change front line in Bore, Kenya

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Ru Hartwell is from Lampeter and acts as the main link between Size of Wales and ourLampeter-Bore Community Carbon Link project.

I am standing in the middle of an arid and fiercely hot thorn forest. The sun is beating down so hard you instinctively scan around for shade and some kind of respite. I follow my Giriama guide, Alex towards a small group of ramshackle mud huts with a central ‘yard’ of  baked red clay and it feels like I’ve suddenly walked straight into one of those African famine news reports that we are all so familiar with.  The people I’m talking to are stick thin and down to their last armfuls of maize cobs…..One man has leprosy and is lying on a bed surrounded by his extended family. Everyone is despondently “waiting for the rains”. Alex translates my platitudes while I feel powerless to help these people. Am I in Ethiopia or perhaps Somalia? No I’m in the relatively prosperous Coastal Province of eastern Kenya.  Despite a few recent piratic problems and the odd abduction, this part of Africa has a booming tourist trade, a growing economy and vast natural resources. How can this be happening here in a country often held up as a regional development success story?

With the oppressive heat mounting as the equatorial sun climbs to a position directly above us, I stop wondering how things have got this bad and flee back to the hire car and its glorious air conditioning system.  Once my temperature and emotions have stabilised I remember that I am here to report on the implementation of a government funded, Wales/Africa Clean Energy Grant that is aiming to fortify this sub-Saharan community to the growing threat they face from climate change. My job is to make sure that Welsh tax payers money is being spent wisely and benefiting the whole community. We drive to the next ‘shamba’ and mercifully this family are doing a bit better – they have some pineapples, a full store of maize and a battered bicycle.  It is soon apparent why. Smoke is rising from a mound of earth where their tropical forest is being burnt without oxygen to make charcoal. Alex explains that with a guaranteed price of 300 Kenyan Shillings a bag (that’s £2.20 in our money) the subsistence farmers who own the forest really have little alternative than to cut it down for charcoal.

I ask them about the family we saw earlier. Alex translates. Most of the year the forest is abundant with food but when the rains are late the families in the infertile areas cannot cope and then if the breadwinner goes down…..he pauses and says…..”they have some problems”. He looks up to the sky and gives the Swahili version of “It’s in God’s hands”.

What Alex and the rest of his community don’t know is that the carbon effluent way that we live in the developed world is almost certainly the cause of their problems.  Per capita emissions of CO2 in Wales are around 12 Tonnes a year. In Kenya it is less than a twentieth of that.  Pondering this injustice in the car makes me feel a bit uncomfortable, a little hot and bothered so I turn up the aircon and pretty soon everything is fine again……

OK, so much for the bad news. The good news is that Bore, despite some major problems is one community in sub-Saharan Africa that is getting steadily stronger not weaker. The Clean Energy Grant is working well and is helping the whole community adapt to the exigencies of climate change. A solar powered water supply now means that they no longer have to manually carry in all their water over great distances.

A community phone charging facility means that they are rapidly starting up small businesses and can transfer small amounts of cash through their Mpesa (Mobile Money) system. But best of all, with support fromSize of Wales and ordinary people in Lampeter, literally thousands and thousands of trees are being grown and distributed throughout the community and beyond. These are mostly cashews which grow incredibly fast and start giving the farmers a high protein cash crop in as little as 3 years, providing their best hope of an alternative and forest friendly income stream.

Cashews, to use the botanical jargon, show xerophytic adaptation. To the rest of us this means they are very drought resistant…..just as well really, given the way us rich people seem to want to carry on living. Now, where’s that aircon button?

To help the community in Bore donate to this project.


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