Climate resilience: sunflowers for a better life

‘Solutions for climate adaptation come from people, not from protocols’, says Dr Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA). He is one of the speakers during the Climate Adaptation Summit. What is the link between climate change, conflicts and migration?

In the Paris Agreement - a legally binding international treaty on climate change - rich countries pledged to help the countries most vulnerable to climate change in building resilience. The Netherlands wants to accelerate adaptation actions, which is why it’s hosting this year’s Climate Adaptation Summit. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is hosting a side event on Africa, because African countries are on the front line of climate change.

Enlarge image PACJA's sunflower project
Image: ©PACJA

Why does climate change have such an impact on Africa?
‘Climate change is a big challenge for all sectors in Africa, particularly in the Horn of Africa. Our production factors are determined by natural resources and water. Relying on these natural resources makes Africa quite vulnerable.’

Africa will suffer from water scarcity in 2030. Why can this spark conflicts?
‘It doesn’t mean that there’s no water, it means there is a problem with water. Small rivers and watersheds are dried up. Communities are desperately looking for water and are therefore competing for the same water sources. This sparks conflict. If you look at the security hotspots - Somalia, South Sudan and North Eastern Kenya - you realize that there is a link between water scarcity and conflicts.’

Could you give an example of communities that are facing difficulties?
‘In Mali there are conflicts between shepherds and farmers. Shepherd communities migrate in search of grassland areas where their cows, horses or camels can graze. At the same time, farmers want to expand their agricultural lands. Both groups are fighting for the same land. It’s evident that there is a strong link between climate change and the insecurity and conflicts we are experiencing.’

What is your personal experience with climate change?
‘In my childhood in Kenya, we prepared the land in the wet season; in march and april. Nowadays, it’s hard to predict when it starts to rain. Sometimes it doesn’t rain enough to grow our crops. Instead of only cultivating corn, which depends on rainfall, we want to introduce a rotary system of crops.’

Enlarge image A farmer in Kenya shows sunflowers
Image: ©PACJA

How, as an organisation, are you directly involved in locally-led actions?
‘Last year, we rolled out the Tujiinue Tena (Kiswahili for ‘We lift ourselves, once again’), a Building Back Better project in Kenya’s Meru County. The initiative is locally-led and aims to build community resilience to the threats of climate change and COVID-19. The project is jointly driven by PACJA and Africa’s main edible oil producer, Bidco Africa. The project promotes the cultivation of sunflowers, a fast-maturing, drought-resistant crop in demand for edible oil. Around 3000 farmers were enlisted to the project, which has majorly focused on women and youth. We provided seeds and partnered up with Kenyan Bidco Africa to guarantee a market and a fair price for farmers. In less than four months, the project has produced results beyond our expectations and some life-transforming impacts that are already visible. We just need the will, and the spirit of partnership.’

Is collaborating with the private sector and non-governmental organisations the key to a solution?
‘Solutions come from the people, not from protocols such as the Paris Agreement. What works in the Netherlands, won’t necessarily work in the Horn of Africa. People have their own ways of dealing with climate change. A bottom-up approach is needed to build resilience. That’s why PACJA is investing in building capacity and strengthening local organisations. During our new ‘Power of Voices’ partnership, seven African countries are working together with the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oxfam Novib and grassroot organisations. In these countries - South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Senegal and Burkina Faso - we want to collaborate with the local private sector. Companies have innovative ideas and see opportunities to make climate adaptation viable.’  

Is there a relation between climate change and migration?
‘Of course. Climate insecurity is growing: it is a livelihood issue. If the livelihood of people is affected, they have to look for alternatives to survive. If we want to reduce migration from Africa to Europe, it’s important that inhabitants have a bright perspective in their own country. Therefore, strengthening climate resilience is so important.’