Raising Social Equity: Indigenous people’s contributions to advancing sustainable agriculture in Kenya

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Kenya’s indigenous peoples are among those most affected by climate impacts. With knowledge attuned to the specific ecosystems of their territories, many are uniquely positioned to play a leading role in generating climate-resilient food and agricultural systems, in ways crucial for equitable transformation.

Vulnerability to climate change

Standing on a hill overlooking Lake Bogoria in Kenya’s Rift Valley, an indigenous leader from an Endorois agro-pastoralist community points to pastureland that once provided good grazing for livestock and to fields where crops were cultivated. He describes how the pastures have dried out, and how, despite fertile soils, food crops no longer grow because of lack of rain. When it does rain, the rain is either light and scattered or causes flooding and widespread damage. For those living in communities such as this, drought and unpredictable weather patterns have created a harsh environment that recent rains have not alleviated. Past experiences of displacement and present disadvantages reinforce vulnerability to climate risks.

Around 85 percent of Kenya’s land mass is a fragile arid and semi-arid ecosystem, with land use largely by pastoralists. Droughts have a severe impact in arid zones. Conflict and insecurity in northern Kenya also contribute to vulnerability. Moreover, the expansion of crop farming into semi-arid areas is affecting the dynamics of pastoralism and contributing to conflict. Likewise, when combined with decreasing forest coverage and exclusions from forests that have served as a livelihood base for indigenous hunter-gatherers, climate change is having negative impacts on forest-based livelihoods. It is also affecting indigenous small-scale fishers, including due to changes in fish populations and their distribution.

There is strong evidence that climate risks affect men and women differently. Indigenous women are especially vulnerable to climate risks, both because they belong to marginalized communities, and because they face internal social and cultural prejudices that deny them equal opportunities.

Local action to build resilience

While climate change poses profound challenges, there are many examples of the value of indigenous leadership, knowledge, and experience in building resilience. Incorporating community voices from diverse geographies helps foster food system sustainability in high-level forums. As the Kenyan Centre for Minority Rights Development (CEMIRIDE) advocates, indigenous peoples can contribute to change in ways that address their worldviews, rights, and values.

The Kenyan government recognizes the knowledge systems of indigenous peoples as a resource and an opportunity to develop climate adaptation measures. From this basis, decision-makers must empower indigenous peoples to engage in local climate adaptation and agricultural sector planning, and simultaneously also protect their rights.

Supporting local action

Actions to empower indigenous people – including indigenous women, youth, and people with disabilities – to participate meaningfully in agricultural-sector development include:

  • Enabling indigenous community-based organizations to shape and benefit from climate-smart agricultural programs through investment in civil society strengthening, for example, by providing workshops on advocacy and skills development.
  • Securing inclusive participation in national decision-making– for example, through the Climate Smart Agriculture Multi-Stakeholder Platform (CSA-MSP), chaired and hosted by the Climate Change Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Co-operatives.
  • Strengthening involvement in the design of locally led adaptation planning by promoting indigenous participation in stakeholder platforms for county-level climate-resilient agriculture.
  • Embracing human rights safeguards for climate-sensitive agricultural investments that affect indigenous peoples, including effective consultation in the design and implementation of the proposed investments based on the Free, Prior, and Informed Consent principles in line with Sessional Paper No. 03 of 2021 on National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights
  • Facilitating indigenous people to use their knowledge to craft solutions that build resilience and adaptation to the impact of climate change, while protecting their rights. An example is the Rights-based Innovative Traditional Knowledge Tool for co-production in climate monitoring and weather forecasting.

For local climate action to succeed in Kenya, it is important to integrate understanding based on the particular circumstances of indigenous peoples. Ensuring representation, agency and a meaningful voice in decision-making is critical. All stakeholders, including indigenous communities themselves, must address social equity in response to the impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector. With attention to social equity comes the potential for building participatory parity to secure indigenous people’s full participation in society through locally led, climate-resilient, transformative pathways.

Learn more here:

Read the policy note here

Voices of Change video series: https://www.youtube.com/@cemiride/playlists

Blog: Voices of Change: Community stories of climate adaptation in Baringo, Kenya – CGIAR

Blog: #Weareindigenous: working towards a seat at the table, not just on the sidelines

Blog : Local knowledge for global decision-making

Learn more about CEMIRIDE here.

Side-event at COP28: Join us on December 8 from 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. local time at the Food and Agriculture Pavilion for our side-event titled “Applying a social equity approach to transformative climate change adaptation: a panel discussion featuring CGIAR’s Research Initiative on Climate Resilience.

Feature image photo credit: CGIAR Research Initiative on Climate Resilience (ClimBeR)



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