Women are Climate Adaptation Champions, the case of Kakamega Forest

By Treezer Michelle Atieno

Ever wondered about the transformative role women play in combating climate change? “Women, being one of the most vulnerable groups to the effects of climate change, are also at the forefront of climate action, such as climate adaptation,” says Innocent O. Deckoks Omil, a guest on Episode 127 of the Root of the Science Podcast.

The conservation efforts led by women in Kakamega Forest, Kenya, is a compelling example of why women should play a more active role in climate conversations.

Kakamega Forest, the only remaining rainforest in Kenya, faces the threat of overexploitation. However, women’s groups have demonstrated innovative approaches that balance the utilization of the forest’s resources with effective protection measures.

A section of the unfenced parts of Kakamega Forest. ( Photo by Treezer)

Listed in 2010 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, Kakamega Forest is the easternmost remnant of the prehistoric Guineo-Congolian Forest. It is a sanctuary for a variety of endemic birds, insects and more than 380 plant species, many of which are not found anywhere else in Kenya.

People living adjacent to Kakamega Forest depend on it for timber, fuel wood, herbal medicines, building materials and other resources for daily life. However high levels of poverty often mean the resources are being harvested in an unsustainable manner.

“During my early days in this area, the forest was very thick. That has changed,” says conservationist Maridah Khalawa. “We have lost a number of very important trees like the kumulembe tree that we used to treat a number of diseases, including ulcers.”

Khalawa believes there is a way for people to both protect and profit from the forest, so she founded the Muliru Farmers’ Conservation Group.

Members of  Muliru Farmers’ Conservation Group inspecting some of their herbs. (Photo by Muliru Farmers’ Conservation Group)

The group has beehives in the forest, which they harvest honey every three months, demonstrating that people can benefit from the forest while conserving it. To use medicinal trees, the group promotes an ethical harvesting procedure: barks, leaves and root parts can only be harvested from mature trees so as not to interfere with the growth of younger ones.

Sweet honey, some of the beehives owned by Muliru Farmers’ Conservation Group. (Photo by Treezer)

Agnes Mulimi, the head of Shamiloli Forest Conservation Green Growers, works with a philosophy similar to Khalawa’s in leading her group’s agroforestry and reforestation effort. The all-women group was founded in 2000 and formally registered in 2015. It trains its members on alternative ways of deriving an income from the forest and distributes tree seedlings to encourage reforestation.

“We give people these [eucalyptus and cypress] seedlings for free and also offer planting advice,” she says. “We are against wasting even a single tree.”

Government forestry officers allow the group to grow crops in the forest as long as such planting does not require cutting down indigenous trees.

One of the planted sections of Kakamega Forest under the reforestation program by Shamiloli Forest Conservation Green Growers. (Photo by Treezer)

The Shamiloli group grows camphor basil and sells it to a factory managed by the Muliru Farmers’ Conservation Group.

Others, such as the Valonji Women Group in Valonji village, are working to reduce household consumption of forest resources like firewood. The group makes and sells energy efficient stoves that preserve heat because they are moulded from clay and therefore use less firewood than the traditional three-stone open fires usually used for cooking. They also have 23 beehives for additional income, harvesting about 12kg of honey every three months, which they sell for 1,100 Kenyan shillings ($8.61) a kilogramme.

Beatrice Ibenze, a member of Valonji Women Group shows the energy jiko made and sold by the group to locals in Kakamega and beyond. (Photo by Treezer)

Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, said at the 66th UN Status of Women meeting last year: “We have had enough male-dominated solutions. A just transition to a green, sustainable future requires gender responsive approaches.”


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