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How the County Climate Change Fund transformed a little-known village in Makueni County - Kenya

As the global debate on climate change and push for climate action rages on, a small village in Makueni County, Kenya, presents us with a lived experience of how finance that places local people at the centre of decision making, can move communities from a climate-vulnerable to climate-resilient status.

Masue - the small village in question - is characterised by dangerously deep valleys resulting from soil erosion. The surface water runoff from the rocky ground causes a serious loss of topsoil every time the rain pounds the village.

Only a few years ago the village was synonymous with failure despite its determination and grit to change its public standing, and how it viewed itself as a water-scarce and vulnerable community.

Every day local people walked over 5km to the nearest river to access water. As primary caregivers responsible for domestic water, women would leave their homes early in the morning and get back with a 20-litre container on their back late in the afternoon. They were aware of the demand on their time and all the other equally important chores at home and on the farm.

At one point, Masue almost gave up, resigned to its fate of never reversing its vulnerability to climate change.

But since that time, things have changed.

From 2013, Ada Consortium, led by the National Drought Management Authority, has provided technical support to the Counties of Makueni, Isiolo, Kitui, Garissa and Wajir to set up and operationalise a County Climate Change Fund model.

The model devolves finance to local levels and gives communities authority to decide what investments to undertake. The project is funded by UKAid and Sida.


Involving communities in assessing the problem

One of the critical components of the County Climate Change Fund (CCCF) mechanism is use of simple planning tools empowering the community to undertake participatory vulnerability and capacity assessments (PVCA).

It is during this assessment that Masue people saw an opportunity presented by the rocky landscape to address the perennial water shortages in the area.

In 2016, after a vigorous community consultation process led by Ward Climate Change Planning Committees (WCCPC), community members agreed to present a proposal to the County Climate Change Fund Committee.

They were seeking to harness, collect, store and distribute rainwater captured from the rock surface - water that had previously always gone to waste.

The proposal has now become reality. It consists of low walls built across the vast rock surface to harvest and channel rainwater to a collection chamber. From here the water is piped to three masonry storage tanks each with a capacity of 200 cubic metres. The storage tanks are located in different parts of the village, each with their own water distribution systems.

Collectively, the project now benefits over 300 households and three schools in the village throughout the year. And as important, women no longer bear the brunt of climate change impacts.


A village transformed

Anyone interacting with Masue village community now, will observe the transformation this project has brought about. Women now draw water from kiosks closer to their homes, saving many hours. They have time to attend to family chores and take part in economic activities such as small-scale farming - which puts money in their pocket.

School going children, who before the project had to rush to the river to fetch water before and after school, can now enjoy some family time. There’s no better time to be a student.

Beyond the tangible benefits, what is obvious is the change of attitude and the level of pride the local people have in this achievement. According to them, this was made possible not only by climate finance made available at that local level, but more importantly, the real power placed in their hands in deciding what investment to be financed by the CCCF.

As the County Climate Change Fund mechanism is now being scaled out by the Government of Kenya to cover more counties, it is critical it maintains the key principles that enabled the people of Masue to overcome their problems of water scarcity. The most important of these principles being the one guaranteed in the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which calls for strong community participation in planning and decision over resources.

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Modernity has resulted in the erosion of historical natural resources management practices without providing a viable alternative for managing competing demands from different groups.  This has contributed to loss of animals and people from conflict over pasture and water especially in the Arid and Semi Arid Lands of Kenya. Loss of the rangelands to other uses and the increasing fragmentation of common land is slowly but surely reducing the area left for pasturing livestock.

This is undermining pastoralists’ time-tested strategies to produce high value foods – milk and meat – under conditions of rainfall variability and to respond to extreme events such as drought.  Today we are seeing changes to the climate.  The seasons seem to be shifting with greater uncertainty of when the rains will come, or end and increasing events of more erratic and violent rainfall followed by severe drought. The current formal natural resource management system and formal administrative and justice system are not in tune with these changes and in many respects are undermining the ability of local people to respond to climate change.

Discussions on mass irrigation to turn arid counties into agricultural productive areas have also emerged in the recent past.  Consequently, some counties such as Isiolo have bought tractors in readiness for agricultural production and in the process shift the economic livelihood of the communities from pastoralism to agriculture. But is this what the community wants? 

Or is it even appropriate for a dryland county like Isiolo, which is a major livestock, producing area supplying highly nutritional milk and meat not only to the local population but also as far as Nairobi.  And this is being done with very little government investment or support.  Large-scale irrigation of the drylands is very costly and highly unsustainable often causing major environmental damage as shown by past schemes in Turkana and Tana River as well as in other dryland countries like Sudan and even South-Eastern Australia.

Muhamud Sheikh Mohamed, a Dedha elder endorses the Dedha system, a community driven institution among the Boran pastoralists that ensures the rationale management of the rangelands to ensure livestock find pasture and water in both the rainy and the dry seasons, and even during drought years. He believes that this system if supported by the county government will allow the community to better manage climate change.

He states that in the past the system was highly recognized by the community and through it they were able to mitigate conflict and save their animals from drought. Access to pasture by other counties was also negotiated prior to their migration. Through the Dedha system, resources were demarcated and land preserved for the drought, dry and wet seasons. He notes that this system was successful, as the communities were able to take and enforce decisions in response to what was happening locally with respect to water and pasture conditions.

“During the Dedha reign, herds were divided into two, with lactating animals grazing near the homestead whereas the rest of the animals were taken further a field in search of pasture and water” he said.

“When herding the animals, two people were assigned to collect animal dung from the water point to ensure that the water remained clean. If and when the water was finished, the Dedha elders would consult amongst themselves and recommend a different watering point. This process would go on until the drought was over,” he added.

Through the Isiolo County Adaptation Fund (ICAF), the Adaptation Committees have revived the Dedha customary natural resource management system to govern the use of their resources. The revival was informed by the resilience assessment surveys undertaken by county government staff. These identified that the biggest impediment for communities to withstand the recurring drought is poor natural resource governance.  As part of the process of reviving the Dedha system, the community has also conducted cross border resource sharing meetings with the Counties of Wajir and Garissa to agree with pastoral communities from these areas consensual rules for reciprocal access. This is essential for effective resource sharing and mitigation of conflict.

“Our animals survived the August 2014 drought due to better management of resources. We didn’t receive any rains for the last two seasons and no animals died due to reserving our dry grazing area well. When the drought period came, people went to graze in this area”, Muhamud Sheikh Mohamed added.

The Isiolo County government has recognized the importance of the system and is currently in the process of passing a Bill that will give the Dedha’s authority to manage the resources. “We have traditional grazing patterns that include places for the wet season, drought season and dry season grazing the areas that are well demarcated.

We have collected all the data and what is remaining is to formalize it and create the structure to govern”, said Suleiman Guyo, County Executive – Agriculture, livestock, Fisheries and physical planning - Isiolo County. “Once we have the areas and institutions to govern, the community will greatly benefit. Pasture will flourish, animals will be healthy, and there will be control of influx and diseases”, he added.

A recent study undertaken by the Adaptation Consortium has identified the following benefits as result of the revival of the Dedha System: Reduced livestock mortality by 60% as compared to previous years of droughts; Community empowerment, and well managed resources through clearly defined and adhered to rules of the customary institution of Dedha; reduced disease eruptions due to controlled livestock influx from other wards and counties. 

This has reduced household expenses on drugs by 40%, and resulted in a constant supply of milk during the dry season leading to improved nutrition for the elderly and children, and reduced need for pastoral households to sell animals when prices are low to buy expensive cereals.

“You can teach people how to build houses and roads, how to perform operations in hospitals but you can not teach people to govern themselves - that they should learn themselves,” said Daoud Tari. “When you empower Dedha you empower the whole community, you make them resilient against all shocks of drought,” he added.

By Jane Kiiru