The ramblings of environmental sustainability

Marsabit county is hot and dry. Marsabit town can be foggy, wet and muddy. Environmental conservation in this place is not an option. Pastoralist livelihoods are built around livestock (cattle, sheep, camel and goat) and there no way of extricating this from their mundane lives. Man needs cow for meat and milk; cow needs grass to produce meat and milk; grass needs rain to grow; and rain has a wit of not showing up at the right time or place.

For instance, in the 2012, the onset of the long-rains in Marsabit was the 11th of October, but for most of October and November, it did not rain nice and neat across the county. However, in December, one huge downpour ensured that most of the south part of the district received rain. In January, only three days of rain was left to add to the count and that was it. So, when you talk about how grass grows in these parts then you must be a technocrat… I’m serious! Sustainability in pastoral lands is a very delicate affair which continues to baffle many minds (mine included) of how to strike a balance between forage (grass, shrubs, etc.) and the number of animals. As easy as this may seem, the ‘equation’ is way from being solved.

However, another form of environmental sustainability still looms over our head. The urban kind of environmental sustainability. Recently when visiting Mauritius, I was treated to rare experience of driving through a country that is hardly 2 hours drive from coast to coast. The apparent differences with my home country Kenya (I am talking infrastructure, environment, economy) were stunning and led me to delve a little more into the detail.

Mauritius is a democratic country and provides free health care (that caught my attention) and education for its population of 1.2 million. The road infrastructure is superb and you don’t need to visit the environmental authority to know that their laws and regulations are being enforced. The population is about 80% literate, which is by no means a bad thing to aspire to as Kenya. Tourism is the mainstay of the economy, away from sugarcane production that dominated the past few decades. What I saw in a few hours in Mauritius is the picture of where I would like Kenya to be in the next few years. You could blame the transect I walked and think that it may not be representative of the whole country but that’s for another day.

What I learnt is that we can continue talking about environmental sustainability all we want but without societal transformation, we are just a clanging gong. Empty. Education therefore is key to transforming our society. We need to rethink the quality of our education system if we are to inch ahead. Secondly, environmental, social and economic policies need to focus on empowering the community and reducing gender disparities across the board. Third, development should reduce dependency on fossil fuels and other systems that create waste and provide cleaner solutions that reduce pollution and promote the use of alternative energy including solar, wind and water.

So what’s in it for you as an individual today? Reduce the energy you consume at household level. This includes getting rid of those incandescent light bulbs, using energy rated equipment and managing the use of appliances. It will also save your costs. Choose to minimize the waste you produce – reduce, reuse and recycle. Conserve water (there’s not very much going around).

Meanwhile, I’ll keep with the “less complicated stuff” of balancing livestock and grass.

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