Tag: environmental degradation

Nature’s Touch – the irreplaceable value

Lake Kanyaboli
Lake Kanyaboli

One of the greatest gifts of life is to be able to dream. When I was younger, I wanted to be a bus driver. I dreamed of being able to sit behind the mighty behemoth and pacing around like I own the world! My dream was ever strung around reversing the truck with multiple trailers. Let me say that this dream were short-lived as LIFE gradually replaced it! The realities of process as well as cause and effect! That said, the brighter side is that these dreams were replaced by even grandeur ones; traversing the world, being UNEP boss – ha!  but was quickly limited by numerous challenges and fraught with dangers, that I equally dreamed of. Nowadays, I change the world a word at a time!

Recently I visited Lake Kanyaboli, a satellite lake on Lake Victoria in Siaya County. The scenery was beautiful, the nature pleasant, fresh air intoxicating and I just imagined myself sitting by the side of the lake with a book, taking stock of the changing moments, the rising of the sun, the innumerable bird species, the glistening waters, unadulterated environment, the fish, the people as they scramble to collect water amidst the livestock and the distant hills across the lake that constantly casts its shadow over the waters.

I met a man, Charles, who works with his hands! He is a craftsman, designing crafts out of papyrus which is abundant around the lakeside, as my eyes would say. His story is one of resilience, belief and hard work. He learnt the craft by tagging on to a man he met selling woven chairs off his bicycles on the dusty rugged roads of his village. He persuaded him to teach him the craft and for more than six months he would be an apprentice under him, stirring early in the morning everyday to  harvest papyrus, a task which initially left his hands bloody and his back sore. Not to give up, he would quickly and efficiently accomplish this duty to ensure that he had time to observe and learn the actual art of weaving. To cut short the long story, he now has his own business that provides him with a means of putting food on the table and taking care of his family, running for more than 10 years now. He enjoins the services of two women who help him meet his demand.

For Charles, it has been well over the years but now he feels threatened by expansion of Agriculture and increased destruction of the swamp areas around lake Kanyaboli. His only hope is that he will continue to have the opportunity to run and expand his business. I also hope that he teaches the craft as an inheritance to his children.

Papyrus at Lake Kanyaboli
Papyrus at Lake Kanyaboli

For me something slightly different ticked off! As I watched him twisting together the tapestry of his product, I could almost see a radiance on his face and a twinkle in his eye. He enjoyed what he was doing. There was a subtle state of comfort that prevailed making his work seem so effortless yet also a constant exertion stemming from the effort put leaving him with beads of sweat streaming down his cheeks. He seemed very in touch with the papyrus reeds that they almost seemed to know how to respond when he touched them. The swinging of hands, poking of holes and pulling of reeds almost produced a rhythmic cadence to a silent song that will never be sung.

For more than ten minutes I sat there in silence watching him and wondering what value he places on this papyrus. If the whole swamp is destroyed, it seems obvious what he would loose. In the same step, I reflect on the serene beauty that surrounds me just outside the door of Charles’ workshop. I look around at those living here going on with their daily chores, quite oblivious of my ways and thoughts. I smile and dream. What would this place would look like many years from now. A complete environmental disaster? Or a renewed Gem? It is only the many who live in these surrounding that will determine its future.

As it is for them, so it is for you and me. We can only reach where our dreams go! We can only dream of what we see, what we hear and what we know. Our lives are inextricably linked to nature, we come from it and we go back to it when we die. The dash in between our nascence and obliteration what we can dream of. I am dreaming of a better world, a better people and an even better next generation.

As I settle back into the car, I dream that if I would come back as a man (again) in my next life, then I will be a cobbler! Take care of people’s feet and let their feet take care of them.

En-route to Marsabit

A dawning of a new day
A dawning of a new day

One Morning, three months ago, Life woke me up to another odyssey. Marsabit was the destination under question. Let me share excitement; visualize your big dream. See yourself waking up from your bed one morning and there it is. Then go through the moments of pinching yourself and asking whether this is real or someone is playing a really bad joke on you. Here you are wondering whether someone has fabricated a very bad trick to make you believe. I have often wondered what it would be like to live and work among pure pastoral communities and to critically question their way of life, being very different from mine. Despite working among the Maasai and Samburu of Kenya, something tickled me about the unknown.

The transitions that define my life mould all kinds of mental pictures of what really describes a sustainable world, region, country, location, community or person. Sustainability has been largely defined and practiced with environmentalism painting the backdrop, because modern lifestyles are invariably fuelled by environmental resources.

My maiden trip to Marsabit was a trip characterised by intrigue, learning, anticipation and comedy, and was the hallmark of defining hardship.

Isiolo, which is approximately mid-way between Nairobi and Marsabit is fairly easy to get to but the route beyond Isiolo is a totally different ball game. I took the Liban bus from Isiolo, which plies the route on a daily basis. In addition to passengers, the bus is usually packed with goods including the daily bread for the Marsabit people as well as other grocery. This bus has not shocks, and I will stand by my word. It must be a special edition which totally ignored this feature. My back was breaking by the time we got to Marsabit. That aside…

Anxiety led me to the bus station at 7pm since the recorded departure time was 8pm. The bus arrives shortly before 8 and hippie me finds myself in my seat, no. 37. Now, visualize this, I am comfortably sat, exhausted from the first half of the trip and oblivious of any other eventuality, just waiting to make my way. So what happens next you don’t say…! Someone starts sweeping the bus which sends billows of dust all over the place. In spite of boasting intact lungs, I could no longer sufficiently separate oxygen from the array of pungent particles lingering in the air.

As if it was good riddance, they start welding up inside the bus to repair damaged seats. Sparks keep flying inside the bus for a good half an hour releasing toxic blue smoke that slowly weaves its way through the bus, blending into the fabric of cloths and hiding behind the cracks to later constitute the aromatic concoction for the travellers that day. It’s now, 9pm, an hour since we were to leave and yes; we are still at the bus station, I am sat on the ground watching young men hastily hoisting a ton load of goods to the roof rack, ingesting khat and exhaling vile breath, language and all sorts of sexual innuendo, to disguise their exhaustion from exertion.

10pm: This is not working. I step back into the bus, dust my seat and by then, a mama with her 2 years or so baby, and luggage are occupying most of the 3 seater. Hmmm!! I make myself comfortable in the only remaining slot of the seat but I am acutely aware that there may be someone else to host by our side. As if to ascertain my thoughts, a young man squinting at his ticket and in turn at the seat numbers walks up and without fretting points at me as if to suggest I make space. Ok, this is the fun part, when I ask the mama to move up, she takes the child off the chair but keeps her luggage sat. This bag is way too big for a handbag anyway. Ha! I wonder, what would be better on the seat, the baby or the bag? By the way, note that we sat with the bag all the way! Lucky I was sat in the middle. The poor young man had to endure the trip, I think.

We depart around 10.30pm and I tell you, there is not a more gruesome journey I have had to endure. My piece of bad luck can be attributed to the fact that I had to take a back seat and sit squeezed, occasioned by ‘seated’ luggage. Can’t complain. That’s culture. Now, allow me to curse the hawker who generously loaded the passengers with boiled eggs at the beginning of the journey because the rest of the journey was an aromatic blend of body odor,  oriental perfume, phat and welding smoke that made my head dizzy while the child incessantly cried for most of the journey. I must have passed out from the rich exotic oriental flavors that spiced up the air to escape the realities. All that met my ears was the distant laboring of the engine as the bus made its way to Marsabit.

6 am and this is me arriving in Marsabit. The all night journey roughed up every muscle in my body, leaving my body half massaged and in need of a rest. Cold, misty, dusty… damn combination but better than the bus environment. This is my first day in Marsabit, and I will be here for a while. I check into a hotel and take the long nap to recompense the stolen sleep!

Mt. Kulal

Tourism – Investing in energy and resource efficiency

Synthesis of the Green Economy Report (UNEP 2011)

The green economy is one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities. (UNEP 2010) This report in its entirety presents case scenarios of how economic development and environmental deterioration can be decoupled in the main production sector.

Tourism in the green economy cites activities that can be sustained on the long-term within their social, cultural and environmental context. Is there a difference between the “green economy” “ecotourism” and “sustainable tourism”? Ecotourism focuses mainly on sustainability within the normative principles that include minimize negative environmental impacts and maximize benefits to local communities alongside providing quality experience and generating profits (Hetzer, 1965; Ceballos-Lascurain, 1987; Ross, 1999). Sustainable tourism on the other hand is not a form of tourism but rather a longevity principle that all tourism businesses can strive toward.

Despite generating 5% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), tourism attracts major challenges within its provisioning systems for energy, water and waste, leading to negative impacts on biodiversity, cultures and communities. Nonetheless, opportunities exist in sizing the growth of the industry (providing limits to expansion), changing consumer patterns (increasing the demand environmentally friendly tourism) and maximizing tourism’s potential for addressing local development and poverty reduction.

Sustainable tourism can create stronger linkages with the local economy by providing opportunities for biodiversity conservation through direct and indirect support. Due to its labour intensive nature, tourism provides support for micro enterprises providing employment for women and disadvantaged groups. Tourism products are a combination of activities and therefore support different industries including agriculture, handicrafts, transport, water, waste, etc. and involve local suppliers, allowing the local economy to benefit. The local economy also benefits indirectly from tourism infrastructure including roads, water supply, etc. which enhance their quality of life. Finally, tourism employs more young people and women than most other sectors, providing benefits and independence to women in supporting child development and alleviating poverty.

So is there a case for investing in green tourism? Travel and tourism investment in 2009 reached US$ 1, 398 billion, approximately 9.4% of global investment, providing significance to the case. Tourism directly and indirectly employs about 230 million people around the world and an added investment would provide increased employment in relative sectors. Tourism spending filters down to varying degrees depending on the structure of tourism thus increased investment would lead to a multiplier effect as long as leakages can be limited and interventions crafted to enhance the participation of local communities. Environmental conservation will be enhanced as businesses invest more in the protection of biodiversity and avoid the destruction of pristine (or near pristine) ecosystems. Culture including life, history, archaeology and religion is transitive and therefore as much as investing in sustainable tourism enhances culture, its preservation presents emergent challenges that communities have to address.

So, how would investments in green economy between 2011 and 2050 present as a trade-off to business as usual (BAU) in a simulated scenario? Tourism will be growing at a slower rate by 2.5% in comparison to BAU scenario and the GDP will exceed the BAU scenario by 7%. In short, despite increased tourism arrivals, there will be a considerable improvement in operational efficiency within the sector on key resources including water consumption, energy supply and demand, Carbon dioxide emissions and waste management.

What are some of the barriers and how can they be surpassed? Greening in the tourism sector is as complex as the endogenous heterogeneity and therefore requires the multi-stakeholder approach for its success. The private sector needs to provide sustainability incentives for tourism accommodations, tour operations and transport by linking tourism products with market positions. Governments and international development institutes can contribute by shaping policies that integrate sustainability into tourism development. Destination planning should advance green goals that are reinforced by laws and regulations and based on sound scientific methods and tools encompassing economic, environmental and social approaches. Fiscal policies including tax breaks, concessions and pricing can give clear signals to investors on the government’s intentions in the sector and provide drive. “Green financing” needs to be made accessible for investments in tourism in order to stimulate sustainable development within the industry. Barriers to financial access should be softened by engaging banks and financiers on green tourism investment as well as providing regional funds through international partners. Local investment can be strengthened by strengthening the tourism value chain back to SME investment, enhancing bank access to small businesses and individuals.

Works Cited

Ceballos-Lascurain, H. (1987). The future of ‘ecotourism’. Mexico Journal, 13–14.

Hetzer, W. (1965). Environment, tourism and culture.

Ross, S. &. (1999). Evaluating ecotourism: The case of North Sulawesi, Indonesia. ¹ourism Management.

United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP). (2011). Towards a Green Economy: Pathway to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. Nairobi: http://www.unep.org/greeneconomy.

Transitions Thresholds and the Green Economy

I am always too excited about new things; transformations, transitions, tranhumance and everything to do with ‘trans’s except of course trances. I believe that this condition is driven by an eagerness to see change, and of course I cannot ignore the fact that ‘present states’ can attenuate excitement, abate anxiety and multiply ineffectiveness on every count. However, what is the importance of transitiveness with reference to the GREEN ECONOMY?

One of the reason why environmental degradation remains so pervasive is because individuals, groups, peoples, societies and nations remain intransitive in the face of global environment change. Imagine with me for a moment taking a walk through unadulterated environment, trees are fully grown and bending over from their weight, green grass coupled with thistles and black jacks rather than  continuous dirt trails, fresh air, etc. The general activities around such places have an infinitely narrow range, small scale farming, less than permanent houses and probably controlled hunting; The population is 30 families. Fast forward ten years later with a population of 300 families, same space, same actions… and we expect the consequences to be the same? You must be kidding me!

The world has worked hard are unfreezing societies from their current profligate state with little success. First it was Rio de Janeiro with the Agenda 21 ‘Think globally act locally’ and now heading towards the Rio+20 on ‘green economy for sustainable development and poverty eradication’. If you are anything like me, pessimism will strike your head as we usher in a new decade of ideology. But let me give my two cents on this although nobody asked.

Green Economy in its definition is “that which results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”. (UNEP 2010) Let us draw out some meaning from this definition.

First, the green economy is an end or culmination as suggested by the word “RESULT” suggesting that a set of actions will provide a means to green economy. Secondly, the impact of these actions are on “HUMAN WELL-BEING AND  SOCIAL EQUITY”. Human well-being by definition is understood as a state of health, happiness and prosperity; a state where one is satisfied or without want, engulfing both subjective and objective functions. (Wikiprogress 2011). This suggests that this cannot be a unifying concept but  rather varies from person to place to culture, etc. Social equity is also another development related jargon that is defined as “equal opportunity in a health and safe environment”. Indicators of social equity can be a factor of education, employment, security, welfare, etc. Once again an objective and subjective concept. Third, significance is often referred to in statistics as “the probability of observing a value 95% of the time” while in social sciences and indeed the lay man’s language, something significant is one with a difference, observed or believed. The measures that therefore define environmental improvement vary dependent on the sector and on the desired outcome/state, which in this proposition is social as well as ecological.

The green economy rightly contextualizes social and ecological upheaval akin economic pursuits but inordinately implies that both pursuits can be extricated, without mentioning the modalities of diminishing greed, developing abstinence and nurturing prolific “LOCAL ECONOMIES”. Expanding global economies drive demand that increase production which inadvertently drives exploitation of natural resource that production is dependent on. Could the green economy therefore be shoe-honing its way into another trivial era and concerning us with trifles and lackadaisical action? As long as you are in the wrong wood, it doesn’t matter how fast you run.

As David Orr rightly puts it, the greatest impediment to ecological design is not technological or scientific, but rather human. Our greatest effort should therefore assert itself on how to alter the attitudes and mindset of men that have been indelibly charred through centuries of learned exploitative art and science. This is not just a smarter way of doing the same old things but however excelling in producing ecologically benign concepts that will reshape our way of life.

As we await the courage of a few, we will indulge with what we can do within the “GREEN ECONOMY”.