Farmers are key during trials as they facilitate technology transfer.

JKUAT technology boosts Kenyan maize yield amid drought

Farmers are key during trials as they facilitate technology transfer.

By Tebby Otieno |

Agricultural researchers and scientists at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) couldn’t contain their excitement as they witnessed a bountiful maize harvest.

The Kenyan maize variety, DKC90-89, was planted on June 2 in JKUAT’s Modern Agriculture Demonstration Area (MADA) and yielded 50 per cent more harvest than those in surrounding farms.

“We have been doing research mainly on maize in the agricultural research farm here in JKUAT, focusing mainly on how to improve the yield per hectare of our main crop besides mitigating the climate change impacts,” said lead researcher, Prof David Mburu.

The researchers and scientists said DKC90-89 is not genetically modified. The improvement in yield was simply an outcome of optimised agronomic practices such as proper spacing, mulching, irrigation and effective pest control.

Registering 2,700kg yield per acre in the demonstration area, the crop has shown potential to reverse maize shortage in Kenya and contribute to food security for the population.

As COP27 discussions concluded in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, Prof Mburu said his team has been conducting agricultural experiments that can feed the masses while keeping a tab on climate change.

He said they have been monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural production system and experimenting with different treatments to see which one emits the least. They have also conducted experiments outside the university in farmers’ fields in some of the driest parts of the country.

“We have done trials with farmers in a way of transferring the technology that we develop here to the farming community so that they can also benefit from technologies that improve the maize yield while reducing carbon emissions,” said Prof Mburu.

Prof Robert Gituru, the Kenyan Director of the Sino-Africa Joint Research Centre (SAJOREC), says food security is a prerequisite for development, comfort, and good life. He says the three cannot exist without agriculture.

“The harvest time has come and we are very glad to note that the productivity of the crop that we established inside this plot was very good. Actually it was extremely encouraging compared to the similar crop outside the demonstration area,” said Prof Gituru, adding, “We realised 50 per cent more produce.”

In 2019, the Wuhan Botanical Garden under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and JKUAT, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on collaboration and the establishment of MADA at JKUAT.

According to Prof Yan Xue, Executive Director of the SAJOREC at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the researchers have also worked on other cutting-edge agricultural produce that can adapt to local climate and have yielded successful results in the past three yields.

He added that in the upcoming months, they hope to introduce kiwi fruit from their Botanic Garden and support the expansion of numerous varieties, including high-yield peanuts, hybrid rice, and other crops.

“It’s my high expectation that the existing collaboration between CAS and JKUAT will continue to grow from strength to strength for the mutual benefit of our research and capacity building. I hope that the achievement of MADA can be taken up and validated by the local people,” said Prof Yan.

Zhou Pingjian, the Chinese Ambassador to Kenya, stated during the harvest ceremony at JKUAT that hard work is not enough. Instead, he added, it was necessary to merge it with science, technology, and education to increase the output of maize and other agricultural produce.

“Everybody values the importance of food adequacy. So as a policy we are willing to deepen cooperation with our friends particularly African friends who is Kenya, through our cooperation in this field,” said Dr Zhou.

Prof Victoria Ngumi, Vice Chancellor of JKUAT, said witnessing the ceremony was one of the most fulfilling outcomes of JKUAT researchers and scientists from the Chinese Academy of Sciences on maize production.

She said the news of the 50 per cent more yields than crops in the surrounding area planted with the same cultivar revealed the importance of international research partnerships in solving cross-border problems.

“In this project, a Chinese technology was applied in Kenya and the outcome now promises to revolutionise maize production with potential impacts going beyond Kenya. As a university we are proud of this enviable outcome of our collaboration with Wuhan Botanical Garden Chinese Academy of Sciences,” said Prof Ngumi.

Many farmers, especially those in water-scarce areas, can only feel hopeful with this agricultural technology that has increased maize production for Kenya when the nation is experiencing a food supply shortage due to the prolonged drought.

According to Prof Ngumi, the technology will significantly increase local production of the staple crop while also demonstrating the validity of research as the only viable solution to societal obstacles like those encountered in the agricultural sector.

 Kenya’s October 3, 2022 decision to lift the 2012 ban on GM crops has raised mixed reactions among advocates and critics of the technology.

In November 2012, then Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo banned importation of all Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) into the country.

Ten years later, President William Ruto has now overseen the opening up of the country to GM crop cultivation in a move that promises to unlock a multi-billion-shilling market for researchers and firms involved in the development, sale and marketing of genetically engineered seed and other planting materials.

Soon after the president’s announcement, the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture (MESHA) hosted a panel of scientists from both sides of the GM divide in a cafe on October 4, 2022.

Horticultural trade specialist Dr Sarah Olembo said the decision was taken in haste, without public participation and in violation of the 2000 Catargena Protocols that require buffer zones between GM and natural zones.

The Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity is an international agreement that aims to ensure the safe handling, transport and use of living modified organisms (LMOs) resulting from modern biotechnology that may have adverse effects on biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health.

It was signed by 103 countries in 2000 and came into effect in September 2003.

“The protocols provided for the cultivation of GM crops in specific zones while creating buffer zones between them and other natural zones. This has not yet been done in Kenya,” said Dr Olembo.

She said the country’s phytosanitary standards that regulate the movement of seed and plant materials had not been fine tuned to accommodate the changes, terming them “an ambush on Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), the country’s phytosanitary regulation arm.

“I lack confidence in the current capacity of KEPHIS to handle the introduction of GM crops,” said Dr Olembo.

She said lifting the ban will put pressure on Kenya’s neighbours as it has now heightened the possibility of GM seeds and other planting materials crossing their borders.

“With the GM ban lifted, neighbouring countries will have to step up their surveillance protocols. Without that, they might as well allow the free movement of GM crops and related materials,” said Dr Olembo.

She also warned that the capacity of communities to maintain stocks of indigenous seed varieties would be compromised by the ban.

“Lifting the ban will jeopardise the seed sovereignty, human rights, and the traditional role of women as the community custodians of seed,” she said.

Seed expert and organic farming advocate Daniel Maingi said the introduction of GM food crops means that women will no longer be able to afford the seed varieties.

“The proposed punitive fine of Sh10 million or six months’ jail term for those found planting unauthorised GM varieties will also discourage many from the uptake of the new varieties,” Mr Maingi said.

He said the entry of GM crops would herald a new era of local seed market domination by agrochemical giants.

“Seed colonisation will strip communities of the ability to independently produce food, make them GM seed dependent and threaten food security,” Mr Maingi said.

He lamented what he called Africa’s disappointing move to adapt technology that the West was slowly abandoning.

“It is sad to see that we are going for industrial food, which requires lots of pesticides. This type of food, which Europe is abandoning in favour of organic crops we grow here in Africa, is also mostly tasteless,” he said.

Dr Murenga Mwimali, who is the Principal Research Scientist and Maize Breeder at the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (KALRO), said GM technology had provided a way out of the country’s pressing perennial food shortage crisis by providing a platform to undertake product development through engineering.

“We must find solutions to the problems we face. We have to apply new thinking to solve them. We cannot be thinking in new ways but living and acting in the old ways,” he said. 

Prof Douglas Miano, an associate professor at the Department of Plant Science and Crop Protection at the University of Nairobi, reminded the audience that the GM crop introduction into the country would be on a case by case basis, and not a haphazard process without the required safeguards.

“The lifting of the ban is not a free for all kind of declaration that will open the floodgates to random and uncontrolled GM crop cultivation. This is because the National Biosafety Act and the National Biosafety Authority that oversees the process of development and release of GM technology in the country are both in force,” said the lecturer and researcher.

“We have the laid down laws and regulation governing the development, assessment, release and follow up of GM crops and these have clearly not been done away with. They will still be followed,” he added.

He lamented that the ban had stifled local efforts to develop food security solutions using the technology.

“Our work was previously disappearing into a dark hole due to government policy that had outlawed food imports that were grown using GM technology,” said Prof Miano.

“Now we are free to pursue our research knowing that it can be applied once the approvals are sought from the required regulatory agencies and secured,” the scientists said.

According to Prof Justus Onguso of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT), the lifting of the ban had revived interest in biotechnology countrywide.

“Students who had given up on biotech are calling us. They are interested in re-enrolling so that they can apply what they have learnt in developing solutions for the local market,” he told Sayansi.

Prof Onguso clarified that GM research had not been banned, but the negative publicity around the technology had driven scientists in the sector out of the spotlight.

“We were doing some projects in secret but now we can share the findings for the benefit of Kenyans and the world at large,” Prof Onguso said.

“The ban’s lifting provides a massive opportunity for us to develop solutions tailored for the Kenyan market all the way from concept, development, performance testing, approval, release and post-release surveillance and follow up.”

Among the ongoing research projects is a vaccine that can be taken as a banana.

“An edible banana vaccine is under development, for those people who do not find the idea of an injection appealing or palatable. It will be easier to dispense vaccines to children, for example, through such an innovation,” he said.

Prof Joel Onyango of the University of Nairobi asked Kenyans to trust in the capacity and experience of local scientists in developing home grown solutions for the country.

“Not everything must come from the West for us to see it as good or high quality. Let us learn to appreciate and respect the education and scientific talent or capacity in our midst,” said Prof Onyango.

“We do not need to see GM as a threat. It is also not a panacea to all our pressing food security challenges. But if it has been proven to work elsewhere, it will work here given the opportunity and following the laid down regulations.”

He assured the public that the National Biosafety Authority will not license any GM crop or tech that is unsafe.

“NBA has been mandated to monitor the tech’s use and carry out comprehensive surveillance of such varieties’ release and cultivation,” said the researcher.

He said the technology could be used to boost the country’s production to cover the shortfall in cereal supply.

Kenya produces 2.4 million tonnes of cereal each year compared to a consumption level of 4.2 million tonnes.

David Njuguna waters indigenous tree seedlings at Karura Forest nursery.

Kenya Forest Service to raise 15 billion tree seedlings in 10 years

David Njuguna waters indigenous tree seedlings at Karura Forest nursery.

By George Juma |

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) plans to raise 15 billion tree seedlings at a cost of Ksh500 billion ($4 billion) in the next 10 years in a bid to achieve a 30 per cent forest cover by 2032.

KFS Deputy Chief Conservator in charge of Advisory and County Liaison Beatrice Mbula said the service currently has about 300 seedling nurseries.

Speaking during a MESHA science café at the KFS headquarters in Nairobi, Mbula said they are going to work closely with individuals, groups and county governments to raise the 15 billion seedlings within the targeted timeline.

Merceline Alumba, an officer in charge of plantation management KFS said they are also using the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS) – also known as the shamba system – where communities living around forests are given a section of the forest to plant food crops as they manage the trees to increase forest cover.

Alumba said this strategy has worked and they now have 10,000 hectares of land under PELIS across the country.

She said the country will be able to achieve the 30 per cent forest cover by 2032 if all the stakeholders, including the general public, work jointly with the government.

Alumba said the land under the government owned forests is small and therefore the only way to increase the forest cover is through individuals’ parcels.

Currently Kenya has a forest cover of about 8.3 per cent that sits on 5.2 million hectares of land. Out of this, the government manages 2.6 million hectares while the remaining 2.6 million is under private land.

Even as the government is moving with speed to plant more trees in a bid to deal with the effects of climate change, encroachment of forests remains a major threat to these efforts. Many forests in the country have been degraded by human activities such as logging.

Mbula said KFS is planning to use a digital system to monitor activities in forests. She said the technology, which is still being piloted in Kwale, is going to help the Service to monitor all activities in forests, including poaching, logging and planting of trees.

She said the technology presents a new opportunity in the fight against poaching in the forests across the country.

Mbula said the Kenya Forest Service is also planning to hire additional 2,700 rangers as directed by President William Ruto during Mashujaa Day celebrations on October 20.


Through PELIS, farmers enter into an agreement with the Kenya Forestry Service to plant trees as they farm towards increasing forest cover.

Shamba system a critical tool to increase forest cover in Kenya, says forest service

Through PELIS, farmers enter into an agreement with the Kenya Forestry Service to plant trees as they farm towards increasing forest cover.

By Joyce Chimbi |


When Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently said citizens should be allowed to cultivate crops on public forest land in the now-popular shamba system, there was an uproar across the country.

Gachagua had to retract his statement days later, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) now says the shamba system, officially known as the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), is a critical tool to help increase forest cover in Kenya.

“Kenyans have become increasingly aware of the benefits of protecting our forests and are suspicious of any activities in and around the forest. But there is nothing suspicious or underhand about PELIS, it is an above board and proven strategy to improve forest cover and its success is well documented,” says James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests, Head Biodiversity at KFS.

Mercelyne Khaluruka, who specialises in Forest Plantation Management at KFS, says PELIS is a “non-residential and subsistence cultivation in forests that promotes food security for forest adjacent communities while establishing forest plantations.”

PELIS is a scheme introduced by KFS after the enactment of the Forest Act, 2005 to help increase forest cover and restore degraded forests across the country.

Explaining how the scheme works, Khaluruka says communities adjacent to a particular forest or people who live at a 10-kilometre radius from the edge of a forest, enter into an agreement with KFS and are allocated plots.

Once allocated, they plant seedlings until the allocated area forms closed canopy while planting food crops on the same piece of land over a period of three years when the trees planted can thrive on their own.

Significant success has been noted in farming of potatoes and beans. On average, one hectare can produce 138 bags of potatoes and 17 bags of beans. Studies are still ongoing to find safe approaches to planting maize alongside trees due to the risk of accidentally chopping down trees while cutting down maize stalks during harvesting.

A case study of Malava Forest in Western Kenya showed that there was tremendous success in the implementation of PELIS. In 2001, the forest cover was estimated at 366.9 hectares and this rose to 481.4 hectares in 2016. The increment was driven by increased areas under plantation.

Eric Nahama, a partnership and linkages officer at KFS, says partnerships between KFS and forest adjacent communities are critical as they have a stake in the management of forest resources.

Within the context of attaining the new government target of 30 per cent forest cover by 2030, Beatrice Mbula, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests, Forest Advisory and County Liaison at KFS, says PELIS will play a critical role.

She says currently, Kenya’s forest cover stands at 8.3 per cent on 5.3 million hecatres and tree cover is currently at 12.13 per cent on 7.3 million hectares.

An estimated 2.6 million hectares out of an overall 5.3 million hecatres of forest cover are under KFS. The remainder is on areas such as private and community land.

An estimated 10,000 hectares of land are under PELIS and a farmer can make up to Ksh300,000 (about $2,500) per year depending on the food crops. Experts at KFS say there is no doubt that PELIS brings a lot to the table in terms of food and revenue, and contributes to the country’s target of significantly improving forest cover.

Mbula says the Kenyan map is more brown than green. She says this is unfortunate because there are countries that have achieved 95 per cent forest cover and there is no reason why Kenya should be lagging behind.

Data on forest and tree cover was revealed during KFS’s survey conducted in 2021 providing a most recent account on where the country stands on its journey towards attaining the 30 per cent forest cover. It is the first time that Kenya collected data on tree cover.

Forest cover is obtained from wall-to-wall mapping of the country using satellite data, while tree cover is estimated partly using high resolution data and partly from field inventory data of Trees Outside Forest (TOF).

KFS has been producing one billion tree seedlings per year to provide quality and certified seeds for its own use and to meet the demands of Kenyans planting trees outside public forests. KFS has 300 tree nurseries, many more are in the hands of schools and women’s groups.

Today, Mbula says there is a need to increase seed production to 1.5 billion per year if the country is to meet the 30 per cent forest cover by 2030. She says technology is in place through the Smart Technology App to monitor, report and act on changes in forest cover in real time, although this is still in its pilot phase.

Mercelyne Khalumba, forest plantation and management officer, during a biodiversity 
science cafe organised by MESHA and Kenya Forest Service in Nairobi.

Why we need PELIS programme in forest conservation and protection

Mercelyne Khalumba, forest plantation and management officer, during a biodiversity science cafe organised by MESHA and Kenya Forest Service in Nairobi.

By Clifford Akumu |

In September 2022 when President William Ruto was in New York pleading for more support to tackle climate change, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua made announcements on lifting the ban on the Shamba System (which has been blamed for wanton destruction of the country’s natural forests).

The debate would later take a new twist, with conservationists and communities depending on indigenous forests for livelihood weighing in on the matter, warning that the gains made in increasing forest cover would be lost.

However, it’s not the first time the Shamba System has met heawinds. It was first banned in 1986 but the ban was lifted in 1994 before President Mwai Kibaki banned it again in 2003, citing abuse by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials and timber millers.

The Jubilee administration also outlawed the system in January 2021, citing environmental degradation, three years after imposing a moratorium on logging in public and community forests over the same concerns.

Our reporter Clifford Akumu had a chat with Mercelyne Khalumba, forest plantation and management officer, during a biodiversity science cafe organised by MESHA and KFS recently to demystify the misinformation surrounding the Shamba System or simply PELIS.

What exactly is PELIS approach?

It refers to Plantation Establishment and Livelihoods Improvement Scheme. Through the Forest Mangament Act of 2016, the Kenya Forest Services is allowed to collaborate with communities adjacent to forests through Community Forest Associations (CFAs).

Under this scheme, we invite the communities that live around the forests who have registered themselves into CFAs to come and work with Kenya Forest Service in the forest establishment plantation.

So, as we plant the trees, they also raise their food crops in the same unit of land.

Could you tell us about the origin of PELIS?

The PELIS system is not entirely a new concept as it was formerly known as the Shamba System before being re-branded.

PELIS traces its way back to 1902 when farmers were being allowed to cultivate crops within the forest settings. In Kenya, the colonial administration introduced the system in 1910 to provide raw materials for the timber industry and reduce pressure on natural forests. The name changed to Shamba System in the early 1990s.

In 2010 the name further changed to non-residential cultivation. But from 2010 to date the name changed to Plantation Establishment and Livelihoods Improvement Scheme(PELIS). Only five per cent of forests is under forest cultivation (with food crops) the rest of the 95 per cent is indigenous plantation.

How is PELIS conducted?

After signing agreements with the CFAs, our forest station managers work with their officials to designate certain areas as plantation areas.

The CFAs then allocate these plots to the communities, particularly giving preferences to the poor people who have no land before they move to the other groups of people. The rest are normally put through balloting. The size of the plot they receive is normally half an acre where the demand is high, but where it’s low it can go up to between one and two acres.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) raises the seedlings in the nurseries, while the communities assist in planting and taking care of the trees until they reach a height where they cannot exist with other crops – roughly after three or four years.

In PELIS, we have the farmer and KFS working in the same unit of land. In this same unit of land people have different interests; the farmer wants food and KFS wants the trees to grow. KFS plant mainly exotic tree species.

How much land in the country is under PELIS?

Currently we have about 10,000 hectares under PELIS. The trees are in year one, two or three. Kenya’s forest cover now stands at 8.83 per cent from 5.99 per cent in 2018 while tree cover is at 12.13 per cent, according to the newly released National Forest Resources Assessment Report 2021.

What are the impacts of PELIS scheme on forest conservation and protection?

When the farmer is taking care and cultivating the trees, the government is saving on the costs while the farmer is getting food and improving their livelihood (as they weed the food crops they also weed the trees, leading to a symbiotic relationship). It also leads to a high survival rate of trees compared to when they are planted in the grassland without any care.

 Which type of crops can be grown under the PELIS programme?

Farmers are encouraged to grow low-cover crops such as kales, beans, carrots, Irish potatoes and garden peas. Growing of maize is banned because it slows down the survival of the trees. Studies conducted by KFS has shown how farmers are reaping and changing their livelihoods from the earnings they get from the PELIS programme.

There has been a raging debate about the reintroduction of Shamba System. What is the correct position in this cloud of misinformation?

PELIS is still on. Because of the policy directive from the government, we stopped cutting plantation trees. Farmers have planted crops in the spaces where the trees had been cut. We cannot allow them to go and plant their crops in the plots with indigenous tree species unless we cut them again.

We hope the logging ban will be lifted so that we harvest the trees then there will be space. But we have not stopped.

Where do the mature trees from PELIS programme go to?

When these trees mature, saw millers who are e-registered and pre-qualified bid to purchase them. Once the trees are harvested under the sustainable harvesting plan (contained in the forest plantation management plan), the area is available for cultivation by farmers as they raise another crop of trees.

What about your call to increase forest cover across the country?

I advise people to plant trees in their land. The government’s gazetted forests are limited, even if we fill them we might not reach the target yet. But we now need to go to the rangeland and farmland to plant trees. For example, if your land is small, you can plant along the boundaries or shade trees in your compound.

Margaret Wanjiru leads an excursion into Karura Forest, one of Kenya's iconic urban 
Agreen spaces with a monthly visitors entry of nearly 16,000.

Race to protect urban green spaces on amid appetite for real estate profits

Margaret Wanjiru leads an excursion into Karura Forest, one of Kenya's iconic urban Agreen spaces with a monthly visitors entry of nearly 16,000.

By Joyce Chimbi |

Conservationists are rushing against the tide in a bid to protect urban green spaces against encroachment.

This is a mid the increasing pressure to turn every open space, especially in towns, into a concrete jungle for short-term profits and economic growth.

Margaret Wanjiru, a County Forest Conservator at the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) in Nairobi, says that with the rising urban population that has led to urban physical expansion, the role of green spaces as a healthy outlet for city dwellers cannot be overemphasised.

“We have many urban green spaces in Kenya as a whole and within Nairobi in particular. These spaces are very important to our environment and surrounding communities and they remain protected from external influences that could lead to their destruction,” says Ms Wanjiru.

While it is documented that urban green spaces are a source of environmental, social and health benefits, providing inspirations and generating revenue through ecotourism, environmentalists and conservationists remain vigilant against their encroachment.

Wanjiru says urban green spaces are important because they also enable cities to contribute to the larger biodiversity agenda.

In Karura Forest, for instance, one of the green spaces in Nairobi, it is evident that urban biodiversity is under threat and efforts are in place for its protection.

Within the forest and along the cool picnic trails, visibly placed signs warn visitors against carrying any plants, animals or any other material from the forest into the outside world.

“Carrying any material outside the forest would be akin to biodiversity piracy and this is an offence. The forest and everything therein should remain within the protected fenced area,” said James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests at KFS.

The Kenya Forest Service is a State Corporation established under the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016.

Its mandate and functions include to enhance development, conservation and management of Kenya’s resource base in all public forests and assist county governments to develop and manage forest resources on community and private lands for equitable benefit of present and future generations.

Karura Forest remains tightly in the grip of KFS. The estimated size of the urban forest is 1,041 hectares, consisting of three parts separated by Limuru and Kiambu roads. It is the largest preserve in Nairobi and remains a shining example of green building and sustainability.

Records by the Kenya Forest Service show that the forest, located just two kilometres from Nairobi’s Central Business District, is a biodiversity hotspot for 200 bird species and iconic mammals such as the colobus monkey.

Within the forest, visitors are treated to wetlands, a majestic waterfall, a variety of indigenous tree species, a water fall, birds, butterflies and wildlife habitats.

Besides its relaxing recreational value, as one of the remaining local indigenous forests, Karura is a critical carbon sink and is considered the lungs of an industrial powerhouse that is Nairobi.

Environmentalists at Kenya Forest Services therefore stress that the forest is instrumental in Kenya’s agenda to bring harmful greenhouse gas emissions to below 1.5 degree Celsius.

In the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to limit global warming under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Kenya has committed to abate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 per cent by 2030.

In all, experts at KFS such as Mwang’ombe says urban areas can successfully reach ecological safety where environmental and ecological factors are prioritised alongside economic benefits. 


COP27: Rwanda says hopes for establishing loss and damage fund in line with Paris Agreement fading


The Deputy Director General of Rwanda Environmental Management Authority (REMA)and Rwanda’s Lead negotiator at global climate talks in Sharm El Sheikh on Friday pointed out that Rwanda and other vulnerable countries had much expectation in securing a decision of adopting the establishment of loss and damage fund but hope is fading.

“Negotiations are going well in some items and not well in other items,” said Munyazikwiye as negotiators are working round the clock to secure deal on loss and damage facility which has become apple of discord between North and South.

Speaking during a brief interview, the senior Rwandan official said that this item on the establishment of loss and damages facilities is not going well and developed countries are still far to have consensus on this decision.

Africa is in a last-minute dash to secure far-reaching climate deals, including a critical finance facility for the loss and damages states have borne due to extreme weather

At its briefing, the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) said its pushing to insert a compromise deal in the COP27 outcome document to help the states worst hit by climate change to blunt the fallout.

But getting delegates to settle on a package of loss and damage facility is proving problematic, with rich nations asserting an existing mechanism (a 2001 Adaptation Fund) to address the issue. However, African diplomats argued that the fund has, like many other efforts, failed to deliver measurable results.

Announcing a total of UU$105.6 million in new funding, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, and the Walloon Region of Belgium, stressed the need for even more support for the Global Environment Facility funds targeting the immediate climate adaptation needs of low-lying and low-income states.

Additionally, states, including Belgium, Canada, France, the United States, and the European Commission, signaled political support for the two funds. Some expressed an intention to contribute further in the coming months.

Earlier this year, the Global Environment Facility member countries endorsed a new strategy for both funds so they can provide more targeted, dedicated support for climate-vulnerable countries as they work to build a more resilient future and implement their National Adaptation Plans.

The Global Environment Facility programming strategy for the next four years anticipates that the Least Developed Countries Fund will provide between US$1 billion and US$1.3 billion for LDCs and that the Special Climate Change Fund will provide between US$200 million to US$400 million for Small Island Developing States and other climate-vulnerable developing states.

On the sidelines of COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Rwanda and Germany signed a new funding agreement of 46 million Euros that will be available to government institutions working to implement Rwanda’s climate action plan, also known as the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to the Paris Agreement.

Rwanda has set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 38% by 2030 compared to business as usual. This is equivalent to an estimated mitigation of up to 4.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (tCO2e).

Estimates indicate that the cost of the plan is fixed USD 11 billion, made up of USD 5.7 billion for mitigation and USD 5.3 billion for adaptation. It is expected that 40% of this investment will come from domestic sources and 60% from external sources across all sectors.

This article has been published with the support from MESHA/IDRC grant for COP-27 coverage

COP27: Activists say hunger, food insecurity rising in Africa driven by climate change

Around 70 percent of Africans relying on rain-fed farming, meaning hundreds of millions of people will be severely affected by climate-driven droughts, heatwaves, and other natural disasters from frequent droughts to rising sea temperatures, according to a new book presented on Wednesday by the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

AFSA is the largest network of networks in Africa, with more than 30 network members with a combined potential reach of 200 million Africans. Its membership embraces farmers, indigenous communities, pastoralists, hunters and gatherers, fisherfolk, consumer networks, women and youth networks, faith-based organizations, and civil society organizations.

The publication titled “Building an African Food Policy for Sustainable and Resilient Food Systems” is a comprehensive look at the state of food security in Africa

According to the new findings, African farmers, long viewed as victims, are beginning to implement long-term, sustainable solutions to Africa’s climate crisis. Indeed, they are models that all farmers could learn from.

On the sidelines of the 27th conference of the parties to the United Nations framework convention on climate change – COP27 which is currently taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, AFSA has submitted a position paper that outlines a clear path forward for leaders and policymakers to prioritize climate adaptation through agroecology.

Improved food systems

According to Dr. Million Belay, AFSA General Coordinator and Panel Expert with IPES-Food, ignoring agroecology is ignoring Africa’s farmers and sidelining the planet’s most vulnerable people who are being hit first and worst by the climate crisis.

“Africa could feed itself many times over. But agroecology cannot and must not be overlooked by decision-makers as the most effective means to build resilience and enable small-scale farmers, pastoralists, and fishers to adapt to climate change,” Dr Belay said.

Sena Alouka, Executive Director of Togo’s Young Volunteers for the Environment and Chair of AFSA’s Climate and Agroecology Working Group, emphasized the same point “Leaders at COP27 must prioritize food systems in Africa’s climate adaptation plans and integrate agroecology into UNFCCC climate negotiations.

“The United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP 27) provides a global opportunity to begin a just transition away from high-emitting industrial agriculture, corporate food system monopolies, and false climate solutions and toward agroecology, food sovereignty, and self-sufficiency,” he said.

It is expected that on the sidelines of COP27, AFSA will present data conveying the urgent need for government climate investment in agroecology and food system efforts.

Latest estimates by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) show that traditional systems of land use, farming practices and cropping patterns in most parts across Africa are all changing as small-scale farmers face growing demands from markets to liberalize trade and to use chemicals to increase production in order feed the growing population.

Strengthening Africa’s resilience

To develop solutions that will address the malnutrition and food security challenges in Africa, climate activists stress the need to understand the diverse food systems in the region and develop particular solutions for each farming system instead of adopting a one-size-fits-all approach.

For example, in the Sudano-Sahelian region, estimates show that millets are recommended as the primary crop, suitable for the largest area of land, since they require less moisture, while sorghum is dominant in sub humid and semi-arid southern Africa.

Attempts to grow crops that are not suited to the prevailing ecological conditions will often result in low yields or crop failure, with consequent adverse effects on food security, AFSA warns in its new report.

During ongoing climate talks in Sharm el-Sheikh, AFSA wants ensure negotiations strengthen Africa’s resilience to the climate crisis by integrating agroecology into regional and national climate policy spaces.

Latest reports by FAO indicate that Africa’s food and agriculture sectors are among the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change.

It said that the resilience against multiple threats, including climate change, is a key prerequisite for sustainable development, in particular when it comes to the challenge of feeding over 2 billion Africans by 2050.

Mountain gorilla, Virunga National Park, DRC, Africa

Keeping apes and humans happy together the Ugandan way


Uganda’s population of gorillas continues to thrive, thanks to a One Health program targeting the residents living around Bwindi National Park.

“Over the last 25 years, our gorilla population has doubled. Our park is the only one that has been able to achieve this milestone in Africa. The other parks with gorilla populations are recording falling numbers,” says Dr Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka of the Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH).

The Ugandan veterinarian is also the founder of CTPH, an organization dedicated to the coexistence of endangered mountain gorillas, other wildlife, humans, and livestock in Africa.

According to the veterinarian, protecting the gorilla population was key for her organization when the COVID-19 pandemic was reported in Uganda.

She explained that the measures were necessitated by the similarity shared by humans and primates.

“The DNA of monkeys, apes and gorillas is quite similar to the human one. We share 98 percent of our genetic material with these primates, meaning that diseases can easily move across the species. This is why we had reports of gorillas catching COVID-19 in some other areas,” said Dr Kalema-Zikusoka.

She said there were cases of scabies among gorillas that would sometimes stray onto community land.

“After studying the incidences, we found that the apes were coming into contact with children’s clothing that was infected with the pathogens. Scabies is a disease associated with poor hygiene, and when children are not going to school, they can easily pass it to the apes by crossing their paths,” said the expert.

She made the remarks while making a presentation on One Health approaches to conservation at the Fifth MESHA African Conference of Science Journalists held last week.

The celebrated veterinarian has won several international awards, among them the Edinburgh Medal and the UN Planet Pesron of the Year Award, believes the scientific way is the proven option for dealing with societal concerns.

“Science is life. We should not only practice it, but also talks, write and post about it,” said Dr Kalema-Zikusoka

She added that the project to protect the gorillas had been in place long before the pandemic, adding that it took intensive engagement with the local community to accomplish its goals.

“We had to talk to the locals and educate them on the importance of conserving the gorilla population that was attracting tourists to the area. We also helped them draft income-sharing proposals with the park management,” said Dr Kalema-Zikusoka.

As a result of successful negotiation with park management, the locals are enjoying 20 percent of the park entry fees, among other benefits.

The veterinarian firmly believes that the One Health message is not too heavy or complicated for teens and children.

“We can spread the One Health message to the young people and children through talks in school, wildlife clubs and even the newspaper pullouts designed for children. It is never too early to start talking to them about the need to stay healthy while conserving the natural life around us,” she said.

Working with the park management, CTPH devised a system to protect the gorillas.

“We devised a social distancing protocol of seven metres between humans and the apes, in addition to enforcing a mask mandate and sanitization requirement,” she said.


Drone technology to ramp up reforestation efforts

By Sharon Atieno |

One of the interventions outlined in Kenya’s Strategy for reaching 10 per cent tree cover is the use of technology in forest regeneration, protection and planting. It is for this reason that drone technology is among the options being flaunted as potentially capable of achieving this target. According to Dr Jane Njuguna, Senior Deputy Director Research and Development at the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI), one of the ways of accelerating restoration of 5.1 million hectares of deforested and degraded forests and other landscapes is through aerial seeding and drone technology.

She was speaking in Nairobi during a Kenya Flying Labs and WeRobotics demonstration of how drone technology can be used in tree planting. Dr Njuguna said unlike planting trees manually, which is labour intensive, time consuming and limited in the amount of area that can be covered, drone technology can cover a bigger area in a shorter period. Besides, she said, some forest landscapes are difficult to work on and access due to the rough terrain and surrounding vegetation. The drones at the demonstration are specialised one that are fully fitted with seed dispensers and can carry up to 7kg of seeds. In one flight, which is about 15 minutes, the drone can cover 0.8 hectares, according to Mohammed Akasha, a technician at Kenya Flying Labs.

“We are testing this technology to have it as an alternative that can be used to reach places that are hard to reach because the drone is cheaper to operate than an aeroplane,” said Cleopa Otieno, Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Flying Labs. He added that drones can fly lower without causing any risk because they are unmanned. Apart from these technologies, in 2021, KEFRI launched the use of a mobile application that helps in matching trees to sites instead of just growing trees for the sake of it. The site, which is webbased, can also help in identifying the best time for planting trees as well as tree diseases.

Despite Kenya’s global commitment to the Africa Forest Landscape Initiative (AFR100), 50 per cent reduction of greenhouse gases from the forest sector by 2030 as part of its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to climate change, and to achieve land degradation neutrality by 2030 as a commitment to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the forest cover remains low at about 7.2 per cent, as per 2015 estimates. An analysis of land-use change over the period 1990-2015 has established that Kenya lost 311,000 hectares of forestland mainly due to conversion to settlements, crop farming and infrastructure developments. With the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s directive to increase the country tree cover to 10 per cent by 2022 lapsing this year, more needs to be done to meet this target.


One Health the gateway to human, animal and environment wellbeing, say experts

Applied research through the One Health approach will lead to health investments that will accelerate economic development and reduce social inequalities, experts have advised.

Speaking to science, health and environment journalists, Delia Randolph, professor of food safety systems at the Natural Resources Institute in the UK, said One Health allows for integrated thinking across three sectors – human health, animal health and environment health.

Randolph, also a contributing scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said One Health is therefore a collaborative, multisectoral, trans-disciplinary approach that cuts across the local, regional, national and global levels.

Bernard Bett from the One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre (OHRECA) said One Health and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are closely linked.

One Health, he said, contributes to SDGs 1, 2, 3, 12 and 17 (no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, partnership). More so, the One Health approach contributes to SDGs 5, 6, 10, 15 (gender equality, water and sanitation, reduced inequality, life on land).

“Ending poverty and other deprivations goes hand in hand with improvements on health, education, reduced inequalities and economic growth,” said Mr Bett.

He said based on the One Health approach, genomic analysis of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has boosted the capacity of COVID surveillance in Kenya.

In this regard, he said, testing for SARS-CoV-2 using qPCR has been ongoing at ILRI since 2020. A total of 24,398 samples have been tested and results shared with the Ministry of Health (MoH).

The ILRI laboratory where genomic analysis is ongoing is part of a network of facilities in the country that is supporting COVID-19 genomic surveillance.

Genomic analysis is the identification, measurement or comparison of genomic features such as DNA sequence, structural variation and gene expression. Essentially, genomics is the study of genes that makes it possible to predict, diagnose and treat diseases more precisely.

Bett said the genomics laboratory “has received additional funding to the tune of $1 million from the Rockefeller Foundation to support genomic surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 in the Eastern Africa region.

He also delved into intersectoral collaborations for rabies control in Machakos, saying that Kenya has increased coverage of control measures.

This is a step in the right direction as rabies remains a serious public health issue. Canine rabies, he said, causes an estimated 55,000 deaths annually across Africa and Asia.

As such, with the most effective strategy towards minimising human exposure being controlling rabies in dogs, OHRECA and VSF Germany are in collaboration to develop sustainable and scalable vaccination strategies for rabies through the One Health approach. Bett said that through the collaboration, the target is to vaccinate 200,000 dogs per year.

“New knowledge on the impact of climate and land use change on zoonotic diseases occurrence is being used for contingency planning,” he said.

OHRECA is leading studies to identify drivers of Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever in Burkina Faso and Rift Valley in Kenya.

On institutionalising One Health in Kenya, Dr Athman Mwatondo, who is the co-head of Zoonotic Disease Unit at the Ministry of Health, said the Unit was formed between line ministries of human and animal health.

Established in 2012 through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the Unit’s structural office is in Kenyatta National Hospital grounds, at the MoH grounds.

The Zoonotic Unit, Mwatondo said, has a mission to “establish and maintain active collaboration at the animal, human, and ecosystem interface towards better prevention and control of zoonotic disease.”

The Unit’s priority areas of outbreak investigation and response include the Rift Valley fever, anthrax and rabies, with a view to particularly eliminating rabies.

Mwatondo spoke of the need to create sustainable county level One Health platforms that will facilitate the devolution of the One Health approach.

Progress thus far includes the epidemiological investigation of a Rift Valley fever outbreak in humans and livestock in Kenya in 2018. Outbreaks of the Rift Valley fever were recorded in Wajir and Siaya counties in 2018, Murang’a from 2019 to 2021 and Isiolo in 2020 and 2021.

There was also an investigation of recurrent anthrax outbreaks in humans, livestock and wildlife from 2014 to 2017.

Mwatondo said rabies elimination activities include improving access to post-exposure prophylaxis and rabies education and awareness. Thus far, he said, there has been coordinated mass dog vaccinations in two pilot counties.

Mwatondo said the challenges in implementing the One Health approach include difficulties in coordinating multiple partners and operationalisation difficulties such as high staff turnover.

He said there is a need for domestic funding of One Health activities for sustainability purposes and to understand and adapt because the One Health approach is not a one size fits all.

By Joyce Chimbi