Youth taking lead in community-based adaptation to climate change in Yala

By Emily Mateche

As the world reels from droughts, floods, heat waves and wildfires, the global focus is shifting towards green agricultural practices to cope with the effects of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture is emerging as one of the sustainable farming alternatives. And farming, long regarded as a preserve of the middle-aged and elderly, is gaining popularity among youth as a livelihood option for communities residing adjacent to Yala Swamp, Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland.

In Siaya County, two youth groups supported by Nature Kenya – under the AfriEvolve project – are charting the path towards sustainable farming through climate-smart agriculture and other nature-based livelihood activities.

At Kanyibok village, near the shores of Lake Victoria, lies a green vegetable farm belonging to the 30-member Kanyibok Youth Group. Black nightshade (managu), amaranth (terere), collard greens (sukuma wiki) and other vegetables cover the approximately 0.2-acre plot, which also serves as a climate-smart agriculture demonstration farm.

“Our farm is small but the harvest is good. Climate-smart agriculture has enabled us to transform our small piece of land into a productive vegetable growing area using minimal resources,” says Lilian Akatcha, a member of the group.


The youth group’s climate-smart venture has seen them secure tenders to supply vegetables to secondary schools in the area. In addition to schools, the group also supplies their produce to markets nearby.

Through the demonstration farm, the group is educating local farmers on various farming techniques such as application of organic manure, soil and water conservation measures, crop rotation and growing high-value, fast-maturing and drought-resistant crops. To reduce dependence on rain for farming, the group has installed a solar-powered irrigation kit.

“Using irrigation, we are able to grow vegetables all year round. This means we can supply these vegetables even during the dry season,” adds Lilian.

To stay updated and informed, the youth farmers have embraced mobile technology. Using mobile apps, they can get area-specific weather information and advisories from the County Directorate of Meteorology and expert advice from the County Department of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. This information helps them make sound farming decisions like what crops to plant, when to plant, when to harvest, when to stock and how best to control pests and diseases. The use of mobile phone technology is proving useful not only for accessing information but also for marketing and sharing experiences through community social media forums.

In Yimbo, one of the driest regions in Siaya County, another group – Wambasa Youth Group – is also changing the fortunes of local youth through climate-smart agriculture and beekeeping. Group members grow vegetables and cereals on their farms. The group also has an apiary with over 200 hives.

“We hardly look for a market for our honey. Our honey is sold out by the time we harvest,” says Robert Ouko, a group member.

Apart from crop farming and beekeeping, the youth group is also into fish farming and chicken rearing.

This new crop of youthful farmers is a source of inspiration to local communities in Siaya who have, in the past few years, seen their farming fortunes dwindle due to the adverse effects of climate change. With climate-smart agriculture, communities are now better prepared to deal with the uncertainties of climate variability.

Conserving the Kaya forests of Dakatcha Woodland

To many, the Kaya forests represent the rich traditional Mijikenda culture. The word Kaya, in most Mijikenda languages, means home. Kaya forests are blocks of pristine forest scattered across the Kenyan coast. They once contained hidden fortified villages where Mijikenda communities took refuge from their enemies when they first moved to the region. A specific Mijikenda sub-group occupied each of the Kaya forests that bore cultural and historical significance.

Dakatcha Woodland – the northernmost Miombo (Brachystegia) forest and the breeding site for the Kilifi (Clarke’s) Weaver – hosts five Kaya forests: Singwaya (Kauma), Dagamra (Chonyi), Bura (Kambe), Bate and Mayowe (Kambe).

“These Kaya forests had shrines that were considered sacred. One had to fulfil certain traditional rites before being allowed to enter the forests,” says Shadrack Mwarabu, a Kaya elder and chairperson of Kaya Singwaya.

Every year, before the onset of the rainy season, Kaya elders would go to the shrines to pray for rainfall and a good crop, adds Mwarabu. Some of the cultural beliefs and practices encouraged the conservation of Kaya forests. For example, the strict rules for accessing the forests significantly minimized disturbances. Trespassing into the Kaya forests was believed to attract the wrath of ancestral spirits. This fear served as a deterrent to would-be poachers, illegal herders and firewood collectors. Damaging any part of the sacred forests would also draw reprimand from Kaya elders.

Over the years, a lot has changed. The once-respected traditional practices associated with the Kayas are declining, exposing the forests to degradation. In Dakatcha, only a handful of elders, like Mwarabu, maintain a cultural connection with the Kaya forests.

“Many elders have abandoned their Kaya traditional roles after being falsely accused of practising sorcery and other harmful things. We risk losing our sacred forests and rich Mijikenda cultural heritage,” says Mwarabu.

Currently, a new Kaya committee exists in Dakatcha. The committee acts as a consultative forum and has overseen the establishment of non-cultural local conservation groups for the five Kaya forests in Dakatcha. These community-led groups are championing the conservation of sacred forests and their unique biodiversity. Working closely with Nature Kenya, the groups are conducting environmental education and awareness, linking communities to conservation partners and promoting the adoption of sustainable nature-based enteprises like beekeeping and climate-smart agriculture to boost community livelihoods.

To enhance the sustainable use of Kaya forests, the conservation groups have established apiaries in some forest sections. Plans are also underway to re-establish some of the Kaya cultural practices and to seek formal protection of the sites as national monuments.

The Kaya forests in Dakatcha host several coastal birds and mammals. They include Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, the Golden-rumped Sengi and others.

Promoting climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp

Agriculture is the source of livelihood for thousands of communities in Kenya, and food for us all. Unfortunately, climate change effects such as reduced or unpredictable rainfall and prolonged drought spells have had devastating effects on crop production. Many rural communities bear the brunt of these negative impacts, often being left vulnerable with little or no food.

To help communities better cope with current and future climate variability, Nature Kenya is promoting the adoptionof climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp. Under the AfriEvolve Project, local communities are being facilitated to acquire necessary skills and inputs to be more resilient to climate change effects on farming.

Through the project, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and NABU (BirdLife partner in Germany), 150 farmers have been identified and supported to sustainably grow high-value climate-resilient vegetables and cereals under rain-fed agriculture. The vegetable and cereal types grown are fast maturing, require little rainfall and produce better yields than current crops. These farmers have received seeds and on-site technical support.

The project is also supporting agroforestry. Four community-based tree nursery groups were supported with equipment and seeds to produce tree seedlings for shade, fodder, firewood and fruit. Over 100,000 tree seedlings have been produced. Out of this, 51,000 tree seedlings are ready for planting to restore degraded riparian areas along River Yala and to establish woodlots. Twelve other community tree nurseries have been identified for agroforestry support. Kenya Forest Service (KFS) provides technical support for tree seedlings production.

Fish and poultry farming and beekeeping are the other nature-based enterprises promoted by Nature Kenya in Yala under this project. Three community-run fish ponds have been stocked with 3,000 tilapia fingerlings, with 30 fish farmers being trained on the basics of climate-smart fish production, formulation of quality feeds, packaging, storage and marketing technologies.

A poultry unit has been established and stocked with 200 improved indigenous chicken chicks, feeds and related equipment. Establishment of a second unit is underway. Communities have also been supplied with 100 modern beehives, honey harvesting gear and a processing unit.

The project lays emphasis on the transfer of knowledge and skills. Groups of crop farmers, fish farmers, poultry farmers and beekeepers have undergone training as ‘trainer of trainers’ (ToTs). Some of the things they have learned include bookeeping, value addition, packaging and marketing.

Yala Swamp is one of Kenya’s important ecosystems. The swamp is the largest inland freshwater wetland complex in the country, sheltering a great variety of birds, fish and mammals, including some threatened ones. Yala Swamp provides useful environmental services like filtering out harmful pollutants from water flowing into Lake Victoria. The swamp is also a source of livelihoods for many communities.