Could you tell us a bit about your background?
I got my bachelor’s degree in liberal arts studies, focusing on music and German. That's where my interest in different cultural backgrounds started. I was born in the United States and grew up speaking German, but it wasn’t until I studied the language, culture and literature at college that I got a chance to engage in different mindsets. Learning about world music and international music really sparked my interest. After pursuing my Master’s in International Communication in Germany, I got an entry-level job at the United Nations in New York with the United Nations University. I was so interested in cross-cultural understanding and working together across different nations to solve global problems. The job gave me insight into the broader policy discussions within the UN and how to look at these issues to make an impact.
I then got a post with the UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) as a public information officer, translating policy processes into the field. I also started a youth peace programme. It was exciting to see how much we could change the lives of some of the world's forgotten people. Then I got a post in Nigeria with the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) doing public information communications, media and advocacy. That was an intense time to be in Nigeria because of the conflict with non-state armed groups in the north-east.
For the last few months, I've been with the UN World Food Programme in Sudan doing media and communications, responding to different crises such as the flooding in September. It was the worst the country has seen for 100 years! We've also had the refugee crisis on the border with Ethiopia, trying to mobilise assistance for nearly 60,000 refugees. Sudan was also recently removed from the US state-sponsored terrorism list, so many changes are happening. The World Food Programme is one of the largest humanitarian agencies providing food assistance and establishing long-term food security and livelihoods.
What triggered you to work in the humanitarian sector?
My grandparents were refugees after World War Two and my father was born in post-World War Two Germany in 1946. I heard a lot of their stories growing up and what it meant to go through conflict. My grandma was always trying to do some humanitarian work or bridge cultural understandings between different people. She inspired me to want to alleviate the suffering of people. I was drawn to work that had meaning and impacted people's lives, especially the most vulnerable.
If you were to pick an influence(s) growing up, how did they affect your career path?
It's actually a lady that I never met, but I'm named after. She saved my uncle's life in World War Two. As a small child, he got lost in southern Germany, this lady named Leni found him and took him in for two years until she was able to find my grandparents. I was given her name and I feel I have to live up to it because she made such a difference in my family's life. She was always known for her warm-heartedness and helping everybody, which inspired me to have that kind of difference in people’s lives.
As UN Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs in Nigeria, what did a normal day look like?
You couldn't say that there's a typical day working in that kind of humanitarian emergency and protracted crisis. The situation in North-East Nigeria is quite insecure - it's one of the highest levels of security that staff members work in. I lived in a compound and we were driven around in armoured vehicles, so there was always this security concern in the back of your mind. It was a terrorist environment where at any point somebody could blow themselves up. We were reporting on all kinds of insecurity incidents, so because of this and the counter-terrorism operations going on and the Nigerian military trying to free villages from non-state armed groups, there were a lot of population movements. In January 2019, shortly before the Nigerian elections, there was a sudden influx of around 50,000 people to the state capital where I was working. The humanitarian community had to mobilise an emergency response for these people, who were fleeing from conflict, find a place for them and try to get them urgent life-saving support.
There were constant crises like these popping up during my role in public information and advocacy. I was sharing and drawing attention to what was happening with the outside world to mobilise resources. There were also various attacks on humanitarian compounds throughout the area and aid workers abducted. You had to react, respond and raise awareness so that the international community knew what was happening.
How did your UN Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan differ?
It was more on the grassroots level, focusing on peace and security. It wasn’t necessarily about mobilising food, water and shelter, but about creating the conditions for a lasting peace. There were also many humanitarian actors in South Sudan, the peacekeeping mission is just a different part of the UN. We would go out to villages and hold peace dialogues. The peacekeeping mission also ran a radio station, which was one of the only functional national radio stations in the country. So, I turned into a radio journalist, reporting on some of these peace dialogues and informing the general public on important peace processes.
I was responsible for going to remote locations and building trust with local communities. We would explain our purpose and the role of the local people in trying to move past conflict, look towards building durable peace between the different tribes and how this could contribute to peace and security more broadly on a national level.
What were your greatest achievements of the past year?
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was in North-East Nigeria. When they closed the borders, one of the biggest challenges in the humanitarian response was the lack of water and over-crowded camps for internally displaced people. At the same time, we had to adapt the response to maintain social distancing measures, get masks into the country, distribute PPE and run information awareness campaign. I took the lead in doing an education and information campaign on COVID-19 prevention measures. There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation around the pandemic, so we worked closely with local radio stations and different humanitarian actors on the ground to produce material that saved lives. Implementing measures in these areas with poor sanitation and the mass amount of people, prevented what could have been a catastrophe.
The second half of the year, I moved to the World Food Programme in Sudan. I’m proud of our media efforts throughout the crisis of refugees from neighboring Ethiopia crossing the border into Sudan. I produced the video news highlight reel that was picked up by a lot of international broadcasters. I was glad to be sending information out to the world on an emerging crisis and advocating on behalf of the needs of vulnerable people fleeing conflict.
How have you seen COVID-19 affecting the position of the world’s most vulnerable?
More than anything, it's the economic impacts felt most among the world's most vulnerable. In Nigeria, they tried to do a lockdown, which lasted no more than two weeks as people were going out on the streets saying, ‘I might get COVID, but if I don't have anything to eat, I'm going to die.’ Having these types of lockdowns in countries where the standard of living is much lower exacerbates the economic impacts and food insecurity. Globally, one of the big things we are also seeing is the ‘shadow pandemic’ and the increase in domestic violence, mostly against women.
What role do you think the media is currently playing in reporting what's happening on the ground?
I think one of the issues is how news cycles work - what's breaking news, what's developing and what's new, because that's what makes news and that's how the industry works. One of the biggest problems in the media industry in covering protracted humanitarian crises after several years is that it's no longer new and therefore there’s no focus. I just experienced it in this emerging situation from Ethiopia. There's been a protracted crisis in Sudan for decades and at the height of the hunger season last year, there were 9.6 million people food insecure - the highest number ever recorded in the country and close to 25% of the country's population. Yet, international journalists only became interested in Sudan when Ethiopian refugees entered the border fleeing from violence in the Tigray region. If you look at it in terms of numbers, the 'bigger' humanitarian crisis was in Sudan, and especially Darfur, yet the media focused on the emerging situation because that’s what makes ‘news’.
Is there a better role for the public to play in helping improve humanitarian action?
It's difficult because it's a matter of proximity. Around 50% of Americans don't have a passport and have never left the country, so when something is going on in a far away country there’s nothing they can relate to, they have no understanding of what it means. I would say it is more of a long-term and profound change that's needed in terms of developing as a society that is more globally aware. That all has to go back to the education system - it's more of a domestic and education policy question. We need to change the schooling system and expose children to a global society and developing an international mindset in an interconnected world.
How does climate change affect disasters on the ground?
Climate shocks from droughts to floods, as we've seen in Sudan last September, are exacerbating humanitarian crises and are sometimes the cause of humanitarian crises because people have to migrate. The flooding of the River Nile in Sudan was the highest level it has been in 100 years, over 150,000 homes destroyed, and nearly 1 million people were affected. This is one natural disaster that happened in one country in 2020, but it's happening globally. Again, it’s not communicated by the media, especially on how its broadcasted to the West. Because climate science is such a complex, interconnected system, it's quite hard to explain it in a straight forward way. For example, how one particular case of flooding in Sudan is related to greenhouse gas emissions in the US.
Do you think the UN Humanitarian Affairs should prioritise this in their strategic focus over the next 5 years?
There is ever more focus on this, especially from the office for UN OCHA, demonstrating how climate shocks exacerbate global crises. For the UN's 75th anniversary, the UN held a survey on the core issues concerning citizens around the world. Climate change and how to frame responses to humanitarian crises were at the top of the agenda. But, the thing to remember is that the UN is not one organisation that can mandate something for everybody - it’s a multilateral network of different nations with their own policies. More than anything, the United States re-joining the Paris agreement will have a greater impact in leading the global green policy change.
Do you have any particular goals for 2021?
Given that 2020 was such an unpredictable year, my goal is to be kind to myself. There's enough pain, suffering, crises and anxiety and to uphold my role in humanitarian work for the next three to five years, I can’t afford to burn out. Self-care is essential to staying strong, energetic, motivated, inspired, compassionate and most of all dedicated to the work that I do. We're seeing the effects of the pandemic taking a toll on mental health across societies, so my motto is to try to maintain that mental health and stability amidst these turbulent times.
Finally, what is most important to you at work?
The most important thing for me is to embrace teamwork to solve problems and to create a work environment where we build upon each other’s strengths. We should empower and motivate each other to stay inspired, remain committed and look at as many angles as possible to solve a problem. If you create an environment for people where they love to work and feel passionate and committed to what they do, I think that's the best way for them to strive individually, reach collective success and make a lasting difference.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Leni Kinzil, Communications Officer at World Food Programme
Venter Mwongera: "I envision partnering with like-minded organisations to digitise agriculture in Africa."
Could you tell us about yourself?
I grew up at the foot of Mt. Kenya (Meru) in an average family set up. My parents were strict disciplinarians who believed in holistic growth and the importance of having a multi-faceted skillset to succeed in life. From a tender age, I had an insatiable thirst for information and an inquisitive mind. My grandparents were mixed-crop and livestock farmers - I was amazed by the complex world of farming which they navigated with ease! I would negotiate with my parents for permission to spend time with them, having spent much of my youth living within the grounds of a missionary hospital where my mum nursed. So, a day with my grandparents in the countryside was a breath of fresh air.
I’m now an integrated communications specialist, passionate about telling African stories through the lens of solutions, inclusivity and dialogue. I believe we can overcome challenges by embracing an open mind-set and listening to each other. I have been a Multi-Media (print, broadcast and digital) storyteller for over 15 years. I have broadcasted news, trained and mentored journalists and implemented complex developmental programmes in fields such as agriculture and gender mainstreaming. I’ve worked with many organisations, including Environmental Research Mapping Information Systems in Africa (ERMIS-Africa) and the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT). I also serve at various board member positions in media organisations in Africa.
What was the driving force that led you to the fight against poverty, hunger and social injustice?
Growing up interacting with medics, farmers and business people allowed me to mingle and ask questions. Their answers shaped my world view at the age of 10. Often, I would visit the patients in the hospital to hear their story, especially those who had malnutrition complications and cases of gender-based violence. Sometimes, my parents would send me and my siblings to share foodstuffs to various families, especially, when drought was declared as a national emergency.
After working with various regional and global organisations in African communities, I learnt that most family feuds were a result of insufficient family resources and male land ownership. Women were left to till the land, unpaid labour, whilst their husbands controlled the yields, sold the farm produce and left to spend the money how they wished. The women and children were left at home without access to food, school fees, clothes and other needs. After spending the family money, the man would come home empty-handed and this ignited gender-based violence. A patriarchal society limits holistic family happiness, promotes poverty and breaks families - a fabric that unifies society.
Embracing an environment that embeds equity from family, community and society levels would reduce poverty, hunger and social injustices in Africa. The governments need to provide a separate budget for sustainable agricultural farming methods for the farmers to live a decent life from their agricultural investments. Also, in July 2003, the Maputo declaration committed by the African countries to allocate 10% of their national budget to agriculture need be honoured. Only Morocco and Ethiopia have honoured their commitment.
How did you get into working for DAKOKE (Dissemination of Agricultural Information and Knowledge in Africa)? And what is your role as the Consulting Director of Communications for DAKOKE entail?
I’m a co-founder of DAKOKE. We founded the communications consulting firm to seal the gap in the dissemination of agricultural information existing between the smallholder farmers and the research. We demystify the technical-scientific reports relevant to the smallholder farmers’ farming calendar, make it digestible and develop farmer-to-farmer training videos that explain various agricultural innovations that are easy to adopt. We also offer various communication services, including documenting the impacts of the projects/programmes and advocate for formulation of policies supporting sustainable farming methods. We work with seasonal communications consultants with over 10 years’ hands-on expertise in global agricultural communication.
I implement the communication functions, identify partners and nurture relationships, lead in advocacy activities and fundraising initiatives, train and mentor in science communications in Sub-Saharan Africa.
What is your philosophy towards your work?
These are the times and we are the people to bring the change we want through honest and smart handwork. Embrace the unity of purpose, gender equity, live in the present, espouse the diversity of skills and perspectives to achieve a common goal of abolishing poverty in the African continent.
Can you name 3 of your greatest achievements since working at DAKOKE?
Growing the partnership base to achieve more with fewer resources. For example, partnering with like-minded organisations to advocate formulating agroecology policies in Sub-Saharan African countries.
Developing modules on training and mentorship of science, health, agriculture and environmental communication, contributing to improved ways of communicating simplified but factual science in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Developing proposals with various organisations where DAKOKE’s responsibility is to entirely handle communication, advocacy and the documentation of the projects’/programmes’ activities.
Have you faced much gender discrimination within your work? If so, how have you overcome these encounters?
Sometimes. With scientific communication, especially in leading positions such as Director of Communication and Chief-Editor, which were previously held by the male gender. Mostly, patriarchal societies place women as subordinate to men which becomes complex when a woman is in charge.
With such an understanding, any time I join a new team, I hold meetings to understand their motivations, fears, world views, belief system, their understanding of the job description (JDs) and how our roles are crucial to the organisational goal. Once this is clear, I share my views, various working styles and then we choose a style that works for everyone. I explain my role in the team and how working together will help us succeed as individuals and as a team. We create collegial relationships backed with open communication and empathy.
Can you tell me a bit about your new project, Farm Studio? What were the reasons and inspirations for setting it up?
With over 15 years of hands-on experience in science, agriculture, climate change and environmental communication, I have worked closely with African and Asian smallholder farmers, governments, scientists and all those crucial voices in the agricultural ecosystem. With farming challenges and research reports written in a technical language, providing a platform for these voices enables the discussion of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through knowledge and information empowerment. COVID-19 hindered extension teams in meeting with farmers’ groups for training or responding to their farming challenges. Hence, agriculture was adversely affected.
So, Farm Studio is a digital platform offering smallholder farmers e-resources, responses to their daily farming challenges provided they have a smartphone and internet connection.
What synergies exist with TreeKenya?
There are synergies in ensuring that the benefits and outcomes of the programmes reach the smallholder farmer. Local language and local knowledge are key to broadening the impacts of the programmes. There’s clear communication through lobbying, documentation, developing farmer training radio programmes in local languages and farmer-to-farmer learning videos. Both see the importance of identifying partners, nurturing relationships and building support initiatives on a community or regional level to change mind-sets and implement policies to aggregate farmers.
How do you see technology unlocking the potential of smallholder farmers?
I have done much research for my second MA/PhD in Digital Journalism and my dissertation is in technological communication among the smallholder farmers. Adopting the digital paradigm could unlock farmers’ potential as the e-resources are available for all. The fibre cable provides a vast internet connection, even to most rural areas and affordable smartphones allow farmers to surf the net and access updated agricultural information and knowledge.
Technology enables knowledge sharing and farmers can choose the digital platform which has solutions to their issues. Or, the training team can e-learn on a broad topic relevant to the farmers’ and train them on the subject. It offers expansive and borderless access to agricultural e-resources enabling sustainable farming to feed the current and the future generations. Although movements and large group meetings are regulated due to COVID-19, tech-savvy farmers continue to surf the net to learn about the various sustainable technologies applicable to their farming environments. However, adoption of these technologies is still dismally low. Hence, there’s an opportunity to build the capacity of the smallholders on how to navigate around digital world for their convenience and improve their farm yields sustainably enhanced by digital agricultural solutions.
How has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted food insecurity and malnutrition in Africa?
It has adversely affected the production, processing and distribution of food and further aggravated hunger and malnutrition in a continent already food insecure. Scarcity of workers due to massive lay-offs, sporadic food production shortages, food losses and food price inflations have increased malnutrition. It has hit the very poor hard as 70% of their income goes to food. It’s affected the consumption of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruits and animal products, whilst increasing micronutrients deficiencies such as in Ethiopia. Developing countries that depend on food exports have been adversely affected due to COVID-19 since there’s low income and less food availability due to the imposed food export restrictions, increased methane emissions and risks of diseases like salmonella, which increases vulnerabilities to COVID-19.
Are national governments doing much to support your efforts, especially during the pandemic?
COVID-19 is an awakening call to all governments to relook at their priorities. They need to invest in human resource refresher courses, increase budget allocations to the ministries of health, agriculture and education. They must build scenarios for proper planning to mitigate the impact of any unforeseen catastrophic occurrence, improved crisis communication and response preparedness, develop infrastructure and efficient systems, invest in cold storage systems and tarmac roads in the interior regions to reduce food losses during transportation. Governments have an opportunity to look beyond these times of triple crisis - hunger, locust incursion and the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are your goals for the upcoming year?
I envision partnering with like-minded organisations to digitise agriculture in Africa, support efforts to combat COVID-19, continue lobbying African governments to honour their promises made in the 2003 Maputo agreement and support the formulation of agroecology and climate change policies among other policies relevant to agroecology. We need to create an enabling environment for farmers (including creating alternative sources of incomes for the youth and women) to farm sustainably without depleting the natural resources. I want to connect various players in the agricultural ecosystem to make decisions based on relevant data to combat the food crisis in Africa.
If you were head of the UN, where would you put your focus over the next decade?
I would digitise all sectors of governments and find sustainable solutions to the challenges affecting people from the community, to national and global levels. I’d review policy frameworks and align them to emerging challenges, encourage all governments to install functional systems that allow equity, invite all multi-national corporations to mitigate the impacts of climate change and insist on their commitment to reducing global warming. I’d put a stop to irresponsible mining and oil drilling, embrace indigenous knowledge and empower communities to have stocked seedbanks with indigenous seeds that are always accessible to the smallholder farmers. I’d embrace the complementarity between the genders as both perspectives are unique and relevant to the global development agenda.
Where would you like to be in 5 years?
To be among the teams changing gradually, with consistency, the African narrative from food insecurity to food sovereignty, whilst promoting the unity of purpose working closely with both young and old for a seamless continuation of generations.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Venter Mwongera, Co-founder, DAKOKE Communications
I’d like to start by asking you about your family background?
My dad’s origin is Iraqi Jewish and he was born in India (Calcutta), now living in Israel. He travelled to the UK by boat with his parents and some of his siblings in 1960, while others went to Israel. My mum’s parents were of Dutch and Russian origin but lived in East London. My mum is now living in Bristol close to my sister.
Could you tell us about your influences growing up in London?
I grew up in North London. I always found the socio-cultural and historical aspects of London fascinating. I also lived in Hackney and Stoke Newington for several years, which is one of the only places in the world where Jewish and Muslim people live together as one community. My background, in combination with growing up in London, always inspired me to work and travel, doing social stuff especially in Asia and Africa. However, I never thought I would end up living in Kenya working for myself in gender and social responsibility.
Did you encounter much racial or gender discrimination– and how did that frame what you’re doing now?
I don’t recall experiencing any gender discrimination, but I do remember seeing racism in school and experiencing some myself, being Jewish with a dad who was born in India. This was in the 1980s and 1990s when racism was more prevalent in London than it is today, although nationally and globally it is still at the forefront of global social and political issues. I am very proud of my heritage and love the reactions I get when asked where I am from.
Can you tell us about Rise and your role as a consultant?
I established Rise in October 2018 in Kenya to take on a fresh challenge and to broaden my service offerings. Previously, for 12 years I worked at an international sustainability firm called Environmental Resources Management (ERM). Projects at ERM included working with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) to integrate gender into their Fragile and Conflict States Programme, developing gender action plans and strategies for several clients, and mainstreaming gender into Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA), management plans and others.
For the last year, I have supported Agence Française de Développement (AFD) as their Regional Environmental, Social and Gender Specialist, which has included managing related risks and integrating gender into their East Africa portfolio including in education, energy, transportation/infrastructure, water and sanitation sectors. Other projects have included developing a gender management system for a financial institution in Gabon, undertaking a social safeguard review on a smallholder tea farmer programme in Rwanda and acting as strategic advisor for impact assessment related to the refugee influx in Uganda for the World Bank, which included a component for gender and violence against children.
In short, Rise offers a broad range of social and gender development/safeguard services in Africa and internationally. This includes gender mainstreaming, risk review, due diligence, community needs assessment, impact assessment, management planning, livelihood restoration and resettlement.
Through the years, how has Rise impacted Kenya? What has changed and what has worked?
This is a big question for a young company. At Rise and during my time at ERM, working with E&S risk management and gender integration has influenced clients. For example, working with AFD and their government counterparts has allowed for capacity development in these areas, including enhancing female participation in decision making regarding project designs and mitigation measures, as well as increasing access to benefits through employment and other project impacts (e.g. access to energy).
From your experience, how can a baseline help to reduce gender inequality?
Having a baseline to understand the gender context is key to designing a project or a programme. It enables an understanding of the current situation in terms of roles and responsibilities in the household and community, access to education, participation in decision making, access and control of resources and assets (e.g. land, shelter, finances etc), and issues related to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV). This allows us to identify programme outcomes, monitor and measure success and recognise areas for improvement related to project impacts and inequalities.
Community engagement seems like a key process to your work, could you tell us what types of projects you’ve been running?
For most projects that I work on, participatory and inclusive community engagement is essential. It ensures that everyone’s views and needs are considered, allowing us to build a connection and manage any risks that may block or delay a project. In many countries, it is a challenge to get a representation of females due to cultural factors, so having group discussions helps to alleviate this.
For the refugee project in Uganda, we focused on engagement activities. We met with key informants who specialised in gender issues, conducted separate focus group discussions with male and female refugees, and host communities to capture sensitive issues regarding their situation and gathered information relating to SGBV, violence against children and social inclusion. I also led social and gender aspects of projects in Malawi, Liberia and Sierra Leone where female participation in meetings is also very limited. The only way to capture their views was through focus groups and interactive data collection techniques.
Political will is key to how Kenya progresses. How much emphasis does the government place on mainstreaming gender into Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG)? Do you think enough is being done?
Kenya is a signatory to Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1979) and the United Nations Declaration of Violence against Women (1993). There has been a lot of progress in Kenya concerning gender resulting from the Sustainable Development Goals, which has led to the development of a number of gender specific policies and integration of gender in environmental and social legislation. As such and from experience of working with various agencies, I can say that the will to integrate gender in ESG is very much there. However, there is sometimes limited capacity to mainstream gender due to the number of projects that are running at the same time, and not enough gender specialists within agencies to meet this need.
How do you see gender playing a role in mitigating climate change?
In 2009, I undertook my masters' dissertation on ‘gender differentiated impacts of environmental change in West Bengal, India’. I also researched a policy paper for Oxfam on the linkages between gender and climate change in 2008. This topic area has been a priority for many academics and non-governmental agencies for over 10 years. Since women and men have different roles in communities, they are impacted in different ways and therefore are adapting according to their needs. For example, in rural areas, women are primarily responsible for collecting food, water and fuel (firewood) for the household, while men are usually responsible for income generation and farming activities (although women often take on this role in combination with their domestic role). Across Africa, many women are now selling and using energy-efficient cookstoves that minimise reliance on natural resources for fuel. Mini solar panels are also being used for lighting and mobile phone charging. Women are being trained in water management techniques, such as rainwater harvesting, to improve access and the safety of those that have to walk long distances, due to water scarcity resulting from climate change.
How do gender biases differ in rural vs urban life?
Patriarchy, cultural and traditional behaviour continues to play out more in rural areas resulting from poverty, lack of education and health facilities that compromise the position of females. This includes teenage pregnancy, SGBV, polygamy, and other issues. In urban areas, through social media and government initiatives, there has been a focus on encouraging females to complete education (e.g. through Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics (STEM) programmes) and an incentive to take on professional positions. In Nairobi, many women are now in professional positions, such as managers, engineers and lawyers.
What other countries could we draw exampled form in terms of gender equity?
Rwanda is far ahead compared to other African countries resulting from gender integration in their development framework following the 1994 genocide. The World Bank gender portal suggests that women have 61% of seats in parliament, compared to its neighbours; 21% in Kenya, 34% in Uganda and 36.9% in Tanzania. There is a lot of focus on education. The UN Women report on Rwanda also states that they are leading on the numbers of signatories to the UN HeForShe campaign which aims at bridging the gender digital divide by tripling girls’ enrolment in Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and eradicating gender-based violence in all its forms.
What has been your greatest challenge and how are you/have you overcome this?
Through my clients and network, the demand for gender mainstreaming in ESG and development is growing. So, I am currently working to build a network of experienced gender specialists in Africa and elsewhere to support this area of growth for Rise, covering all sectors. It is an area that I have always been deeply passionate about and I am determined to meet this important demand.
Youth exclusion at almost all levels is widespread. How do you convince a generation of young women that there is a better future for them?
Education and mentoring are the key to empowering young women to play more of a role in economic development. It is challenging to change cultural beliefs and social influences that often determine the role young women play, mainly in rural areas, and shift aspirations from young marriage and domesticity. However, if there is a platform where they can freely express themselves and are guided by mentors, then I believe this will empower gifted young women to fulfil their dreams and to inspire others. This includes young men who can also be vulnerable and sometimes engage in petty crime, alcoholism and SGBV if they feel that there are no opportunities and are unable to fulfil their social role.
I understand you’re also working Pan Africa and soon going to Sierra Leone – could you tell us about what you will be doing there?
I am leading social studies for an EU funded project aimed at constructing bridges at various points in rural areas to improve access. Currently, pedestrians and vehicles use makeshift cable ferries made from planks of wood. This is an important project for communities in these areas as it will open up the market, enhancing income opportunities, for both men and women in these areas, as well as improving access to education and other important services.
Where should we be drawing optimism from, that the ‘war’ against gender-based inequality, will be won?
If you look at gender indicators over time, positive changes are happening with education, employment and participation in decision making. The role of social media has a role to play in supporting this shift, without leaving men behind. This is crucial in the success of beating gender inequality as men face other challenges that are often hidden and must be addressed.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Natasha Ezekiel, Founder, Rise Sustainability Consulting
As the stewards of our natural resources in Africa, women disproportionately shoulder the burdens of climate change. They are most vulnerable to its adverse impacts on human welfare; the agricultural cycle; food production and food security.
Yet women’s potential to increase resilience against climate disasters remains untapped due to existing gender biases; restricted land rights, limited access to training, financial resources, technology and policy making. A staggering 70% of women live in poverty, and with reduced access to their basic human rights, means they are 14 times more likely to die in climate-related disasters than men. They often do not receive adequate warnings ahead of a crisis and are left to take care of the children and elderly. In our efforts to tackle climate change, leaders at family, community, national and global levels need to listen to the voices of women and invest in their futures.
The first step towards tackling the challenges of climate change is to empower women to safeguard the environment. Given their traditional roles in agricultural production and as the procurers of water, cooking fuel, and other household resources, women are not only well suited to finding solutions to prevent further degradation and to adapt to the changing climate; they have a vested interest in doing so.
If given the opportunity, women can increase household and community resilience to mitigate our changing climate. Through community-based associations, they can exchange ideas in a self-organised network and strengthen their positions within the farming community. Community-based action creates ownership and stimulates innovation, so it is more sustainable and strategic.
In Kenya, women own less than 1% of the land and make up 75% of farming labourers. Until recently, they used hand-watering systems to grow vegetables for their families. To improve productivity, the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute introduced female farmers to drip irrigation technologies. These kits helped to deliver water to crops effectively with less effort and at a minimal cost. The use of the drip-kit is spreading rapidly across Kenya and is an example of a successful initiative that has already increased profits and put women on the map.
Investment in these types of technologies and initiatives will enhance sustainable food production. It is also important to reflect women’s knowledge, needs and roles while incorporating indigenous expertise and traditional practices. We can then develop policies that deliver gender-sensitive impacts, giving women access to resources and providing them with opportunities to participate in climate action.
By including women in the creation of policies and strategies around environmental protection we can improve disaster response, secure land & inheritance rights, all the while, replenishing our food resources. Characteristically, women bring empathy and inclusiveness to their networks. They understand what is needed to adapt and often find practical solutions, enhancing their efficiency as sustainability leaders.
Our TreeKenya programme has been designed to ensure women’s equal access to full participation in power structures and decision-making. Starting with advocacy, we raise awareness on the importance of gender complementarity through embracing the unique contribution and perspective of each gender to foster communal success. What’s more with strategic and clear communication, we build on prevailing customs to embrace gender inclusivity for the success of communities.
In summary, a more balanced power structure with equal measures of masculine and feminine qualities is a critical first step for a functioning society. Without such actions, the devastation created by climate change will continue to accelerate with women being the hardest hit.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Photo: UN Women/Ryan Brown
As the existential threat of climate change looms over our planet, no continent will be affected as badly as Africa. Extreme weather events – such as heatwaves, droughts, floods, and soil degradation - are wreaking havoc on smallholder farmers, upsetting yields, food quality and human safety. By 2050, hunger and child malnutrition could increase as much as 20%.
Increasing demand for healthy food, clean water and energy from a growing population are 3 of our greatest global challenges. Although efforts have been made to combat hunger, Africa is battling the impact of climate change and farmers are amongst those most vulnerable.
At the same time, the farmers can be agents for change themselves. Whilst climate change presents challenges for African farmers, it also offers opportunities. If carefully designed, regenerative farming can provide sustainable, economic benefits that help keep the rise in global temperature below the science-backed 1.5c-degree 2030 target. Yet, for Africa to unlock this potential, funding is urgently required in the development of sustainable farming practices.
To reduce the impact of climate change, national governments need to support state & private sector investment in climate information services (CIS) to better understand weather pattern variability, in turn modernising weather monitoring, data collection and modelling to provide greater accuracy of forecasting extreme weather events.
Greater investment is needed in research to understand how different crops and livestock breeds cope with drought, famine, and heat stress. There needs to be more emphasis on providing investment, education and management training in local communities to improve the well-being of farms, build sustainable and resilient ecosystems and undertake projects to increase food production whilst ensuring the natural resource bases are restored.
These climate finance mechanisms should be designed so that farmers can have better access to interventions that sequester carbon in the soil, such as agroforestry systems and better land use management practices.
In Kenya, farmers suffer from unreliable rainfall leading to drought conditions that subsequently increase vulnerability and food insecurity. At TreeKenya, we provide a digital platform backed by climate smart technology and sustainable precision farming that will enable farmers to access accredited markets, information and mitigate risks.
Farmers will benefit from 60% of the carbon credit revenue as a financial incentive, generated by improving farming methods – such as increasing organic matter in soils and planting indigenous trees. In the long term, this will improve the soil’s water absorption, nutrient supply and biodiversity, and help prevent erosion. Better soils also raise farm yields, improving food security and helping agriculture’s resilience to climate change.
At face value, farmer livelihoods and agricultural production in Africa have much to lose with the onset of climate change. However, with the right tools, farmers have the potential to reduce and even reverse greenhouse gas emissions. Their capacity to drive sustainable agricultural development that builds resilience will combat food insecurity and help to limit the global temperature rise.
African agriculture has long suffered from a lack of interest and investment. Both have contributed to the food crisis in the last decade and has left the continent in a perilous position. In its deliberations over which projects to fund, the international climate community has not prioritised Africa and it has often ignored agriculture, Africa’s biggest source of jobs and a crucial contributor to human welfare on the continent.
Investment in smallholder farmer, climate-smart technologies and sustainable methods of production is urgent for the survival of our planet. With it we can harvest the fruits of our labour. Africa should now be top of the climate change agenda.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Photo: Marco Simola/CIFOR, A Faidherbia Tree
TreeKenya’s Agritech platform connects smallholder farmers to accredited organic, carbon and financial markets
As a major employer and driver of economic growth, agriculture lies at the heart of the Kenyan economy. Yet, out of a population of 46 million, 14.5 million people face food insecurity and poor nutrition every year.
Today, 63% of food in Kenya is produced by smallholder farms. They manage a large share of natural resources – such as water, land and soil – despite very limited access to education, technology, finance and markets. Along with felling, the harsh chemical fertilisers and pesticides used on the lands are damaging and directly contribute to greenhouse gases.
For farmers to respond to the increasing demand for food, they need to be able to rely on well-functioning research and development, training and information systems. In the wake of sustained efforts to modernise farming practices, the role of technology is at the crux of maximising the value chain.
With the right access to the latest technology and agroecological inputs, local farmers can become stewards of biodiverse farmlands that hold great potential for carbon storage. Encouraging farmers to grow a variety of native tree species, using organic-only practices also facilitates the production of healthy and nutritious food.
At TreeKenya, we provide an innovative, free digital platform to enable smallholders to access organic value chains, up-to-date information and digital services. Our agritech initiative, backed by climate-smart technology and sustainable precision farming, aggregates farmers to transform the food and agriculture system.
The proprietary platform merges the best of agriculture, climate, food, finance and technology information. As a Plan Vivo validated Monitoring and Evaluating application, it presents a system change to smallholder regenerative agriculture, improving output and increasing farmer development enriches the livelihoods of farmers and the quality and nutritional value of the crops.
Carbon credits enable the programme and incentivise farmers to plant high-value trees for their nuts, fruits, seeds and leaves – such as moringa, neem, avocado and citrus trees. Coupled with the land converted to certified organic, 60% of carbon sales go straight to the farmer for tree and soil organic sequestration.
Our circular solution secures long-term offtake agreements with organic retailers; establishes organic seed banks at participating schools; and builds a database of farmers with transaction and payment trails, enabling micro-finance & insurance businesses to sell their services.
We aim to arm farmers with the same intelligence as Big Ag – weather, land mapping and precision farming - with satellites monitoring and evaluating. Moreover, we enable access to crop and finance insurance, protecting farmers against growing agricultural risks - particularly locusts, natural disasters, disease and theft.
By providing these services, farmers gain more control over their productive assets and overcome the degradation of the natural resource base. They will also be guaranteed markets for their organic production from farm to fork.
We are at the vanguard of smallholder farmers achieving economies of scale and enhancing their market power.
Rosanna Pycraft, Journalist
Thika Rescue Children Centre, located at the outskirts of Thika town, Kenya, is a home for young boys aged between 5 to 18 years rescued from the streets in Nairobi. Currently, the Centre has a population of 98 boys who have mostly lost contact with their relatives, as a result of domestic violence.
As a government-supported institution, it aims to rescue boys until they are reunited with their relatives. However, not all boys who go there are successfully reunited. Some stay in the Centre until they reach 18 years old when they are then released back into the community. At this point, the government expects them to take care of themselves. Back at the Centre, the government supports their food supply and medication. However, there is no budget allocation for clothes and school fees. Here, the Centre’s management works closely with well-wishers to fill the gap. Based on the annual budget allocation, the Centre is unable to provide a balanced diet in their meals to meet the children’s nutritional requirement.
With 13.2 hectares of land, SCOPE Kenya has been supporting the Centre to use part of their land to establish a food forest, producing vegetables and fruits, to supplement their feeding programme and improve the health of the young boys. Over the last few years, the institution has managed to produce a diversity of vegetables such as; black nightshade, amaranth, spinach kales, cowpeas, cherry tomatoes and onions. Other food crops include; sweet potatoes, cassava, bananas and herbs, mainly lemongrass and roselle (hibiscus). They have also incorporated medicinal trees like Moringa Oleifera.
Today, the Centre is producing about 40% of the boys’ vegetable requirement. This has not only improved the health of the boys but also reduced the expenditure on external supplies.
On Friday 13th November 2020, SCOPE Kenya joined Thika Rescue Children Centre in a tree planting day. We planted a total of 100 pawpaw and 50 sweet yellow passion fruit seedlings. Each boy was allocated two seedlings to nurture, and once well rooted, we will hold another planting phase. This is to ensure that there is a high survival rate for the trees planted. Other crops like banana suckers, pumpkin seeds, Roselle (hibiscus), lemongrass and moringa were also planted.
The purpose of this activity was to build the capacity of young children in tree planting and environmental stewardship, increase the number of trees planted in the garden and facilitate the production of different fruits to enrich their diet.
John Macharia (TreeKenya Country Manager)
Photo: Edward Pycraft
In 2019, I was presented with the opportunity to lead an academic study into the lives of one of the most emblematic tribes in the world, the Maasai. Accompanied by a videographer, Gus Cross, and a Professor of Anthropology from the University of Nairobi, Dr Tom Ondicho, we set out to produce an ethnographic baseline report and documentary film on a Maasai community in Kenya.
Equipped with a camera, drone, clipboards, pens and a voice recorder – nothing could prepare us for the 2 weeks that lay ahead and the learning that would follow. Nestled under the majestic, yet imposing Mt Kilimanjaro, straddled like a horseshoe around Amboseli National Park, lies an area the size of London, circa 1,500 km². With its tongue-twisting name, Olgulului Ololarashi Group Ranch, swiftly shortened to OOGR, we braised ourselves for a bumpy 4x4 excursion into the interior of this conservancy with a facilitative & non-prescriptive lens.
Upon arrival we were met with our local guide and partner who led us to the first boma, a Maasai village built in circles, fortified by cow dung and acacia branches. What immediately struck me was our hosts' ease towards visitors, and almost altruistic hospitality. Within a few minutes, we had settled into a traditional feast and local delicacy, goat, attended by the village elders. After a gluttonous episode, we were led to an ornate display of handcrafted beaded jewellery created by local women.
These particular settlements, named ‘cultural bomas’ are strategically positioned to pick up tourist traffic from 5* star hotels and safaris exploring Amboseli National Park. Here was a tribe, long heralded for their survival instinct, adapting their livelihoods from traditional pastoralism to tourism
The weeks that followed were spent working our way towards the heart of this ancient land. Stopping in villages to interview women, morans (young warriors), children, teachers and chiefs, we started to build a picture of the rich Maasai history. As a fearless nomadic tribe, widely known for hunting East Africa’s plains, the Maasai would travel vast distances in search of fresh pastures, once a renewable resource. Their livestock, thread in a delicate balance with wildlife and nature, conserved and replenished the ecosystem. As a symbol of wealth and serving as a critical insurance policy, large families were carefully curated leaving a rich tapestry of human life across the savannahs. Now, with land subdivided and cut off by parcels of privately-owned land, increasing population, livestock numbers and climate shocks, life is becoming more difficult.
The untold story is that we have been hunter-gathers for 99% of our genetic history. A specie co-existing with the natural world and whose survival was based on the ability to read weather, the stars and species around us. This human connection to nature was coined ‘biophilia’ by Harvard biologist, E. O. Wilson. It is rooted in our evolution and by spending time with this tribe, it came alive and immediately made me crave for it again.
Shuffle forward to present day. My Amboseli trip has opened a floodgate of learning and in particular, an exciting new appointment as a Trustee of CHASE Africa. As a charity, their development approach supports and promotes community-led family planning, sexual health education and natural resource management in rural communities. Growing from very humble beginnings, starting as a tree-planting initiative in the Rift Valley, they have reached new heights with their smart outreach programmes. Realising that positive impact is best achieved by local organisations who are embedded within and trusted by the local community, they are able to unlock huge potential. Currently, CHASE Africa provides funding and services to 9 local NGOs across Kenya and Uganda working towards a shared vision.
Communities like the Maasai are on the frontline of what the West has only recently understood as ‘our civilisation’s greatest challenge’: climate change. We watch as ancient societies, dependent on scarce natural resources, are stripped of their livelihoods with the absence of seasonal rains, rivers and rich forests. Coupled with Covid-19 and the pressure of modernisation, these tribes have very few tools left at their disposal. Navigating this alone has repeatedly proven fatal, as the world has shown little mercy.
Analysing this deeper, it seems that the yardstick for successful and sustainable NGO interventions is their ability to preserve, or (re)instate community rights and culture. By equipping and empowering the most vulnerable in society we can create permanent change. This model of development is a step away from creating a dependency culture, towards greater autonomy. Enshrined in Kenya’s Constitution are the rights to free education, information sharing and basic health services – yet so often, we see examples where these are threatened.
In an age of disinformation, local communities and NGOs are at the vanguard. A common misconception CHASE Africa face is the idea of women becoming ‘barren’, ‘cancerous’ and ‘sterilised’ through forms of contraception. Even though it is the right of women to decide when they want to have children and more, how many. Sadly, a young mother is invariably stripped of her formal education, often leading to a life of destitution. These false beliefs are often shared among men, who see family planning as a cultural barrier. However, time and again we see that with the right stewardship and support, opinions can change.
As I read through CHASE Africa's Partner Reports, I was overwhelmed with positivity. Here are real-life examples of marginalised communities overcoming life-changing issues, in the backdrop of a pandemic that brings developed nations and their societies to a halt. It is a clear testament to the strategy and hard work of CHASE Africa and their partners. Operating through the outreach of Community Health Workers (CHWs), locally appointed and trained by the Ministry of Health, we have seen mobile and even motorbike clinics continue to provide locals with primary healthcare services, family planning services and information about environmental conservation and natural resource management.
For example, Big Life Foundation, an organisation I know well from their operations in Amboseli, have managed to reach over 13,000 people each quarter with crucial information on health and sexual reproductive health. This is up from 7,000 per quarter in 2019. What’s more, they have seen a 92% increase in the number of women under 19 years of age taking up family planning from Q2 to Q3 2020. These are not just numbers; this is a community adapting and overcoming challenges.
As I reflect on my time with the Maasai, it is their readiness and capacity to make change that has a lasting impression. Adopting this predisposition is our only chance for survival in these uncertain times. We have has a lot to learn here, in particular how to live within our means and take care of nature around us. The clock is ticking, we need to act fast if we want to continue co-inhabiting our planet with fellow species. The question is, are we ready to make necessary changes to our behaviour? Greed and self-interest govern too much space. I thank CHASE Africa for presenting me with the prospect of continued learning and helping make positive change.
Edward Pycraft, Keystone Legacy
Photo: Gus Cross
I want to share a story with you that emanates from what’s brewing in my cup on this cold, rainy October evening in London: a warm, comforting tea. Tea is the second most consumed drink in the world, after water. In India alone, the annual production of tea is approximately 857,000 tons, generating 190,000 tons of tea factory waste before the tea has even been packaged. As I discreetly place my tea down on its coaster, I feel a sense of anxiety coming over me, knowing that 90% of what is left behind is waste. With the world’s estimated daily consumption at a colossal 18 to 20 billion cups, the wider question begs. How do we tackle the challenge of post-consumption waste? Is there a way of capitalising on this resource?
Anthropogenic activities such as conventional farming, non-renewable energy production, mining, factory run-offs and the construction industry, adversely affects wildlife and negatively impacts human health. The speed of technological development coupled with humans’ insatiable demand for consumer goods, places a mounting pressure on our natural resources and the environment.
Take the example of metal pollutants; when heavy metal-contaminated soils and water bodies enter into our food production and human life support systems, they pose a serious human health risk.
While some metals such as cobalt, copper, iron, molybdenum, manganese and zinc, classified as essential micronutrients, are critical for plant growth. Other metals, commonly found in soil and water, like arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury, nickel, lead, selenium, uranium, vanadium and wolfram are contaminants, and non-essential for plants. These metals, even at low concentrations get absorbed into plants and cascade up through our food chain. Through a process known as biomagnification, toxins are amplified as they move up the trophic levels towards our mouths.
Adsorption of heavy metals by upcycling a material like waste tea
Existing physio-chemical methods of heavy metal extraction are often expensive and complicated, demanding high-tech solutions. Yet, the world community is in great need of low-tech, easily applicable and affordable solutions to mitigate the growing problems with pollution. With increasing research into alternative, cost-effective adsorption materials, we see a plethora of options available to us. Take peanut hulls, neem leaf powder, straw, peat, pomegranate peel, and now, finally, tea waste.
The impactful urban potential of waste management
The extraordinary and rather unexplored potential for extracting waste materials, leads us to the next part in the chain. How can we integrate waste management solutions in urban environments in an interactive way, closing the loop between production, consumption, and the waste we produce? A step further, how can we harness this methodology to create a new architectural style? One that does not shield the “ugly” backside of our societies, but instead engages our citizens through active experiences moving towards a more circular economy and healthier lifestyle?
Waste, energy & recreation
Having studied in Copenhagen, close to the industrial waterfront, I had a rather peculiar view from my bedroom window: a powerplant that creates clean energy from 440,000 tons of annual waste. It is the cleanest waste-to-energy power plant in the world, raising the bar for resource optimisation with an energy efficiency of 107%. The incineration process recycles material through a recovery of resources that would otherwise not feasibly be recycled. With the help of very efficient modern techniques, the segregation process from bottom ash reaches more than 90% of the potential for most ferrous and non-ferrous metals. The bottom ash, a by-product of the energy production, following strict procedures, is then used for road construction and similar construction purposes, replacing natural resources such as sand and gravel.
Sounds good? There is more to come. The mountain-shaped waste management plant has a tree-lined hiking trail and ski slope on the roof, as well the tallest artificial climbing wall in the world. At its peak, your welcomed by an après ski cafe with a 360 view of Copenhagen. This new model of architecture and waste management offers the city a whole new level of urban fabric that contributes positively to public health, wellbeing and people’s economy, through reduced energy bills. Following this model of success, the Chinese metropolis, Shenzhen are building the world’s biggest waste-to-energy plant set to open later this year.
Upcycling of waste materials in architectural design
A good way of avoiding contaminants entering the food chain is by creating less waste in the first place - failing that, we need to find purpose for otherwise wasted materials. The recent innovation, by the sustainable Danish architectural firm GXN designed and built a competitive “OSB” building board by upcycling tomato plant waste. Their visionary product not only demonstrates a circular economy, but also outperforms conventional materials on durability. Who knew that agricultural waste could replace the current single-use construction philosophy in architecture?
With COVID-19 delaying, pausing and even cancelling many big construction projects worldwide, the time to analyse, improve and rethink our industry’s model of operation has never been more pressing. While buildings are historically long-lived, our cities are perennial: citizens are counting on their survival to enable future generations to thrive. Our current ‘short-term win’ economic model manifests itself in new buildings prioritising profit. The way we build today is damaging the environment rather than healing it. Discouragingly, the construction industry is responsible for 50% of landfill waste and 40% of drinking water pollution worldwide. It is now common practice for big building projects to clear vegetation and excavate, destroying biodiversity and reducing, if not eliminating the potential of much needed CO2-storage in our trees and soil.
Previously, the role of an architect was a ‘Chief Builder’, having the sufficient expertise on design and construction to oversee a project from inception all the way to completion. With the innovation of design and technology, architectural projects have become increasingly complex. Presently an architect is an irresolute role that varies remarkably from country to country, blurring the lines between what our responsibilities are and what they should be. With fast growing challenges arising from man-made climate change, we will have to start looking at ways of reclaiming our lost responsibilities, exploring new alternative services, and promoting a higher level of collaboration within the build team. Consequently, we ask ourselves whether 2020 could be the year where we change the rudiments of architecture?
The cataclysmic pandemic has changed the world in profound ways. Businesses are re-inventing themselves, integrating new ambitious sustainability strategies. Countries are stepping up to the Net Zero 2030 and 2050 challenge. As architects, we are the first frontier of the build environment, we serve as gatekeepers and should hold our industry accountable for its emissions and detrimental impact on our natural world. We know the solutions exist and although we have only touched on a few of them here, their potential is unlimited. Today, we see beautiful examples of economically viable, sustainable buildings and green urban planning strategies, so I pose the question: what is holding us back? As a young architect, I’m excited by what the next 10 years hold and encourage an organised, sustainable industry approach.
Emilie Jaspers, Sustainability Advisor (Keystone Legacy)
The pandemic has revealed our fractured and vulnerable financial model that has long been centred around short-term “wins” at the cost of our society & environment. The economy is now set to contract sharply, by at least 5.2% in 2020 according to the World Bank, accelerating the need to create real change.
In front of us is undoubtedly our greatest innovation challenge to date. How do we halve global emissions to stay under 1.5c and create an equitable world for future generations, all within a decade (2030)? To achieve this crucial target set by climate scientists, our countries, industries and communities need to come together to transform towards ‘net-zero’ as the minimum.
With the ‘climate tech’ solutions out there and many more being conceptualised; we ask the question, how can each of us our play our role?
At Keystone Legacy, an international agroecology initiative, we recognise the importance of building back greener through sustainable, regenerative precision practices. However, what seems more apparent than ever is the absence of a coordinated approach between all actors. Governments, although fundamental in setting policies for climate action, have to this point proven to be behind the curve and self-serving.
The opportunity now lies in the business community and the public sphere. Here, purpose-driven partnerships can be forged that demonstrate to our politicians where our interests and priorities are. In particular, the onus is on us, the younger generation. We need to raise awareness around climate change and implement the world’s mission. In short, it’s an anthropogenic crisis; humans have caused it, we can reverse it. And it all starts in the mind.
Man-made climate change is a symptom of our superpower. Our ability to believe in shared, imagined realities – nations, media & corporations – has led us to the top of the food chain and given us unparalleled influence over our planet. Like all superpowers though, they can fall into the wrong hands and threaten our very existence. Today, we live in a world built on stories and beliefs of the past that are failing us.
Social media, long heralded for optimising biological connection across the world, is showing its true face. We, the people, are products sold to the highest bidder, advertisers, many with a nefarious agenda of populism and disinformation. Why do we have climate change deniers? It seems that as homo sapiens, we are ill-equipped to face this wall of carefully programmed Artificial Intelligence (AI) praying on our weakness, with high rates of addiction, alienation and extremism among its ‘users.’
Understanding this, presents each one of us with a heroic duty. How can we harness our shared superpower to save the planet, other species and ultimately, ourselves? More than ever before, we need to enter into a new, enlightened collective consciousness. One that rejects speciesism and recognises that we are all part of the same biosphere that is contingent on the health of all species and ecosystems to function.
Once we’ve reached this paradigm shift in our minds, the narratives that have long served fictitious entities which sever our ties with nature, can be replaced by belief systems that actually do serve the people. And the answers are in front of us. If we respect nature, we can better understand its principles and the functioning of its ecosystem. As David Attenborough expresses in his latest call to arms, ‘A Life on Our Planet’ documentary: “We need to rediscover how to be sustainable, to move from being apart from nature to being a part of nature once again.”
Tribal communities are our testament that we can co-exist with nature again. Yet, it is deeply concerning that today, we live in a time where a tree is more valuable dead than alive. Even more alarming is the latest PNAS report, which shows that only 4% of mammals are ‘wild’, with humans and our livestock accounting for 36% and 60% respectively. We have pushed wildlife to the brink of extinction, and humans are not far behind.
This pandemic has created a social, political & economic vacuum. We, as citizens and businesses have a real chance to reimagine our stories and realign our values. Social media can be reengineered to demonstrate truth. In doing so, we can broadcast a counter-narrative, one that is climate positive and compassionate with a long-term, sustainable impact.
Our time for collaboration and co-creation is ripe: we can all be conscious consumers and demand responsible value chains from our businesses. Likewise, businesses can deliver purpose and substitute shareholder, for stakeholder capitalism. We have already witnessed the psychological and material benefits from localising food systems and stewarding biodiversity during what the fortunate few call “The Great Pause.” These lessons now exist in our social network. With the right collective will, they can guide us towards permanent, positive change.
Edward Pycraft, Keystone Legacy