Sometimes I feel it’s almost impossible for me to get a better job than working for WFP. However, I initially missed some linkages between my job and the environment. So when the WFP Kenya Country Office wanted a focal point for carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, my hand went straight up. In short, industrialized countries can purchase carbon credits to offset their pollution through investing in environmental improvements in less developed countries.
One month later WFP had three visitors from a company called EcoSecurities (UK). The company buys/seeks carbon credit-eligible projects in less developed countries. I was in charge of the visit and the four of us (excluding a driver and a field monitor) went to the slums of Nairobi to look at energy-saving stoves under the school feeding program. International Paper (a company) donated 68 energy saving stoves to schools under the school feeding program a few years ago. The stoves help schools save on firewood (up to 70%), which is a great cost that can be more than $150 per month, and help the environment, including deforestation. The mission (one American, one German and one South African) was excited about the stoves and saw great potential for carbon financing, and of course all the cute kids helped to make it a great day. Lorna (our field monitor and my friend) took us to some of our best schools and I saw with my own eyes how a poor school can be turned around when a proactive head-teacher and the community work together.
The next day we visited the Ministry of Environment and then we drove for 5 hours towards Mombasa, the country’s second largest city and the biggest port in East Africa. Security regulation does not allow the UN to travel at night in Kenya and we were caught by darkness so we stayed overnight in Kibwezi in quite primitive rooms. Kyle, the American, was excited to try some local food (the only option) and they all took it very well. The next day we drove to Taveta on the Tanzanian boarder and right next to Mt. Kilimanjaro (sadly, we couldn’t see the mountain which was covered in clouds all day L). In Taiveta we met the heads of the local school district and I had to get used to facilitating the visit, explaining why we where there to the heads of all the departments in Taiveta district. We saw a large irrigation project which was made possible by WFP’s Food for Asset (FFA) program. FFA is a program where the community identifies a project and then community members work 12 days a month and are paid in food by WFP. The work has to be labour intensive and WFP only funds projects in food-insecure areas to help the people become food secure. FFA projects are mostly funded through our emergency operations, unlike most of our programs which are free handouts. The irrigation project was impressive and, by collecting water from a mid-sized river, maize was growing high and the project earned food for thousands of people.
The sad part is that the irrigation system could easily be extended but WFP stopped funding the project and, for some reason, the community didn’t come together to make the last extension by themselves. I think the reason is what an economist would call “low social capital”. People don’t trust each other, even within the same community. And if I was not sure that my family would benefit from my hard labour maybe I would not do it….but come on… that maize was almost reaching the sky!
We drove back to a town called Voi; a few elephants blocked the road and we had to wait for them to pass. The elephants were huge and even our Kenyan driver felt a bit intimidated because they were quite upset and had a little baby elephant. Their ears where flapping as we passed them in the UN Toyota Land Cruiser and the driver showed me once again that you can drive 100 km per hour on a hard unpaved road. The country-side was beautiful.
Then we reached Voi, a tourist town without tourists - post-election crisis! We stayed overnight in a high-end lodge with nice rooms, big windows overlooking the savannah, and a pond with a hippo and where elephants (20) and other wild animal came for a drink. With two swimming pools and an excellent kitchen, we enjoyed the 150-bedroom lodge which we had all to ourselves. This lodge had a swim up savannah with the swimming pool 30 meters from the pond with all the animals; it was quite amazing and Kyle and Sabina (German woman) were ecstatic.
The next morning we slept in and left for Mombasa. The EU-sponsored road was great and we were there in no time at the beach hotel. But Mombasa was unseasonably cold and windy so my first time in the Indian Ocean was postponed. We watched some Euro Football and went to sleep.
We spent the next day in Kwale district, which was beautiful but many of its crops were failing because the long rains didn’t happen in parts of the district (in Kenya they say “the rains failed”). We saw a family running for their lives as we approached a village; later the field monitor told us that the children were afraid we were coming to vaccinate them.
Later I saw something that almost brought tears to my eyes. The school feeding program provides lunch to the primary school children in this area and fortified porridge for children under five (pre-school). We were driving and it was a little after 1pm. Children in their school uniforms (British system) were walking by the road. They were around 4-7 years old and they were all carrying a plate of WFP food from their school. Instead of eating the meal at the school they were carrying the plate home to share it with the rest of their family… just one plate. An important reminder of why my work is so vital in this country.
In Kwale we saw some great schools where the communities had come together to plant maize and trees on the school compounds. The schools in Kenya often have quite a bit of land, the biggest up to 10 acres. Unfortunately, the scale of the tree planting was too little to be feasible for carbon credits.
After that we went to a presentation site where World Vision (an international non-profit) is training mainly woman in drought-resistant agricultural methods. In many Kenyan tribes, after marriage the women do all the hard labor (good thing for Lisa she is not from a Kenyan tribe!)! World Vision had a great agricultural presentation site which I am sure will make a difference for these women and their families. Our field monitor translated as the 12 women wanted to talk to us. It was their first time having visitors and they were very happy. They thanked us for the program and then the oldest woman said: “We need water. We need water for our crops and for our households.” Then it was obvious that we were supposed to reply, it was so formal. We were standing under a tree in the middle of nowhere, but not too far from Mombasa road (the major highway from Nairobi). So I spoke to them, encouraged them to motivate their husbands to work. It was important for us to see the project but we couldn’t deal with their lack of water right away because water falls under UNICEF programming and WFP doesn’t have the mandate to fund boreholes. Depending on the depth, a borehole costs around 50,000 USD. After the talk the old woman came to me, took my hand with both of hers and said: “Remember me! Remember me!”
So now I feel I owe a $50,000 borehole to an old woman in Kwale. She surely needs it; the long rains (April-June) also failed in this part of the district.
We drove 100 km back to Mombasa to spend the night and it rained and rained. Driving back to Nairobi the next day I was eager to see how far inland the rain had reached. Normally it just rains 5-10 km inland. After an hour’s drive we passed the road to the old lady’s village. The soil by the road was darker and I saw a large pothole with water in it. The old lady had gotten rain that night.
We made it back to Nairobi in one piece. Our driver for the week, Francis, had been great and our visitors seemed happy with what they saw, although the energy-saving stove project was probably the only one with carbon credit potential. The rules under the Kyoto protocol are fairly complex but I learned so much and the mission told me about the Adaptation Fund which has a wider approach. All in all, it was a great, great week. To top it all off my beloved wife came home from her extended “vacation” in the US. I never thought I could miss her so much.