Peek Inside a local Bonn Challenge – 30 years ago

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
John N. Wairore

The Bonn Challenge commitment includes an ambitious target; the world can learn so much from a small village in Kenya where a local edition of the Bonn challenge started 30-years ago.

I count myself lucky – the student of a local community that was willing to share everything they knew. But this spectacular journey is even longer and more fulfilling with current developments. The Bonn Challenge has captured the world’s attention, and I can’t help but imagine how much the world could learn from this “selfless village” and from what we have had the opportunity to learn and document.

It all started in 2013, as a curious attempt to understand how a local community achieved large-scale landscape restoration through individual small-scale farms. Here, we learnt how individual motivations and desires engrained in shared and collective visions at the community level led to the rehabilitation of a degraded semi-arid rangeland in northwestern Kenya.

Prior to 1987, the traditional pastoral rangelands in the lowlands of West Pokot were highly degraded. To address the ensuing low rangeland productivity, pasture scarcity and livelihood problems; interventions to combat severe land degradation in the area were necessary. In the past three decades, the degraded rangelands of West Pokot were transformed into a park-like savanna landscape through the use of thorny twigs and branches to construct enclosures. Using enclosures, households were not only able to arrest land degradation, reserve/produce forage but also had independence in land, pasture and livestock management. Socially, enclosures changed livestock grazing dynamics, reduced the need for livestock migration hence families could spend more time together while children could go to school. With this flexibility, households could intensify on land use, diversify incomes and improve their living standards. Further, women emerged as crucial income earners, with a higher degree of financial independence, decision-making and influence in the community.

For a pastoral community, these results were not only exciting but also held much potential for Kenyan rangelands, if only they could be scaled up. However, advocacy to scale-up enclosures for rangeland landscape restoration demanded more empirical research. At the end 2015, I had more questions than answers. Although Spicer argues that ‘scaling-up is a craft not a science,’ we were simply not ready to leave!

Perhaps, if we exhausted all logical question regarding this remarkable transformation, we would not only help the community sustainably intensify but also ratify (from a scientific perspective) what we still hold as an extraordinary achievement. I could also be bold, shout from the rooftops that a local community has cracked the code – of land restoration in pastoral rangelands! Or perhaps, I finally found my calling!

Dave Isay once said that people don’t just “find their calling,” they fight for it. But in my case, am not sure: You see, I always thought nature and I had something special going. But mother nature by its very nature is ‘very generous but very unforgiving,’ said Wangari Maathai. I count myself lucky that nature was generous to grant me a calling, a passionate fight for nature I treasure.

Over the past year, I have been piecing together the last pieces of the puzzle on enclosures. On the one hand, reducing land degradation concurrently with increasing income demands understanding feedbacks between the social and ecological systems in enclosure dominated landscapes. On the other hand, the effects of climate change coupled with non-climatic stressors in pastoral rangelands presents unforeseeable challenges in the future. As a young scientist, I model probable outcomes under different scenarios as part of my international climate protection fellowship.

The world is already changing for the better! And we have sustainable development goals to prove that this encouraging change is already underway. Amidst these developments, my dreams and motivations are deeply rooted in our most vulnerable and marginalized groups, particularly those inhabiting harsh and unpredictable dryland environments. Assisting these resilient communities to gain better recognition is one step towards a just and moral world.

I have been lucky to witness first-hand, how local communities with minimal resources can initiate and sustain grassroots land restoration campaigns with amazing outcomes. Greening Africa through the AFR100 can immensely benefit from such experiences: Let’s start sharing them!

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