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The Loita Hills are one of the most spectacular and unspoiled regions of Kenya, but this environment is under threat.

As drought cycles increase and the population expands, immediate action needs to be taken at a community-level to prevent widespread starvation and environmental devastation from visible deforestation and over-grazing. The rapidly increasing livestock and human population in the Loita Hills puts pressure on the land that will ultimately threaten the social fabric and sustainability of the community. Just 30% of the land surface is forest and only 5% is cultivated, just enough to produce maize and beans for consumption to feed this expanding population.

Beyond the Loita Hills, climate change and environmental changes are impacting hugely on Kenyan communities, particularly at coast. The poor lead precarious lives. A recent review of participatory poverty studies highlights that uncertainty permeates the lives and livelihoods of the poor. It is the interaction of global risks – for example climate change, weather extremes and economic globalisation – and the personal and local, everyday dangers of crime, ill health and discrimination and exploitation, which determine the risk landscapes of poor people around the world. Clearly adaptation and ‘building resilience’ to climate change have become a major focus of work by international development agencies and donors, with many agencies, such as the World Bank and DFID, viewing resilience as a means of bridging disaster response and longer term development efforts. But these agencies recognise the need for using new concepts, tools and methods to more effectively learn and incorporate learning into policy and practice. Whilst a dominant discourse exists around poor people being more vulnerable, there is a contradictory narrative that presents the poor as particularly resilient – in fact, resilience is a defining characteristic of what it is to be poor.

S.A.F.E. understands that the change required of people to transform into environmental champions is a deeply cultural one. To help the communities we work with protect their environments.

Our current environmental programmes are:

Helping communities in Coast Province become more resilient to the impact of climate change: In 2014, S.A.F.E. was delighted to start working in partnership with Professor Katrina Brown of the University of Exeter to investigate resilience to climate change in Coast Province. S.A.F.E.’s experience in delivering high-quality Forum Theatre is the central means of engaging with these different communities and audiences. The community audience is invited to stop the performance and attempt to change the course of action and work towards resolving the situation. The project started in 2014 with community research and developing Forum Theatre responses and will continue throughout 2015. In 2016, we are delighted that some of the Pwani team will have the opportunity to visit Cornwall to share the outcomes of the project with Coastal communities there.

Protection of Loita Hills Forests and elephant population: The biggest threat the Loita Hills community faces is the destruction of their sacred forest on which they are totally dependent. And one of this community’s greatest assets is their large population of forest elephants. As elephants are confined into smaller pockets of suitable habitat, humans and elephants increasingly come into conflict with each other. Elephants can destroy a farmer’s crop and months of hard work in just a few hours, and very often farmers get injured or killed – an average of two people are killed every year by elephants, and the crop invasions are too numerous to count. No compensation is ever received by this community. In 2014, S.A.F.E. was delighted to join the Clinton Global Initiative as a partner with our Commitment to Action ‘Protecting Girls and Nature: Using Culture to Change Behaviour’. Working with the families on the edge of the forest, and in partnership with local groups, we have started to use our model to change community attitudes towards elephant protection and forest conservation and to increase the ability of the Maasai to peacefully co-exist with elephants.

Environmental protection and conservation in the Loita Hills: The Loita Maasai depend almost entirely on cattle, goats and sheep for survival and livestock are an essential part of Maasai culture. But overgrazing of existing pasture land is leading to rapid erosion and there is increasing deforestation as people clear areas to create more grazing land and the demand for timber increases illegal deforestation. As drought cycles increase and the human population continues to grow, immediate action needs to be taken at a community-level to prevent large-scale starvation and environmental devastation. Working with community groups and leaders, S.A.F.E. has developed a series of activities that will support the community to adopt change, such as encouraging water collection and tree planting and creating awareness in the community of the need to diversify agriculture and protect forests. This programme embeds change by raising awareness and providing the skills and tools required to support change over the long-term. This includes using performance and a nature reserve to encourage land conservation and responsible grazing; distributing seedlings to women; and encouraging the recognition of alternative sources social prestige, such as education, to reduce the inclination to accumulate livestock on unsustainable scales.