OPINION: Employed by nature


OPINION: Employed by nature
Kenyans at Uhuru Park grounds during a past Labour Day celebration. PHOTO| COURTESY

By Nancy Githaiga

How many times are you asked these questions? unafanya kazi wapi? (where do you work?) or Uko wapi siku hizi? (where are you nowadays?). If in formal employment the answer will be your employer, if self employed one will mention their business.

Hardly does the question, what sustains your job? Is asked yet Kenya is a nature based economy where livelihoods directly or
indirectly rely on natural resources for survival.

Labor day 2020 came at a time when Kenya like the rest of the world is battling the COVID-19 pandemic which continues to devastate livelihoods and economies the world over.

Our country is fighting one of the most challenging health emergencies of our generation. The pomp and colour synonymous with May day celebrations in Kenya was replaced by uncertainty and gloom.

With the indefinite closure of schools, working from home directives, suspension of flights in and out of Kenya from 25th March 2020, social distancing as well as self-quarantine directives, we all face exceptional challenges as we come together to help stop the spread of the virus.

Livelihoods are on the brink. Industries, employers and employees are grappling with the devastating impact of the pandemic, from massive job losses to massive salary cuts, bread winners being unable to put food on the table and the increased anxiety caused by the
unpredictable future.

Now let us put some of these losses to perspective. One in ten jobs in Kenya indirectly relies on the natural resources driven tourism sector, which translates to 1,140,000 according to the World Travel and Tourism Council while 450,000 people directly depend on the industry, cumulatively they translate to approximately 9.7% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), this does not include the households that benefit.

Yet for all its worth, we are unsustainably consuming from nature what belongs to futuregenerations. It’s like ‘stealing’  from Kenya’s children. Even the unborn. This means we are operating on an overdraft, a debt from nature which is beyond our means as detailed in the Living Planet report, 2018.

The report by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) indicates that the planet is ‘critically ill’, unsustainable human activities are pushing the planet’s natural systems that support life on Earth to the edge, threatening the very fabric that various sectors
depend on.

To put it mildly, our own existence depends on natural resources. Our economy is highly dependent on it. From the supply of raw materials, water, food medicines and energy, to the pollination of crops, formation of soils and protection from floods, storms and erosion, the planet’s natural systems provide a range of vital services that underpin production, trade livelihoods and consumption in our country.

But, we are losing nature faster than it can restore itself. This is a direct threat to our own future and our economy. The floods that are currently leaving destruction in their wake, lives lost, the future of food and agriculture is under threat due to the millions of tons of lost top soils – the bottom line is, people need natural resources to survive and thrive.

Environmental disruption, including habitat loss and climate change, is increasing our vulnerability to such disasters and pandemics. Current analysis suggests that humans have already pushed planetary boundaries beyond the limit of a safe operating space; these are
climate change, biosphere integrity, biogeochemical flows and land-system change.

Tragically there have been indications that the novel coronavirus is a zoonotic disease, meaning it is an infectious ailment which originated from wildlife and spreads between animals and humans as determined by The World Health Organization. There are indications that more than 70% of all emerging diseases affecting people originated from mainly wild animals.

This is the time to put an end to the illegal trade of wildlife species. The time to strengthen efforts to reduce consumer demand for high risk wildlife products is now.

The uncertainty occasioned by the Covid 19 pandemic has put us in a difficult position. In addition, we are now struggling with extreme climate events across the country: locust invasion, flooding in Tana River and landslides in the Western Part of the country , Cholera , a water borne disease in the North, leaving many feeling helpless during these unprecedented times.

While nature employs millions of Kenyans as well as drive our economy, unfortunately, it has no voice. All is not lost, we can still use our voices as citizens and consumers to push nature up the political and business agenda.

There is now an urgent need for government, business leaders and society at large to come together to speak up and speak out for our environment and restore the one place we ALL call home by 2030 – while delivering on commitments to tackle climate change and improve people’s lives.

We call this a New Deal for Nature and People, a deal which creates a safer, fairer, and healthier future for present and generations to come, and every one of us can help make this happen.

We cannot do business on a dead planet, neither can we enjoy life’s simple pleasures. The best tribute and support we can give to those who wake up everyday to make a difference in the various sectors and industries is to end our dangerously unbalanced relationship with nature.

This is all the more reason to take stock of the natural resources in our country, as well as the benefits, what is referred to by many as ecosystem services. By valuing the basis of life on earth we will prioritise effective nature protection and restoration at a larger scale than ever before while allowing economies to sustainably grow.

This can only be achieved if we balance conservation with sustainable development. Without balance, the forests, oceans, wildlife and
more which we rely on for food and jobs will suffer.

If nature is under threat we all are. If it collapses we collapse too. We need a healthy environment that supports people and sustainable growth now, we need it post- Covid.

Theeffects of an ailing planet and how it directly impacts the wellbeing of people is now evident. Theneed to unite and make our voices heard for the planet has never been urgent and greater. We may be the last generation that fully understands this, and the last that has an opportunity to do something about it.

Together We Can save livelihoods, our economy and the very fabric that define our societies – Nature.

Nancy Githaiga is a scientist and natural resource governance and management expert.  She is the Policy, Research and Innovation Lead at World Wide Fund for Nature- Kenya (WWF-Kenya).

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