Climate Change in East Africa


by Alice Ng Bouwma

I serve at World Renew, a Christian international development and disaster response organization that is compelled by God’s deep passion for justice and mercy, and that joins communities around the world to renew hope, reconcile lives, and restore creation. It was this conviction that moved me to join the East Africa Climate Witness Project trip to understand firsthand the impacts of climate change. In May, our group of seven traveled together for two weeks across Kenya and Uganda to visit the rural communities that World Renew and our local partners, Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) and Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) in Uganda, serve. We met subsistence farmers who grow food for survival and who are dependent on rainfall to irrigate their lands. Over and over again we heard stories of how extreme weather patterns of increased intensity and frequency of droughts and floods are having devastating effects on the 80% of Kenyans and Ugandans living in rural areas as subsistence farmers. Like many others, Samuel from Solai, Naruku, Kenya told us that: “In the past, we had two rain/planting seasons – with the long rains from March to July and the short rains from October to December. My wife and I would always start preparing the land and plant in April and have a good harvest in June. But over the past five years, the rains have not been good and we can’t farm like we did in the past. We’re adapting by practicing conservation agriculture; using these practices last year we experienced a four-fold increase in our yields. But this year the rains are less; it hasn’t rained much since December. Last year at this time my maize was up to my knees. I’m worried since we will not be able to harvest this June.”

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World Renew and ACK are partnering with Samuel and other armers in his cluster group to explore how different techniques of conservation agriculture can improve food production and also increase marketability so surplus harvest can be sold at a profit. We will encourage Samuel to maintain permanent soil cover by leaving his crop residue and growing live cover crops like beans. This will help capture the little rain that does fall, improve soil fertility, and eventually lead to healthier harvest. 

Leaving Naruku, Kenya we traveled to North Teso, Uganda. There I learned that climate change is adding another layer of complexity to people who are already dealing with traumatized youth who were once child soldiers in the country’s cruelest rebel force, being affected by violent Karamojong cattle raiding, and losing their fishing livelihoods to depletion of fish in lakes. But I also witnessed and heard stories of joy, resilience, strength, and hope that can only come from God. We heard testimonies of self-empowered groups working together and advocating their local district government, and now have drilled wells to access clean water, and roads that provide safer access to markets and schools. There are also aspirations of so much more, including having a ferry that will connect them to the capital of Kampala. With World Renew’s and PAG’s facilitation groups now have community action plans and are registering with the government to access even more resources and build collateral. Lives are being transformed as community members are diversifying their livelihoods with small livestock rearing and fish ponds, planting pest and drought resistant seeds, and progress in gender transformation is happening!

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At the community of Akampala I had the privilege to close our meeting with the 200 people who welcomed us so warmly with dancing and singing; they were so grateful for the food aid provided in 2017 and the continued agriculture and health training they receive. I offered them a Bible verse that God used to encourage me when our youngest son was hospitalized last year – Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

Now being home for almost a month from my visit, I’m challenged by how I can change my personal lifestyle choices to reduce my carbon footprint and promote stewardship in my communities, to teach my own children about how better to live sustainably with our God-given resources, and to continue seeking justice for those impacted the most by the changing climate.