Sep 24
September 24, 2015

Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change in Kenya with Data and Technology


This is the second blog in our series Faster, Leaner, Better: Using Data and Technology to Measure and Accelerate Progress. View the first entry here.

In this blog, we asked Peter Ndunda, Technical Program Manager at the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI), to tell us about CCI’s work in Kenya and how they’re using data and technology to mitigate the effects of climate change.


Tell us about CCI’s approach to combating climate change.

Climate change is a serious issue that’s linked to how we live and interact in the world. The way we travel, heat our homes, produce our food—all of these things have an effect on climate change. So if we’re going to confront the issue and reverse the dangerous path we’re on, we need to change systems that relate to how we live. That’s what we’re focused on at CCI. Our approach is rooted in the Clinton Foundation’s strategy of leveraging cross-sector partnerships to unlock innovative solutions and bring them to scale.   


Having grown up in a rural part of Kenya, what are some of the climate-related changes you’ve seen over the years?

A lot has changed over the years. As a kid, I loved accompanying my mum to our small farm during the school breaks. Back then, rain patterns were more predictable and the soils were fertile, enabling most of the families in my village to grow enough food to take them through the dry season. Today, things are dramatically different. Climate change has had a devastating effect on our agricultural productivity. The rain seasons have become erratic and the soils have lost their nutrients. Smallholder farms barely produce enough to feed the community, let alone to provide enough income to send kids to school.

Today, things are dramatically different. Climate change has had a devastating effect on our agricultural productivity. The rain seasons have become erratic and the soils have lost their nutrients.

When I graduated from college, my mum asked me three fundamental questions that she and her neighbors in the village were struggling with: what was the best time to plant crops given the changing rainfall patterns; what could they put on their soil to improve crop production; and what crops would be best to plant on their farms to increase output? Although these questions may seem basic, the answers to them mean everything to my mum and so many others in Kenya – where 75 percent of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood. Getting better information to these farmers is just so important.


How is CCI helping Kenya mitigate the effects of climate change?

CCI’s work in Kenya will help the Government address some of the critical questions I mentioned. Specifically, we’re developing a wall-to-wall system—called the System for Land-based Emission Estimation in Kenya (SLEEK)—that will make information about climate, soil, and other information accessible to users in a timely manner.

SLEEK aggregates new data as well as data that’s already being collected by over a dozen agencies, including the Kenya Meteorological Service and the Ministry of Environment; and it analyzes this data so that it can be used to better inform Government agencies, NGOs, the private sector, and the public on decisions related to food security, agricultural productivity, land-management, and other development issues. 

SLEEK will also track greenhouse gas emissions from the land-sector, which will provide vital information required to plan effective policies and implement targeted programs for fighting climate change.


What are some of the challenges related to SLEEK?

SLEEK alone can’t solve all of Kenya’s land use and agricultural food production challenges. For example, most people in Kenya depend on forests for their livelihoods, and cutting down trees is one of the main ways they meet their daily needs – cooking for their families, building houses for their children, and generating a little extra income. This is one of the reasons that so much of Kenya’s forests have been decimated. SLEEK can help us pinpoint areas where reforestation efforts need to take place, but if we’re going to prevent the cycle from repeating, we have to couple reforestation efforts with efforts to provide alternative livelihoods opportunities that will take the pressure off our forests. 

That’s why we’re working with partners in Kenya to support reforestation and landscape rehabilitation efforts that simultaneously provide income-generating activities. For example, with the Green Belt Movement, we’re helping farmers grow fruit trees that they can prune for firewood but also sell the fruits. We’re also supporting the establishment of agroforestry in the communities’ farms that will reduce dependency on already depleted forests by providing alternative sources of timber and fire wood.


What is your future outlook on SLEEK?

I believe that SLEEK could provide a model that could be replicated all around the world. Our work in Kenya is informed by lessons learnt from Australia and Canada but we are very excited by the possibilities of expanding this model to other countries. Each country has a unique set of challenges, but the goals are the same: we want to empower governments and communities to achieve sustainable land-use practices, improve the livelihoods of the communities, and adapt to the effects of climate change.