Magazine article The Spectator

Africa Sets an Enterprising Example

Magazine article The Spectator

Africa Sets an Enterprising Example

Article excerpt

Janice Warman sees projects in Kenya that offer a businesslike response to the impact of climate change

The hills of Michimikuru are a little piece of heaven: pickers in brightly coloured scarves move slowly through the chest-high bushes of the vivid green teafields beneath the slopes of Mount Kenya.

But as the saying goes, local colour is other people's poverty. Just ten kilometres to either side, the desert is encroaching; the mountain's snowcap is melting; and soaring temperatures, droughts and storms mean the crops of the country's primary export often fail.

It's the scene of a remarkable initiative, co-funded by the British fair-trade company Cafedirect and the German Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development, to help the 9,000 small growers of the Michimikuru Tea Company to adapt to climate change. And it's a good indicator of the direction that businesses in many countries are going to have to take, like it or not.

Because waiting for governments to agree and act may simply take too long.

As the climate change conference begins in Copenhagen, this is where Barack Obama really should be: walking the muddy village streets in his father's native country, talking to tea-growers who also grow kale to sell for a few shillings so they can survive when their main crops fail. Perhaps then he would be happy to promote a deal for developing countries to help them survive the damage that is now widely blamed on developed countries; Kenya's annual carbon emissions are just 0.3 tonnes per capita against 14 tonnes for the US.

The initiatives (there are similar ones in Mexico, Peru and Nicaragua) are deceptively simple. They include low-energy woodburning stoves that mean women who were having to spend up to five hours a day collecting massive bundles of wood can use just three sticks a day. That not only saves time and CO 2 emissions, it cuts deforestation too. It also creates work, as locals are trained to make the stoves.

Other projects include cutting thirsty eucalyptus and replanting river banks with indigenous trees; teaching growers (some of whom have barely half an acre) to 'double-dig' their plots with varied crops to eat, sell and barter, and to make 'multistorey' gardens, using giant sacking versions of grow bags. It means providing nurseries for tea plants; and housing Kenyan National Forest guards so they can protect the local forest. Tea factories now use energyefficient boilers. A feasibility study for a wind farm has shown that it could not only supply the tea company's energy needs but also sell power back to the national grid.

These things do make a material difference: switching from growing tea to passion fruit, a less climate-vulnerable crop, or simply adding in other crops such as madacamia nuts, bananas, sugar cane, sweet potatoes or arrowroot, kale and spring onions, give growers more security than depending on the traditional tea monoculture.

I spoke to people who bore this out. Tiny Veronica Kalai doesn't know how old she is.

But she was born in Michimikuru and began farming tea here 30 years ago. Now her scant two acres support eight children and 20 grandchildren. After the recent drought her harvest has fallen from 2,000kg of tea to just 800kg. But she grows vegetables as well, and her plot is neatly crisscrossed with lines of cabbages and kale, overhung by a massive avocado tree.

Sarah Kambunarah is just 15 and tends the low-energy stove in her father's house, where he grows kale and spring onions to sell in the market. …

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