The Green Belt Movement provides grassroots perspective at international conference
Late in December 2011 I presented a paper on the Green Belt Movement’s (GBM) grassroots experiences on sustainable development, agriculture and food security in a seminar hosted under the auspices of World Bank Development Leadership programme. The programme is designed to provide participants with an opportunity to deepen their knowledge and skills to enhance sustainable development. The participants were largely economists from the World Bank but also in attendance were representatives from other multilateral institutions such as the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), as well as national NGOs.
The basis of the paper I presented draws from the origins of GBM. The founder, Prof. Maathai identified the practical needs of communities. She witnessed the diminishing water supply and wood stocks available for heating and cooking, and the food insecurity which had resulted from poor resource management, poor governance and a lack of accountability. GBM’s response to these needs and issues captures all definitions of sustainable development.
Over time GBM has had a lot of achievements, such as mobilizing 4000+ community groups and planting 47million trees. However GBM also acknowledged that the vision to rehabilitate and increase forest coverage (from the current 1.7% to the recommended 10%) must take into account that only 20% of land in Kenya is considered arable, that water scarcity is threatening Kenya’s socio-economic development, and that more 70% of the population depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.
The paper I presented acknowledged that GBM is aware of the trade-offs and the need to achieve a balance i.e. to promote reforestation and food security whilst also being aware that agriculture is a driver of deforestation. The paper explained that through our Civic and Environment Education (CEE) programme, in combination with our GBM Watershed Based Approach (GWBA), GBM is addressing conflicting community priorities. On the one hand CEE as a rights-based approach to environment conservation enables communities to see the linkages between their individual concerns and the wider issues of governance. It also educates individuals about the role they are entitled to play in shaping the direction of governance and human rights in their communities. GWBA, on the other hand, helps to define priorities and build a sense of community, thereby helping to reduce conflicts and increase commitment to environmental programmes to increase the likelihood of their success.
I left the seminar with a sense that amidst all the complex and high level presentations and debates it was refreshing for participants to listen to the voices from the grassroots. One of the intended outcomes from the World Bank Development Leadership Programme is “collaboration across organizational boundaries with government, industry, NGOs and private investors to achieve sustainable solutions”. I am optimistic that if an understanding of the needs of all relevant stakeholders, particularly grassroots communities, can be achieved this outcome can be accomplished.