Honorable Mention,Undergraduate Category, "Making A Difference" Essay Contest, 2011
By Joy Muthanje Mwaniki
February 7, 2012
Joy Muthanje Mwaniki, 19, is a student at United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya.
Essay Question: What does sustainability mean to you?
Embracing a Green Revolution: A Kenyan's Journey to Sustainability
Sustainability is a term that refers to the responsible use of non-renewable resources available today, so much so that they can be used in years to come by future generations. The environment and its sustainability are issues that have become important and paramount to governments, multi-national organizations, and even individuals.
This is because the manner in which the world today uses the resources not only affects the generations to come but also affects the present. Already, around the world, countries are facing the effects of global warming and destructive habits, such as deforestation. These have resulted in the alteration of migration patterns of animals and the changing of climatic conditions, threatening the livelihoods of agricultural communities from all around the world. This being the case, sustainability is a concept that has been embraced by millions of people, with the term "going green" being coined and encouraged as a healthy and responsible lifestyle choice. This is a lifestyle where recyclable and renewable resources are used to maintain a sustainable livelihood.
How Sustainable is Sustainability?
Governments have been pushed into putting laws and regulations that protect and preserve the natural resources. These endeavours are seen in my city of Nairobi in such efforts as the use of biodegradable bags or the recycling of cartons in supermarkets. The employment of the "Green Belt Movement" as founded by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the late Wangari Maathai, has also contributed to the promotion of responsible care for the environment among the youth in society.
However certain environmentally sustainable advancements such as the advent of electric cars and the use of solar panels, although they are effective and useful methods, have proven to be expensive and difficult to integrate into the daily lives of communities in Third World countries. These countries pose a unique challenge; that is, how to keep up with the world's environmental changes while still taking care of its population that may live below the poverty level.
Ordinarily, most women in rural areas are forced to be the breadwinners in their families as traditional family roles have changed as a result of alcohol abuse and lack of responsibilities by their partners. These women usually have to take care of both their children and their grandchildren.
As a result, the income garnered in these households is low and poverty is rife. The focus of the family therefore shifts from environmental sustainability to basic survival. In such scenarios, firewood is often used as a fuel for cooking, as it is cheap and affordable. However, laws that have been put in place to ensure that forests are preserved prevent such women from poor backgrounds from gathering firewood and assisting their families. This ultimately leads to a conflict of interest. Poor local communities that also depended on the traditional practice of hunting and gathering food from the wild have also had to struggle with the challenge of feeding their families with laws put in place to protect the state's flora and fauna.
It is my opinion that charters and resolutions put across by states during international conventions and resultant laws and regulations implemented by governments need to take into account the needs and capabilities of the ordinary citizen in regards to environmental conservation. These should offer manageable ways for local communities to assist in environmental sustainability while being able to support their families. Ideally, these ways should also be economically productive for the locals and provide an even greater incentive for the ordinary man to reduce his carbon footprint.
In this case, renewable and easy-to-access resources should be used to provide energy for citizens, as seen for example, in the slums of Kenya, where human waste is used as an affordable and safe fuel for cooking, which is ideal as lack of proper sanitation is a health issue that greatly affects slum dwellers.
Rural communities that depend on subsistence farming as their means of livelihood often use organic materials, such as manure, to grow their crops. However, with changing weather patterns and decreasing soil fertility due to deforestation and erosion, most have been forced to turn to pesticides and chemical fertilisers to increase yields for greater commercial purposes. These chemicals sink into the soil and pollute river beds in runoff once it rains. What can be done to solve this problem is to educate farmers on the negative effects of the use of chemicals and encourage productive agricultural practices such as intercropping crops with legumes and shift cultivation, which allows the soil enough time to regain its original level of fertility. Renewable materials, such as manure and organic compost, should also be embraced and used to increase soil fertility. These materials can easily be obtained by the farmers and their consistent use does not affect the quality of soil in the future.
Third World countries are often eager to welcome multinational companies to engage in business within their borders in order to help build their economy and give citizens employment opportunities. However, sometimes unscrupulous businessmen take advantage of the lax regulations set up by the state's government concerning environmentally friendly practices. As a result, the host country suffers from increased levels of pollution in water sources, soil erosion, and decreased soil fertility. These issues mostly affect the poverty stricken in society who depend on agriculture and local rivers for their survival.
These governments should realise the negative impact such practices have on local communities. Laws and regulations that ensure that organisations and businesses adhere to safe environmental regulations will protect these communities from the effects of environmental degradation.This can be done by means of promoting endeavours such as eco-tourism. This is where tourists are encouraged to visit areas that are secluded from the rest of the world in the most environmentally friendly manner possible. The local communities are able to gain revenue from engaging tourists and the host country's government benefits from foreign exchange.
Sustainability is an important factor in today's world, one that will affect generations to come. However, for a sustainable future to be reached, approaches towards it should be unique and suited to the country that it is intended for. Third world countries should embrace policies that focus on the average citizen and study the effects such resolutions shall have on the community as a whole. This way, sustainability is made possible in a manner that also helps local communities to earn a livelihood.
It is imperative that economically sound measures are used in order to introduce local communities to environmentally friendly practices while at the same time being able live a productive life. It is a government's duty to protect such communities while still maintaining national interests.