Heightened rainfall and flourishing vegetation - two fatal ingredients providing the perfect haven for locusts to breed and feed.

It was exactly this that drove swarms of locusts to Kenya in 2019; from the north-eastern borders to Kenya’s heart, plaguing farms and threatening already vulnerable communities.

As a consequence, 2020 was defined by a flicker of climate change awareness and a burst of panic. Pesticides were sprayed 34 times above the recommended dose with the fear that further food shortage driven by locusts could put up to 25 million East African people at risk.

For now, these chemical solutions have dampened the issue, but by the same token, concern for climate change has also dwindled. Tuning into the news, you’ll once again hear much of the same politics as anywhere else - border rows, worker strikes and presidential elections - with environmental concerns no longer a top priority.

It’s because of this, the ‘climate crisis’ continues to slip the minds of many Kenyans despite the events of last year. This was particularly noticeable when talking with Florence Machayo, a grandmother from Kakamega, western Kenya.

When asking Florence about the climate crisis, she remarked:  “We are honestly better off in Kenya, if you look at the state of countries like the United States and China. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else”.

HeraldScotland: Makenna Muigai Makenna Muigai

READ MORE: As leaders plan for future, the climate reality is 'devastating lives'

Many of those around Florence residing in Kakamega do not recognise the severity of climate change.

In fact, this year a regional survey indicated that 54% of respondents were not concerned about climate change, and 85% had little knowledge on how to cope with its potential impacts. A sign that climate awareness has not yet reached all corners of Kenya.

Nationally, it’s somewhat ambiguous as to how many people know about climate change and how many don’t. However, Florence’s 18-year-old granddaughter, Makenna, feels that there is a clear generational divide in knowing about climate change, with young adults like herself more eager to speak out.

Despite this, Makenna’s passion for discussing climate did not stem from her schooling. Instead, it was from having the privilege of social media access and noticing subtle climatic effects trickling into daily life.

She explained: “July is the time of year when my family and I set out on our annual trek to Shagz (the farm) to visit my grandparents in Kakamega- a seven-hour journey.

"From our departure, vendors of all kinds make their way to our car. Passion fruit, cabbage, carrots and potatoes fill my view from the car window. As a staple token of gratitude, fruits and vegetables are the least that we can deliver to my grandparents each year.

"But, on a recent trip, my mother requested a tub full of tomatoes perhaps to be used in a stew or kachumbari - a local salad. On request, we were astonished by the price.

“Two times. The price of tomatoes had doubled from months prior. And even though my mother attempted to bargain with the seller, her efforts were unrequited.

"This peculiar time of year has become worse and worse for buying tomatoes, it never used to be this bad. What bothers me the most was the fact that these sellers probably had no idea that climate change is such a talked-about topic in the West. It is a concept that would never have crossed their minds. There are bigger things to worry about.”

HeraldScotland:

This paints a scary picture. The IPCC has acknowledged Kenya to be significantly vulnerable to the risks of climate change with agricultural livelihoods now fragile in the face of unpredictable weather and possibly further pest outbreaks. It begs the question; how can Kenyans prepare if many don’t know what they’re preparing for?

With COP26 on the horizon and a recent IPCC declaration of ‘code red’, many Kenyan activists such as Makenna hope to see national climate awareness grow as national television networks increasingly join the discussion.

More than that, COP26 presents itself as an opportunity for Kenya to communicate the unfairness of climate change through the lens of a native voice. It’s been made clear that while Kenyans are suffering with pests, extreme weather and food insecurities, their lifestyles are not predominantly causing this.

Unsurprisingly, Kenya is only responsible for a fragment of the world’s carbon-dioxide emissions with countries like China and the United States often placed at the forefront of the issue. Thus, with COP26 comes blame but also a desire for cooperation.

In turn, November will see Kenya’s President, Uhuru Kenyatta, seeking grants, partnerships and climate finance resources to not only repair the damages of the past, but prevent more in future. Whether this comes to pass is yet to be known. For now, it’s a waiting game.


This story is part of a special youth collaboration for COP26, aiming to highlight the acute nature of the climate emergency by the world’s least developed countries. 

Student journalists from Scotland and across the UK have ‘partnered’ with young people from these places to highlight the life changing consequences of global warming already felt by these communities. 

Makenna Muigai is from Kenya and is a student at the African Leadership Academy.  Her story was written in partnership with Lauren Haughey, a journalism student at Cardiff University.