Kaluki Paul Mutuku is a Kenyan-based youth climate defender and environmental advocate working to foster meaningful youth engagement in environmental conservation. Kaluki was born in Kenya and grew up in a rural setting where he learned to love the outdoors. From this childhood experience he developed a close proximity to nature and at the same time an awareness for the many threats it faces. Today, he is the African director of Youth4Nature and the co-founder and executive director at Kenyan Environmental Action Network (Kean), which aims to create a national network of nature and climate enthusiasts and provide a common platform for sharing ideas and fostering cooperation. Moreover, he is the founder of Green Treasures Farms, an initiative which aims to intensify environmental sustainability throughout Kenya by working with women and youth to teach organic farming and water harvesting and management.
I would like to start by learning a bit about what you do. Water harvesting is a big part Green Treasures Farms mission, could you explain what it is?
This idea started when I was growing up and I would see the women and children in my community have to walk for kilometers to fetch water for daily chores because there had been mismanagement of the water supply system. This took up a lot of their time and energy. There were many causes that contributed to this problem but I was surprised not to see anyone concerned about providing a solution. With Green Treasures Farms I aim to empower women who are in this situation. The project provides training in efficient water consumption and gathering of rain water and dew water through gutter systems and cisterns. It is a very empowering project for the women involved because it frees up a lot of time that they can dedicate to other tasks and to their children.
What sort of approach do you opt for when starting a project in a new community?
I think that more and more people are realizing that when it comes to development and environmental protection, a grassroots approach is a very effective route. By “grassroots” I mean an approach where you attempt to find a solution looking within the community you are trying to help rather then come with a predetermined plan from the outside. This approach has two very important advantages. Firstly, it is very effective because by listening to the community you can integrate the scientific knowledge you bring to the table with indigenous knowledge about local climate and environmental phenomena passed down through generations, which is of immeasurable value. Secondly, on a more practical level, the fact of listening allows to build trust which is fundamental to an effective project.
You spoke about the indigenous knowledge that is held by communities, how do you make sure you are able to mix modern science with longstanding traditions and community knowledge?
Modern science is clear and it tells us that we are slowly walking towards a global environmental catastrophe. This must not make us inconsiderate of indigenous knowledge however, which is the science that generations have been surviving on. Merging the two is a primary concern in what I do and is at the heart of the mission statement of Youth4Nature which wants to be “…rooted in science, aligned with traditional, local and indigenous knowledge, and grounded in climate and intergenerational justice”. It is hard to make these worlds work together, but it can be done. You have to start with a lot of listening and give people the space they need to feel that they can express themselves. In some way you have to make them feel that they are the stewards of the project, because they will have to be. In the end if you want the project to continue once the organization leaves, you have to make sure it is theirs, there needs to be place for the community to own the project.
Why are you so keen on youth engagement within environmental work?
In my own experience I have seen a great deal of innovation and determination come from youth activist that I could not see coming from a different group. For example, the ability of the youth to adapt to a changing world and implement continuously new approaches and solutions. Furthermore, while older generations tend to be more complacent, I think youth has a direct interest in our climate and is becoming ever more aware of the need to act promptly.