Patricia Kombo is a youth climate activist in Kenya. She is best known for her tree-planting initiatives as part of her non-profit PaTree Initiative. The initiative has planted over 10 000 trees as of 2020. We spoke to Kombo about her inspiring work.
How did you find yourself as a youth climate activist in Kenya?
I toured Lodwar – a town in Northern Kenya – in the company of a few volunteers at a time when the region was hit hard by drought. I remember seeing women from the Northern part of Kenya walking a long distance to look for water and herders losing their animals to drought.
This served as a reminder to me of what might happen to my community if nothing was done to the worsening condition back home. I come from Mbooni, over 100 km from Nairobi along Mombasa Road. It is a place that is seeing increased land-use changes from agriculture to development. There is also rapid population growth, poverty, climate change and lack of diversification when it comes to livelihood which has resulted in inappropriate land-use methods and water scarcity. Logging is happening and soil erosion, as well as siltation in the region, has resulted in land denudation and farmlands losing their fertility. Food security is compromised.
I started PaTree Initiative as my humble contribution to conserving nature through promoting climate literacy.
Fast forward to 2020, just one year after starting your initiative, how did you cope?
I found myself at home doing nothing in line with my plans to engage as many children as I could in planting trees for the environment. Now, around me, I was joined by five other young siblings and my parents making a big family of eight. At no time did all of us find ourselves at home except for major family events and holidays.
Despite the unprecedented fun of being together at home, I noticed a challenge with the food supply for the family. I saw how mum struggled to buy vegetables at that time the weather was not favourable pushing the prices very high.
I related that this was the case with other families in my area. So, I decided to use my knowledge of growing tree seedlings to create kitchen gardens for my family and women in my community.
How was the reception of your idea with the local women who know you by your initiative of planting trees?
When I started implementing my idea, my thoughts were that if I could create a way to supply families with fresh vegetables that would save them some money for other essential needs such as medical expenses
Instead, I met a challenge of misinformation and mindset because, in my community, people have the perception that girls do not understand farming. Secondly, they thought I was too young, at just 24, to understand how to create a kitchen garden in an area that has an average of 600mm of rainfall with prolonged dry spells.
Also, the community was adamant that we can grow vegetables alongside maize, the staple food crop in Makueni.
How then did you succeed with the kitchen gardens?
I set up a kitchen garden for my family as a model. At the same time, I approached two women to start. Let me tell you, it was a disaster! I had not mastered the art of caring for a kitchen garden having shifted from planting trees, but I researched more.
The second attempt was successful where we each had a thriving quarter acre with vegetables at a minimum input cost. This made five other women see the benefits and asked me to help them set up the same on their land.
This was the success I was hoping for all along. I trained the seven women who then became trainers of others. I liked this approach because it worked very well as it was convincing to others than doing it alone.
What happened to your trees?
I did not abandon my love for trees. During the pandemic, the challenge was tapping the youth who were jobless and just loitering around. I brought several on board to encourage them to use their time effectively for activities that promote the conservation of the environment and engaging in farming. Together, we were able to set up a 10,000 seedlings nursery.
What have you learned so far to motivate young people in Kenya and Africa?
Around seven billion people are on the verge of losing their jobs as the world transits to a greener economy and there is a lot that they can tap in the land and agricultural sector. They should see farming as the biggest employer because we need farmers three times a day.The next billionaires will come from the farm because there is a lot of potential in the farm, the population is growing, and people need to be fed. As the world transitions to a green economy there will be more jobs in the sector compared to the technology sector. Again, people are also changing their eating preferences in the wake of lifestyle diseases and cancer. Hence the need for organically grown food.