As the issue of climate change and the resultant drought continue dominating headlines, Emmanuel Miliko is determined to positively impact his community, one household at a time.
On most mornings, he leaves his house early, armed with a public address system, and covers several kilometers requesting members of his Ilmotiok pastoral community to attend scheduled conservation meetings which he later holds during the day.
Miliko, a conservationist, is on a mission to save the drying 700-kilometre Ewaso Nyiro River which cuts through his village and is the only source of water for his community. He educates his fellow villagers and nearby communities on the importance of preserving the environment.
On the day of this interview, we found him surrounded by a handful of women and sitting on rocks under the scorching sun. He was holding his usual conservation meetings, but that day, only a few had turned up for the meeting.
“Most of the villagers are out doing daily domestic chores,” he says as he signals us to join the impromptu meeting.
The meeting takes about an hour, but his usual scheduled meetups which involve all community members, usually take around six hours. He invites artists or organises football matches to keep the community engaged.
His desire to revive the dying river was ignited in 2009 when the seasonal river, which flows from the Aberdare ranges and drains into the Lorian swamp, ran dry for the first time.
At the time, Miliko was in primary school, but he remembers vividly how the six month drought season left carcasses of wildlife and livestock scattered all over his village.
“The dry period aggravated poaching of wildlife, especially the dik-diks, among the locals,” he says, adding that the pastoral communities living along the river’s bank were the most affected.
In light of the difficulties his community was forced to endure owing to the drought, the 25-year-old devoted himself to conserving the Ewaso Nyiro River, after graduating from the Amboseli Institute of Science and Technology with a certificate course in Tourism and Hospitality Management.
In 2016, he started a conservation group known as Nafila Youth Group together with his peers, and their goal was to educate and create awareness on the importance of preserving the environment.
“We advised the community against poaching and deforestation, which was so rampant among the members for the purposes of charcoal burning, constructing manyattas, and making firewood,” he says.
Since the community borders a conservancy, locals would also cut down the thorny acacia trees which are the most dominant in the semi-arid area, and use them as bush fences. To reduce the destructive activities, the Nafila Youth Group innovated a bio-gas digester that uses cow dung as fuel, thus reducing the usage of firewood. The organisation currently has 600 members.
The conservationists have also dedicated 2,000 acres out of 30,000 acres of the community’s land purely for planting trees.
The youth group’s efforts in preserving the environment have seen the community benefit from various conservation grants from overseas donors.
To reach such donors, Miliko says that he presents proposals to them through his youth conservation group, informing them about his community’s activities.
“The investors then conduct physical research to confirm whether they are content with our climate-smart practices before agreeing to support us.”
The funds are issued to the community through the Northern Rangelands Trust, a non-governmental organisation that builds and develops community conservancies in northern and coastal Kenya. In 2020, Miliko’s community attracted the biggest support worth Sh14 million from an international organisation based in Switzerland. Since then, the community has been receiving the Sh14 million from the NRT in phases every year.
According to Miliko, the funds have not only been used to conserve the environment but also to eradicate poverty.
“Using the funds, the community has constructed a dispensary and built a school, besides buying food for the members and paying school fees for their school-going children,” says Miliko.
The proceeds from environmental conservation have also seen the youth group start a community eco-lodge, an establishment that has seen most of the youths enroll in tourism and hospitality courses.
“The tourism facility has become the local’s biggest earner. Part of the revenue is donated to support the community, thus improving livelihoods,” he says.
The youth conservation group has currently started expanding its reach to neighbouring pastoral communities, educating them on the importance of conserving the environment.
“During the tournaments and cultural events, we invite conservationists working for the Laikipia county government to educate the public and artists from Samburu and Maasai to attract and entertain the masses,” he says.
Miliko’s dream is to eradicate poverty among locals by ensuring that the community produces at least 20 graduates within the next 10 years.
“My goal is to safeguard and achieve this through funds made from conserving the environment,” he says adding that he is currently working on a climate change project of planting trees within schools in Laikipia county so as to protect the environment.