Posted in Easier said than done

Environmental Decision Making: Making sense of the theory

Decisions regarding environmental resources are not like the resource use choices we make as individuals. They are social decisions that impact on a wide range of people who have widely differing preferences. Individual decisions in the market are based on personal interests, welfare and happiness. However, environmental decisions involve decisions concerning environmental goods and services that are not necessarily marketed and decisions about whether to introduce a reform or give a go-ahead to a project that will make the society better off and not worse off amidst the fact that definition of the society is not always clear. Furthermore, as Harding notes, in his paper Environmental Decision-Making: The roles of scientists, engineers, and the Public, environment is made up of interconnected components, processes and feedback mechanisms that make the environmental decision-making processes significantly differ from the individual market decisions.

Unlike the individual decision-making where the interests of the individual dominate, as described by the notion of the classical liberalism, environmental decision-making has a crosscutting impacts that need to be taken into account to ensure that the society is better off necessitating collective action. Therefore, the decision-makers, the decisions they make and for whose benefits the decisions are made play a key role in dictating how, who and when these decisions are made.

Environmental Decision Making
By assuming that the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number, represents what is good for the society the framework does not incorporate issues of equity, fairness and distribution

Ramsay provides a theoretical explanation arguing that individual’s decisions are best explained by the classical liberal philosophy which holds that people are best suited to seek the best means to satisfy their own interests leading to improved social welfare albeit through pursuing different interests and any collective action to decide and meet these interests is unwarranted. By assuming that the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number, represents what is good for the society the framework does not incorporate issues of equity, fairness and distribution that often arise when making decisions about access, ownership and use of natural resources.

In addition, the classical liberal philosophy is based on the foundation that in the market the property rights are clearly defined, defended and tradable. However, most environmental goods and services are public goods for which collective decision-making rules are necessary to make sure that they continue to advance the welfare of the society. By ignoring the social, environmental and cultural context in which decisions are made, liberal philosophy proponents assume a narrow view of the society yet broader and complex interconnected relationship between environmental, social and economic elements occur. As a result the decision-making framework offered by the classical liberal philosophy does not depict the true nature of the often non-marketed environmental goods and services that need collective action.

Posted in Easier said than done

The Power of Mentorship

Most of us will agree that one of the most important resources we have as a society is social capital. Social capital is the power that is found in relations, in the norms and values that we hold and the resulting social networks. Social capital is especially important in participatory resource management where the value of the communities social capital can be used to generate fair, equitable use of natural resource while maintaining the integrity of these resources.

Closely related to social capital is the relational power that each of us hold usually cultivated through interpersonal characteristics such as ability to interact with others, ability to be in a group and ability to break social barriers and interact with people who hold different values among others. It is also cultivated through intra-personal skills such as the ability to bring people together, to mediate and to empower others through such processes such as mentorship. Mentorship allows these skills to be passed from one generation to the other, from one community to the other and from one group to the other in an effort to achieve positive outcomes.

In The Power of Mentorship Rehema Abdul, a marketer and a writer based in Kigali, Rwanda writes about the role of mentorship especially for young people who are looking to develop and support their social capital, develop skills and benefit their communities.

Posted in Easier said than done

Transparency and governance in natural resource management

The question of whether transparency will lead to a more accountable practice in the management of the natural resource management is a complex one. At the surface, it seems like the obvious answer to achieve accountability and then  improved governance  but is it really the case? Even when the advocates for transparency insist that the public should get the information in a format they can decipher regardless of their education levels, it means increased costs for agencies and companies whose main goal is not information dissemination.

Education plays a major role in ensuring that the public can decipher what information is released. So if education is not improved then transparency doesn’t make much difference. If we think from the financial perspective do we think that the cost incurred in processing information will be equated with the benefits to be accrued from  good governance? If the answer is yes, then we will see more transparency but if not, we are in for a long wait.

Posted in Easier said than done

Reasoned skepticism in Natural Resource Management

Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it true no matter how hard you believe it. Something else, just because something feels right, it doesn’t mean it is the right thing to do. Sustainable environmental management especially the natural resources management needs more than desire and intuition. We need a reasoned skepticism to understand and manage the environment. We need to go against emotions and feelings. We need science to make evidence based decisions. Do we always see the big picture when we make intuitive decisions? Think about pest control. If you kill a pest when you see it, you think you are making a difference. But by killing one pest, you are creating an enabling environment for the other pests to multiply because they have more resources when one or few of them dies. It is not how you think. It is more than that. It is how you make decisions and implement them when you are not controlled by feelings and intuitions.

We trust politicians to make decisions on effective allocation and use of natural resources but do they always look for evidence? If not, then what kind of decisions do they make: intuitive or evidence-based? There is no absolute knowledge. Even Science can only give provisional knowledge but never will we have 100% evidence but in natural resource management, even two percent knowledge based evidence is better than one percent if we are open to acknowledging that what makes it better is the intention and not obligation. So the next time you fill that survey form that will be used in decision making, do not let your feelings interfere. The next time you chair that board meeting ask for evidence, knowledge. The next time you take a “green” action, ask yourself if it is really “green”

To take care of our environment and especially the scarce natural resources that we all depend on, we need to know about our planet because it is our home. The only home we have.

Posted in Easier said than done, Kenya my country

Climate change: Benefits now or in a 100 years?

No doubt, climate change is a global issue. We need to protect the environment if sustainable development and intergenerational equity is anything to go by. I am thinking about Kyoto Protocol and why no country seems to be reaching the set targets. Is it because the benefits are not convincing enough or is it because public support for carbon taxing is not there?

The Costs of Kyoto protocol compliance in one year are sufficient to provide the world’s population with clean drinking water. Coming from a country where drinking water is literally life or death depending on quality, I see what Bjorn Lomberg is talking about.

According to Bjorn, postponement of climate change impacts by four years in over 100 years is what complying will get us. Is 4 years in a hundred years worth it? Using the current discount rate I would say no. I am thinking about access to water and improved sanitation for the slum populations in Africa, in Kenya, I am thinking about the fight against malaria, HIV/Aids, reproductive health and education. That is what is on top of my priority list.

Being an environmental economists is not easy. Even harder when you come from a developing country where getting through today is not guaranteed leave alone a 100 years.

Posted in Easier said than done

Potential in Waste- Ecological Fertilizer from Human Urine

Long term development strategy for both emerging and advanced economies is drifting towards marrying the business goals and the environmental goals.

The way a society manages its resources determines the development rate of that society. Resources must be used in a sustainable way through careful management and scientific and technological advances. Research into new methods of cleaner production, prevention or minimization of waste and improved use or re-use of what is being wasted must be given high priority politically, scientifically, technologically, economically and ecologically. With the increasing need to optimize development and cut the effects to environment, resource recovery cannot be an overemphasize.

To illustrate, urine is a locally produced resource that is free. Normal urine output of an average person is 1-2 liters per day or 50-60ml/hour. In adult humans the average production is about 1 – 2 L per day. Given the case of a household, a family of four produces enough urine to fertilize 1/3 of an acre. With the increase of ecological sanitation facilities all over the country which make use of a waterless dry toilet system facility for urine recovery especially in public places such as railway stations and other public transport stations where millions of people using these facilities could present an enormous source of unutilized resource in the form of urine for agricultural use and with the separation of urine from the faeces in ecological sanitation, a whole range of options exist on what to do with the separated urine including using it as an alternative to chemical fertilizers.

The Ecological fertilizer is organic and therefore free from heavy metals unlike the chemical fertilizers that have always been used by the farmers and whose side effects on the environment are enormous. Urine recovery and reuse is the best direction to take on the amount of Urine at our disposal as a country as it ensures availability of locally manufactured urea products with specific agronomic variability. Investigating the use of human urine as fertilizer for different crops is much more than just scientific research but also presents a social challenge as it will need measures and approaches to break the taboos that come with issues related to sanitation and hygiene. In most societies there is a taboo on the use of human waste and sewage as an agricultural input. This limits the market for compost and other agricultural inputs products produced from human waste. Additionally there is a risk of spreading disease by using untreated human excreta, a reason why authorities have strict rules to protect the public health. However, with strict adherence to the established rules and regulations that are scientifically proven, human waste presents opportunities for resource recovery in terms of biogas and organic fertilizer.

The use of Urea in the Urine to make Ecological Fertilizer in Kenya presents a solution for 21st century agricultural problem in Africa and beyond. Food production has declined in Kenya — largely as a result of rapid land degradation. Depletion of nutrients and soil organic matter and erosion are some of the major problems facing agricultural production in Kenyan smallholder farms today.

In some parts of the world, for instance in India, urine trials have been conducted for a few years now. The Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in Coimbatore, south India working with a local organization have already harvested two crops of paddy grown with urine fertilizer and two crops of bananas, and analyzed the findings – which were safe for human consumption, besides being cheaper. Professor Abdul Rahman, a well-known salt scientist is conducting trials on crystallizing urine for safe and cheap transport and hopes of making the technology available are very high. This does not only present an opportunity for Inter- University scientific consultations but also for best practice sharing in environmental management and resource recovery.
Climate change, securing long-term water supplies, dealing with salinity and protecting our clean, green environment pose challenges and offer opportunities. Recognizing these opportunities and developing new approaches to tackling these challenges is a starting point to securing a sustainable future. Human waste recovery such as urine reduces the weight and volume of waste, and produces inoffensive, useful products benefiting agriculture and biodiversity and can be a profitable business activity providing income and employment opportunities for the poor.
With the right policy coordination, technical knowledge, strategic partnerships and collaborations with Universities, organizations and communities, human waste recovery such as urine can offer a solution to the current environmental and agricultural challenges in developing countries.

Posted in Easier said than done, Kenya my country

The role of Social Entreprises in solving pressing social and economic problems

As a sociology student back at the University, my discipline included critical analysis of the economic, social and institutional sectors and it was clear that individuals have to help governments in solving both social and economic problems and I was interested in social enterprise. I have worked in a social enterprise for more than two years now and I believe that small and medium social enterprises are playing a major role in development at the bottom of the pyramid. My work experience has exposed me to the field of small and medium enterprises management. I have, over time deliberately shifted focus to social enterprises and I am looking forward to advance my understanding in the same sector.

While experiences accruing from working in a social enterprise dealing with environmental sanitation, have given me significant exposure into the social enterprise management, I appreciate that there is still much more to learn. I am convinced that more knowledge, skills and tools to be an effective global and cross cultural Enterprise development, management and promotion professional.

In Kenya, enterprises are everywhere but faced with a lot of challenges that make them appear invisible. The realities of carrying out a micro business especially in the informal settlements where the service is met by far much more demand than supply is characterized by infrastructure, logistical, financial and social challenges that reinforce the obscurity of the invisible entrepreneur. This points to the need for better enterprise management and promotion that will reorient the focus onto local entrepreneurs especially the ones in sanitation and food security businesses.
Social enterprises are key to solving pressing social needs. I played a key role in solid waste pickers and recyclers mapping and profiling as well as policy analysis and it was impressive to see the role of medium and microenterprises not just in sanitation but in environmental management and other fields like agriculture and health.

It is up to the entrepreneurs to step up and grab every opportunity they can get to make their businesses work and become visible and then the other players will be willing to give them a second look. Even when in groups, SMEs are not able to mount sufficient assets to act as security for loans and they still have low technical and personnel capacity. For example, if you want to start an informal micro-enterprise, it is usually impossible to secure micro-credit. While banks will serve well-established medium-to-large companies, in between lays an entire segment of entrepreneurs who are faced with a terrible problem: virtually no financial, technical and personnel resource services this is especially true of sanitation enterprises.

There has been a shift by entrepreneurs to invest in the less explored sectors like health and sanitation but the entrepreneurs lack the necessary skills and knowledge and given the fact that this is a sector where most of the work should be done, it’s saddening. There is need for enterprises to explore opportunities for local financing, to explore options for boosting sustainable financing mechanisms, to share experiences and lessons learned from local enterprise models and to open new opportunities.