Patricia Kombo is a 25-year old Kenyan climate and environmental activist and her relationship with nature has blossomed into creating nature-based solutions for her community and beyond.
She is the founder of PaTree Initiative, an organization that engages in tree planting and knowledge sharing in schools to stimulate and understanding on the importance of reforestation and retaining land wellness.
Growing up, Patricia had various engagements and relationships with the environment. In her formative years in primary school, she and other students had kitchen gardens and nurseries they were responsible for.
“During break time we used to go to the rivers and gather water and feed trees, sometimes our teacher will sell our plants on our behalf to buy stationery and other materials,” she remembers fondly, adding that they used to have regional competitions with other schools on the best kitchen gardens. Sadly, by the 4th grade, interaction with agricultural clubs dwindled as theoretic academia was prioritized over extra-curricular activities.
However, her relationship with trees expanded away from school as her father’s business was growing trees to sell timber, a trade she would engage with during school holidays occasionally. Her father gave her and siblings incentives and gifts if they planted trees and this was the beginning of her journey where agriculture met economics.
As she grew older, Patricia had less interaction with tree planting however a trip to Lodwar, Turkana in northern Kenya reignited her passion. While the area is known for tourism, it is also prone to large periods of drought, a symptom of the semi-arid climate.
During her weeklong stay in Lodwar, Patricia interacted with women and children more intimately, which shifted her perspective on people’s relationship with nature.
“I realized that the climate crisis has been internalized and normalized by the children, thinking that this is how it should be,” citing that a lot of basic knowledge on good environmental practices, and other practices (just as logging) lead to land degradation. This is how PaTree initiative was born.
On World Environment day last year, she held her first project, planting 400 trees in her region and starting an environmental club at her old school. Tree growing is not the only activity of the club but also sharing knowledge of adaptation and mitigation strategies with the using local available materials for local economic and environmental benefits.
PaTree Initiative’s incentive is largely to ensure that there is a holistic relationship with tree planting for the community. According to Patricia, an economic benefit is just as important as the environmental ones.
“Making community members grow fruit trees, there are more benefits. There are many community members that grow maize which has created the opportunity of setting up kitchen gardens. Due to unfavourable water conditions, it is better to invest in drought tolerate crops and diversify from maize to help protecting soil structure,” she says, further adding that water that is used in cooking can be re-used for watering kitchen garden crops.
While local action on the ground is imperative to create concrete results, it needs to help inform policies and larger implementation enforced by decision makers. PaTree Initiative, much like various environmental initiatives throughout the continent, not only broadens the reforestation agenda but have also proven economic and food security benefits, which can create more inclusive development and help eradicate poverty. This of course, requires inclusivity on the national agenda setting processes. In Patricia’s experience, national actors including the media have a shortfall of meaningful engagement with women and youth, however this challenge can be factors by seeing more young people and women employed in decision-making levels, to bring more meaningful inclusion.
As a journalism graduate from Moi University, Patricia believes increased sensitization and education in restoration needs to find its way back into the classrooms. In her final year at university, she created a project introducing a curriculum on environmental awareness. Though it is a large task and requires expertise, funding and research, she hopes schools will engage more actively to make this project more sustainable.
“Some of these students have taken tree planting from their school clubs to home. For children to connect with nature from a young age and grow this relationship with nature, I aim to amplify this work and have nurseries in various regions,” she says.
As one of the speakers for GLF Africa this year, Patricia sees a gap in which our actions can be concretized. While we have global binding instruments and protocols that many countries are signatories to, nations within the continent do not have specific acts that concretize restoration.
“It would be good to see for example a biodiversity act that links to global signed instruments,” she says, adding that she would like to see more nature based acts and policies included in Kenya, and countries across the continent. Furthermore, she hopes the environment, climate and sustainable development is prioritized on education agenda.
“Education has been based on a theory level but it is time for government to diverse its education into creating encompassing academia that speaks to land-based jobs and a sustainable economy to help counter youth unemployment.”
Patricia Kombo is one of the speakers of GLF Africa and has planted tens of thousands of trees in Kenya. This article was published as part of a special series on drylands ahead of the GLF Africa Digital Conference: Restoring Africa’s Drylands from 2-3 June.