Ideas & Insights / All Perspectives / Ideas & Insights

Creating a Climate Revolution

It was the day after the first rainfall in three months. Kenyan farmers sprang up on the fields like hopeful seedlings, praying aloud for more showers.

After two and a half years of drought, 5.4 million people in Kenya were projected to be without adequate access to food and water between March and June 2023, according to the International Rescue Committee.

But on March 16, the skies broke. “I planted maize with the soil still damp. And then I told God, ‘I have done my work. Now please do yours,’” said Julia Muroko, 60, who also grows cabbage and potatoes while raising two cows, pigs and poultry in rural Kiambu County, where we visited her.

Farmers planting after the first rainfall in many months in Kiambu County, Kenya. (Photo credit Masha Hamilton)

Muroko estimated she has lost 70 percent of her crop over the last five growing seasons.

“I depend on rain,” she said. As does more than 95 percent of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa.

Muroko’s neighbor, Owen Ngure, 47, lives on land that his family has farmed for generations. He is taking steps to accommodate for climate change: he has a biogas generator and two large water tanks behind his house, and a storeroom of maize set aside for low-production years.

Still, his mother abandoned farming a few years ago because “it’s too much work for too little in hand,” he said. Standing next to his son, who helps him but wants to leave, Ngure acknowledged that because of climate change, he may be the last in his family to farm.

Not only is this a challenge to agricultural livelihoods, but it puts the continent at risk for increasing food insecurity, given that Africa’s population is growing at 2.5 percent per year – three times the global average

Julia Muroko, 60, a farmer in rural Kiambu County. Kenya (Photo credit Masha Hamilton)
Owen Ngure, 47, and his son at their farm in rural Kiambu County, Kenya. (Photo credit Masha Hamilton)

A Whole-of-Foundation Approach to Bending the Climate Curve

These farmers—who all remain simultaneously vitally connected to the land and urgently worried about the future—are supported by AGRA, a farmer-focused African-led nonprofit and a grantee of The Rockefeller Foundation.

Their fates are part of the reason why The Rockefeller Foundation, with its 109-year mission of promoting equity and well-being throughout the world, is focused in on confronting climate change by connecting climate mitigation efforts simultaneously with adaption and support for the hardest-hit communities.

  • We are living in a global state of climate emergency with about seven years to bend the curve and protect the environment. So we are bringing a whole-of-Foundation approach to this work.
    Elizabeth Yee
    Executive Vice President of Programs for The Rockefeller Foundation

“We see this as a once-in-a-generation responsibility to reimagine our work and how philanthropy responds, as we confront one of the biggest challenges that humanity has ever faced,” Yee said.

Most climate funding is directed towards emissions control, Yee said. “We want to marry our resources with impact that benefits people and the planet. To do that, we are working bottoms-up to understand needs and partner with communities, governments, non-profits and the private sector to test climate solutions, to ensure they are relevant to affected communities.”

Climate, she noted, touches everything: energy, food, health and financial systems must all be re-envisioned to meet the crisis. As always, The Rockefeller Foundation is centered on a science-based approach.

“The Foundation was created with a vision to advance science-based philanthropy. That means, we work with our partners to identify, test, and innovate on solutions that we believe can have transformative impact to level the playing field, with the goal of building an evidence base,” Yee said.

“We then collaborate with our partners to amplify the impact of those solutions through policy, advocacy and where appropriate, create the operating and business models that can be scaled, building coalitions to support the transformation along the way.”

A Matter of Generational Equity

Dr. Adelaide Lusambili agrees on the importance of data and science when working on climate change issues. That’s why she is part of the Climate Health and Maternal Neonatal Health Africa (CHAMNHA) consortium of researchers studying the effects of heat exposure on the health of pregnant women and their newborns. Her work is in Kenya.

“We know heat is likely to compromise behaviors. For instance, pregnant women are less likely to use mosquito nets, meaning they are more exposed to malaria. They are not as likely to receive neonatal care because they have to walk in the heat to receive that care,” said Lusambili, who spoke on a panel in March during a recent health-and-climate conference held in Kigali, Rwanda, and supported in part by The Rockefeller Foundation.

“Heat has affected water sources and food production, so many show up for delivery dehydrated and without the strength to push out the baby,” she said. “That means we have more preterm births, more low birthrates, more deaths in childbirth, more C-sections.”

Perhaps most troubling, “neonates are often born with blisters or develop blisters immediately after birth. Sometimes they can’t breastfeed because their tongues are blistered.”

woman sitting in a chair talking through a microphone
Dr. Adelaide Lusambili speaking about climate change impacts on pregnant women and newborns at a conference in Kigali, Rwanda. (Photo credit Masha Hamilton)
woman smiling
Elizabeth Yee at a minigrid plant in India. These OMC Power minigrids provide over 18,0000 rural households and 8,000 businesses.

“We see these behaviors and impacts and now we are putting data around it,” said Dr. Lusambili. “We have to scale up the fight against climate change. We need cooling spaces in maternity wards, and we need messages about upcoming heatwaves in various languages.”

“The power is with us. But we need to make sure maternal health is included in all climate change health strategies.”

Yee agrees on prioritizing vulnerable communities, and says she is personally motivated by her children and their generation. “My kids are why I wake up every day to do this work – we do it for all of the children who are inheriting the earth.”

  • It’s a matter of generational equity. We have to change our decision-making and our behaviors urgently if we are to leave them with a world where they will have the opportunities that we’ve had.
    Liz Yee
    Executive Vice President of Programs for The Rockefeller Foundation

She remains optimistic that this is achievable.

“There are so many entrepreneurs and innovators in the climate and environmental space now. We are creating new industries and opportunities out of the challenges we’re facing, and we have to prioritize the needs of frontline communities, so they aren’t further left behind” she said.

“We’re standing on the precipice of another industrial revolution. But this time, it will be a just and equitable climate revolution.”