Climate Witness: Captain Juma Njunge Macharia, Kenya

“I see an increasing number of children suffering from pneumonia”

I am Juma Njunge Macharia from Murungaru, a village in an area called Kinangop, 100km West of Nairobi, Kenya. I am 81 years old and have lived here since independence in 1963. I am married with nine children.

I am a farmer and an herbal medicine man. I have been in this trade for a long time, already during the war for independence. My neighbours usually come to see me for treatment. I treat them with herbs, shrubs and trees which I grow my in my yard. I also grow wheat, maize, beans, sweet potatoes and potatoes, and I keep some cows and sheep for milk and meat.

I used to be a captain in the Mau Mau movement, which was fighting for independence. Since Kenya declared independence in 1963, I have seen many changes to the vegetation in this area. These changes have occurred partly because of logging of indigenous trees in the forests and partly because many people in this area started planting eucalyptus trees to drain the swampy areas.

Unpredictable rainfall patterns

I have also witnessed remarkable changes in the climate in the last few decades. When I was young the rainy season in the Kinangop area was known to start in mid-April, but it has shifted to June when it used to end. The rainfall pattern has become unpredictable and unreliable. It has become more challenging to plan any agricultural activities due to this.

I have also noticed changes in temperature. Although daytime temperatures seem to have gone up, the number of cold nights appears to have increased as well, occurring in different months. Frost used to come in June and September and we could hardly grow any maize because the frost would destroy it. However, nowadays with good rainfall, we are able to grow our maize and realize a harvest as the effects of frost are not as severe.

The type of cold has changed as well. The month of July used to be cold and misty. I remember this quite clearly, because when I started my practice as a herbal doctor in the 1960s, I hardly saw patients that had contracted pneumonia. However, nowadays the cold is much drier. I have noticed this change because of the increasing number of children suffering from pneumonia who are coming to see me.

I am concerned about these changes in the weather as they are greatly enhancing other challenges which my community is facing. I understand that these climatic changes are caused by emissions from burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests. I hope that governments will agree to a way to stop this, and that the Kenyan government will help by stopping logging and re-growing the forests which have been cleared in the last decades.