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Rabai Community, Coastal Kenya

Instead of listening to farmers in high end hotels, policymakers were listening to farmers in the landscape, and they had an opportunity to see the farmlands, what the farmers are growing. And when farmers explained the challenges to them, they could easily understand because they were right within the landscape.

 Chemuku Wekesa, Fork to Farm Dialogue Facilitator and Coordinator  


The Rabai community Fork to Farm Dialogue in coastal Kenya happened over 6 days in September and October 2021. Chemuku Wekesa from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) coordinated the project and facilitated the conversations along with other institute members. KEFRI’s aim is to support communities, like the Rabai, to take control of their land through an integrated management approach so that they can sustain themselves, their traditions, their livelihoods, and their landscapes.  


KEFRI has been working with the Rabai community for almost 10 years. This was “an advantage as we have a very good working relationship with the community, so we did not struggle to initiate this.” Chemuku introduced the idea of the dialogue in a routine meeting with the community. It was agreed that the dialogue would be a continuation of existing work and was in line with the Rabai community’s objectives.  



Chemuku Wekesa_edited.jpg

Chemuku Wekesa

One piece of advice: 

“Dialogues between small scale farmers and policymakers provide a perfect platform for discussion of issues facing smallholder farmers. For the dialogues to be successful, a conducive environment is needed. Having dialogues in the landscape where policymakers can practically see the challenges by even visiting some farms make them understand the problems better for their action.  Dialogues should not be done in big hotels, and should be a continuous process.”


The context of the dialogue was important. In the past, “the government or a multinational could come in and take community land for industry and other uses without even involving the community itself, without the participation from the owners of the land”. However, a new Community Land Act (2016) is working to redress this. Under this act communities can register their territories and become involved in land-use decisions. At this moment in time, the land of the Rabai community is not registered. Thus the Fork to Farm Dialogue framework was an opportunity to “continue engaging with policymakers so that they would understand and appreciate the role of these traditional foods in initiatives related to climate change. These foods have a resilient nature to drought, pests and erratic rainfall. And for them to understand that our bio cultural heritage territory (BCHT) model ensures that these indigenous food systems are maintained sustainably and should be supported by their policy decisions. ”With this understanding, the group hoped that the government would support the community to register its lands; a process which is still ongoing. 


For logistical reasons, KEFRI had to limit the number of participants invited to the Dialogue whilst ensuring diverse participation. They made sure representatives from the community, the community’s governance structure, youth and women were present. This included indigenous Rabai smallholder farmers, who grow maize, cassava, indigenous vegetables, cowpeas and beans; Kaya elders, village elders who are responsible for conflict and natural resource management issues; area chiefs; and policymakers from the National Museums of Kenya, the departments of Agriculture from Mombasa and Kilifi Counties and the Department of Environment from Kilifi County.  For KEFRI it was easy to contact the local authorities as they had existing working relationships with them. KEFRI also worked with community researchers. This was a learning opportunity for them and a way to ensure voices from the community were present in the research and analysis.

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