Kisilu Musya, Kenyan farmer, co-creator and main character of the award-winning documentary film “Thank You For The Rain”, on how he became a climate activist, fighting for climate solutions for smallholder farmers.
As a small-scale farmer in Kenya, my family and I have felt and experienced the devastating consequences of climate change first-hand. This is the story of how I decided to do everything in my power to contribute to building a climate-resilient community and becoming a climate activist.
Around twenty years ago, I decided to follow in my dad’s footsteps by becoming a farmer. I had been working for many years in the city, when I returned to my home in Kitui, Kenya, to take over my father’s farm.
But much had changed since I was as a child. The rains that once were regular had become unpredictable, and severe droughts were becoming more frequent. Farming was no longer a reliable source of income, and I was struggling to pay school fees and feed my family. With my experience of life in the city, I knew that urban life was not a better option for me.
I started searching for solutions within my local farming community, enrolling in a “Farmer’s Field School” as a student. This is where I first learned about what was causing the problems we were experiencing: climate change. I was also taught climate adaptation techniques such as tree planting, mixed crops, digging pits for water harvesting, and diversifying crops, just in case one would fail due to the extreme weather.
I wanted to share this new knowledge with my community so that we could research the best adaptation methods for our area together. I started working towards making my farm a model farm, full of examples of climate adaptation techniques, and along with 15 other farmers, I started a self-help group aimed at sharing knowledge and trying out new techniques.
However, trying out long-term adaptation solutions whilst being hit by short-term challenges of droughts and floods every season made this particularly difficult. Finding time and money to plan for the future, plant trees and attend weekly meetings with the self-help group proved to be a challenging endeavour when there was already little income for food and education.
The start of “Thank You For The Rain”
Then in 2011, a Norwegian filmmaker named Julia Dahr visited our village. She wanted to make a film about how farmers were affected by climate change. When Julia asked to stay with me and my family for a month to film our activities, I said yes without hesitation. But I had one condition: that I would get a camera to tell my story as well.
Over the next five years, I became a self-taught filmmaker and a co-creator of the film, capturing the devastating consequences of climate change. I filmed the floods and droughts, and even a storm that blew the whole roof of my family’s house away. I also filmed my own story of becoming a local activist.
After a while, we received funding from the government for three small pilot irrigation projects and over the years the self-help group became more active and had more members join. Seeing our results, more farmers wanted to start self-help groups as well, and I started travelling from one group to another to share our experiences and find resilient solutions together. We started new practices including table banking, a way to access and offer loans without using a microfinance organisation, group-goat keeping and tree planting to protect the soil, amongst others. Most importantly, we were uniting.
In 2017, the film I had been part of making, Thank You For The Rain, was launched internationally. It has now received recognition as a tool to strengthen the resilience work in my community and beyond. By screening the film at farmers’ meetings, schools and in churches, I created new arenas for discussions on climate change and how to build climate-resilient communities. As a result, we got the first-ever meeting between the County leadership and our farmer community representatives. For the first time, we voiced our concerns to find solutions.
Now, four regional governments have asked to use the film as a climate awareness tool in their counties, and I regularly show the film at schools in nearby communities. After the screenings, the students always plant a tree as a way of putting words into action. I love seeing how our methods of climate-resilient farming are spreading.
The film has also mobilised both local and global audiences to support us. When the international community became aware of our work, I started receiving invitations to speak at events such as the EAT Forum, COP23 and even a TED Talk. In 2018, my community received funding to build a much-needed earth dam, which would serve as a stable water resource during droughts as well as a centre for agricultural research. We hope these new innovations will help us harvest more regularly, and reduce the chances of not being able to harvest at all.
My story is an example of the important solutions that already exist within farming communities, and why we must be involved in decision-making. Seeing how more and more farmers are becoming climate-resilient is encouraging, but we cannot fight climate change alone.
I urge our world leaders to get involved. At this year’s COP25 in Madrid, I hope we will see our world leaders lead the way in finding solutions to the climate crisis and supporting the farmers who provide this world with food.