Creating inclusive action in Zambia through communities and education

Kirsty Scott

31 August 2023

This is an article from the CSC Development Theme: Strengthening resilience and response to crises

My appointment at the Centre for Environment Justice ignited a transformative wave of change in climate change advocacy, both at the local and international levels. Through innovative strategies, collaborative partnerships, and targeted initiatives, under my leadership the CEJ successfully spearheaded a paradigm shift in the way climate change is perceived, addressed, and mitigated at the local level. 

Ricky Kalaluka

Over the last 40 years, there has been a significant drop in the average annual rainfall in Zambia and the mean annual temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees. The scarcity of water and higher temperatures, and unpredictability of the seasons have increased the country’s vulnerability to drought, impacting people’s lives and livelihoods.

The Centre for Environment Justice (CEJ) is an NGO founded in 2010. Its mission is to promote environmental justice and sustainability by empowering vulnerable communities, advocating for policies and regulations that protect the environment and public health, and providing technical assistance and support to stakeholders.

Commonwealth Alumnus Ricky Kalaluka is the former Head of Programmes at the CEJ. Between 2021-2023, he was responsible for developing programmes focused on climate justice through policy advocacy and mainstreaming community approaches to climate change adaptation and mitigation in Zambia.

Developing a vision for change 

When he took up the role in 2021, Ricky notes that the CEJ had a single donor, making the delivery of sustainable and impactful programmes difficult. There was also a lack of strategic focus to the organisation’s climate change advocacy. To address this, one of Ricky’s immediate actions was to develop a new strategic vision for the CEJ. This included articulating a clear and compelling vision for climate change advocacy, introducing long-term goals, thematic priorities, and target-led outcomes.  

Through the new strategic vision, Ricky galvanised CEJ teams to better understand their roles and the types of programmes the organisation should deliver and attract a diverse range of new stakeholders. This included donors, partners and collaborators who shared CEJ’s values and vision and were committed to its success.  

Attracting new stakeholders was also critical to CEJ’s financial sustainability. Through new donors and partners, CEJ diversified its funding sources, reducing its reliance on a single donor and providing flexibility to pursue more projects and programmes. 

This strategic approach has not only stabilised the organisation’s finances but has also provided the flexibility to pursue ambitious projects and respond effectively to emerging opportunities. By cultivating a portfolio of grants, partnerships, and earned income strategies, the CEJ is better positioned to weather uncertainties and maintain its advocacy efforts over the long term.”

The role of traditional leaders to create change 

With CEJ in a more stable position strategically and financially, Ricky and his teams were able to undertake new work at a local, national and international level. 

Ricky and two speakers sitting round a table with radio microphones

Ricky contributing to a community radio programme on climate change adaptation

At the local level, Ricky introduced community-driven approaches to address climate change adaptation and mitigation, recognising the importance of grassroots involvement and ownership of such interventions as key to their success.  

Traditional leaders play a significant role in the governance of local communities, however, are often overlooked in government decisions on activities taking place near, or that will impact them. Ricky shares an example of a commercial entity contracted to harvest local forest. The harvesting activities resulted in destruction of the local environment and ecosystem, including a reservoir which provided a local community with clean and safe drinking water during periods of drought.    

To provide more visibility to traditional leaders to hold organisations to account for these actions and to ensure they are consulted by government in advance of activities being agreed, Ricky and his team established a traditional leaders caucus which provides a platform for traditional leaders to speak with government.  

Using this model, they also established a network of local climate action hubs, designed to empower communities to take ownership of sustainability projects tailored to their locally felt climate change needs. Ricky notes that introducing new and renewable energy has been a key discussion through these hubs and that his team has supported groups to access financial support and register as legal entities to deliver community initiatives.  

Ricky shares that this approach has not only enhanced the resilience of these vulnerable communities, but also generated bottom-up momentum to develop and implement sustainable and climate conscious approaches to their activities.  

Zambia as a key player in climate action 

As the Head of Programmes for CEJ, Ricky also began to take on a critical national role in shaping climate policy. He was invited to the Technical Working Group tasked with reviewing Zambia’s climate change policy and provided recommendations to the Zambia Climate Change Network (ZCCN) on the amendment of the Zambia Environmental Management Act. Leveraging his expertise, he worked closely with government bodies, research institutions, media, and civil society organisations to advocate for ambitious climate targets and policy reforms.  

He reflects that through policy briefs, stakeholder engagement and high-impact campaigns, CEJ has been instrumental in driving the national adoption of renewable energy mandates, carbon pricing mechanisms, and sustainable land use policies, positioning the Zambia as a key player in climate action leadership internationally. 

Developing inclusive change 

Ricky is passionate about inclusion in climate action planning and policies and is a lead advocate for disability inclusion in climate action in Zambia.  

Whilst at CEJ, Ricky observed that many projects aimed at developing inclusive practices were focused on gender and youth and that people living with disabilities were often left out. Whilst working on a project looking at food and systems and energy, Ricky conducted a review of Zambia’s national climate policies to understand the extent to which the needs and contributions of people living with disabilities had been included. He was saddened by the findings.   

“We pulled out Zambia’s policies and searched for the words disability inclusion in climate action. It did not exist at all. There is little being spoken about in climate programming, in climate policy formulation, in climate strategies, that specifically speaks of disability inclusion.”

Ricky took his findings to the Technical Working Group reviewing Zambia’s climate change policies. Together they provided additional feedback to government on the ways in which climate policies must consider the needs of people living with disability, including through advocacy and financial inclusion, as well as gathering disabled people’s insights and recommendations. 

Improving the lives of the farming community 

Ricky is now the Program Advisor-Environment at Musika Development Initiatives, a non-profit organisation (NPO) which seeks to address the agricultural market constraints affecting smallholder farmers in Zambia to improve livelihoods and income generation. Musika works with communities, government and international development donors to strengthen smallholder and rural famer’s access to finance, technology, and market information to better engage in agricultural value chains.  

Ricky’s role includes strengthening market interventions to improve value chains for rural farmers and introducing environmental stewardship, climate resilience and biodiversity in agricultural production. He provides evidence-based guidance and thought leadership for the integration of environmental and climate change in the design of projects and interventions. 

The importance of education 

Ricky began his career in environment in 2012 as a Community Programme Manager for African Park Networks. It was during this time that he saw the potential for forestry skills and knowledge to be an important long-term investment in protecting the environment and addressing climate change. This motivated him to apply for a Master’s in Tropical Forestry and a Commonwealth Scholarship. 

Studying with Bangor University exposed Ricky to the importance of collaboration, a skill which has been critical in his subsequent roles. As a distance learner, it also equipped him with the ability to learn online and in remote environments which has been important in his work and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.  

With the impact of climate change ever increasing, Ricky feels he has the skills and knowledge to successfully address these through innovative adaptation and mitigation strategies and to serve local vulnerable communities. 

“Drawing upon my interdisciplinary background and expertise, I am now able to successfully bridge gaps between traditionally siloed fields such as environmental science, economics, social sciences, and technology. This integrative approach has enriched my understanding of climate change dynamics, unearthed novel solutions, and fostered holistic strategies that consider both the environmental and societal dimensions of the issue.”

Ricky Kalaluka is a 2013 Distance Learning Scholar from Zambia. He completed an MSc in Tropical Forestry at Bangor University.