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Climate change campaigning: An artist, a farmer and a caravan

by Oxfam | December 1, 2011


by Ian Sullivan

This blog originally appeared at

Recently we bought you news about the Trans-African Caravan of Hope as it began the 4,000 mile journey from Burundi to South Africa for COP 17, taking in ten countries along the way. As the caravan heads south, towards Durban, we caught up with two of the caravanites.

Alexis Phiri is a Zambian artist, writer and climate change activist.

Moved by the destruction of his homeland’s stunning natural beauty, and motivated by a belief that “art is the best way to communicate a very difficult subject like climate change,” Alexis has travelled the world using his art “as a voice for climate change.”

His exhibitions, called CO2, are aimed at engaging the public in environmental issues. He exhibits sculptures, paintings and photos made entirely from recycled materials, which lead visitors into conversations about tiyeni tibilibire, or going green. Visitors can also use their fingerprints to create a public work of art in support of Alexis’s climate change calls to “wake up and do something.”

"There has to be a shift in thinking,” he says. “Don’t be interested in the devastation,” he urges the government, “Be interested in preventing the devastation."

With the caravan, “we will be one voice from different parts of the continent yet experiencing the same challenges.” He hopes that this united voice at COP 17 will push African and world leaders into taking responsibility for their contributions to climate change and the suffering it is causing.

Paul Okongo has been a farmer for many years around Lake Victoria, Nyanza province, in South West Kenya.

Paul works for Technology Adoption Rural Organisation (TATRO), a community based organisation that trains farmers in new technology, working to improve seed varieties, environmental management, marketing skills and connecting 20 farmer groups in the region.

When we spoke to him, over a crackly phone line, he told us that in recent years he’s noticed changes in the climate and farmers across the region need to work together to face the challenges that this brings. Farmers are struggling as rain patterns are shifting and this can mean that when they are ready to plant their seeds, there is no rain. This is having knock on effects as catchment areas of rivers and wetlands are being destroyed as people try to harvest the water. For small scale farmers, these issues can be life and death.

Paul has joined the caravan to represent the farmers he works with and meet farmers from different areas who are experiencing similar problems. Being part of the caravan is an opportunity to learn about how climate change is affecting people across Africa.

These are just a couple of the many people that we’ll be meeting throughout COP 17.


Ian Sullivan is an Oxfam Great Britain Online Campaigner