How can life blossom on such an intoxicated ground?” Ruth Sego recalls wondering to herself about a castor plant that had sprouted on a garbage disposal field near her home in Eldoret town.
That youthful curiosity would later mould her into the young environmental champion that she has become. After observing the plant for a while, Ms Sego began reading about it on the Internet.
The more she read, the more she wanted to dig up additional information about the relationship between the castor plant (also referred to as the castor oil plant or castor bean plant) and the environment.
Now aged 23 and a fresh environmental health graduate from Kenyatta University, Ms Sego is among young environmentalists that Unep and Bayer support for conservation innovativeness.
Ms Sego is a Bayer Young Environmental Envoy (BYEE), alongside Michael Muli from the University of Nairobi.
BYEE envoys are selected based on their project concepts in a competition organised by Unep and Bayer, the latter being a Germany-based health and nutrition research company with a worldwide outreach and a historical interest in environmental protection.
The competition invites participants from 19 countries — most of them in South America and Asia, and then Kenya and South Africa in Africa — to develop innovative proposals on environmental protection in their communities.
The students with the best ideas are appointed as environmental envoys and assisted by the programme to promote their projects while advocating environmental conservation.
The coordinators of the programmes have invited entries for this year’s competition and the deadline is 31 July. The competition is open to young people aged 18 to 24.
“The top two who qualify to be envoys will join youth delegates from 18 other countries on a week-long, all-expense paid study trip to Germany between 4 and 9 November, 2012.
The trip will give the winners an opportunity to gain first-hand experience on the principles and applications of modern environmental protection in Germany,” states the announcement on the programmes web site (www.byee.bayer.com).
As one of the local BYEE envoys, Ms Sego has urged university students to present concepts for evaluation towards not only being picked as Unep/Bayer environmental ambassadors, but also to gain support for promoting their ideas.
Ms Sego says that her deep interest in the castor plant led her to develop an idea on how its oil could be used to promote sustainable development.
She argued in her proposal that cultivating the castor plant could help meet the fuel needs of households, who could further form groups to set up micro-enterprises to use castor oil and seeds to commercially manufacture soap, candle wax, and ornamental beads.
As is customary for the winners of the BYEE competition, Ms Sego travelled to the Bayer headquarters in Leverkusen, Germany, in October last year, where she saw first-hand how environmental protection is practised by people, the government, and industry through technological and environmental innovation.
After the trip, Ms Sego started focusing on plant oil technology to “power clean stoves,” as she puts it. This, she argues, would be helpful in reducing the levels of carbon emissions.
Ms Sego works with Multilink Kenya to promote the idea. “I am promoting the use of oil extracted from plants as opposed to conventional fossil fuels.
It is mostly used in Brazil and India. I am trying to make people understand that they don’t have to depend on paraffin,” the young woman explains.
Further, she is advancing the use of the castor plant for phytoremediation. This refers to the use of specific plants to clean up soils that are contaminated with pollutants, such as heavy metals like zinc and cadmium.
The castor plant is one of a number that act as purifiers of soil. The plants have the ability to either extract the pollutants from the soil or neutralise their negative effects on soil fertility.
Ms Sego plans to apply the technology using the castor plant to clean up the garbage field near her home in Eldoret after removing the refuse.
She says young people with innovative and sustainable ideas are rarely supported, unlike in developed countries. “Companies should give back to society by assisting young people to develop their ideas,” she suggests.
The multi-lingual speaker of French and Chinese, alongside her mother tongue and English and Kiswahili, says she confident enough to throw a piece of advice to fellow youth.
“Always remember to stay focused. Stay on course, reach for the stars, and you will be able to achieve what you have set out to do,” she says.