About 7.2 million hectares of Kenya’s total land area measuring 58 million hectares is protected (reserves, parks, natural monuments, species management areas), which translates to 12.3 per cent of the country’s land. At least 336 areas are protected . However, the number of threatened species keeps increasing. About 100 plant, 50 mammal, 22 breeding bird, five reptile, and 18 fish species are at risk of disappearing. The country’s rich biodiversity is protected by specific policies, institutions, departments and laws. At the core are the ministries of Environment and Minerals, and Forests and Wildlife. Nema, through EMCA 1999, ensures that all human activities conform to rules that seek to sustain the environment for present as well as future generations.
Other key institutions are the Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service Centre for Biodiversity Development, International Centre for Insect Physiology and Entomology (Icipe), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), International Centre for Research in Agroforestry (Icraf), International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Africa Wildlife Fund (AWF), public and private universities and research centres. The Centre for Biodiversity at the National Museum of Kenya was established at the request of the United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) for an institution to coordinate country studies and direct relevant government bodies. The centre also acts as a link between biological science and other disciplines such as anthropology, sociology and economics. Kenya has endorsed and adopted international conventions that address the sustainable use of biodiversity, among them the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
Despite these efforts, the threat to biodiversity remains real. It includes habitat destruction, human-wildlife conflicts, invasive alien species, pollution, an unsustainable rise in the human population, bio-piracy and over-exploitation. Although management of Kenya’s biodiversity is vested in various agencies, the country continues to lose valuable biological and genetic materials, some of which have been collected and deposited in local and foreign depository centres. Many of these biological materials have been used to develop products that are generating enormous profits in foreign countries. For example, an enzyme discovered in the Rift Valley transformed the production of denim jeans.
It is against this backdrop that Kenya launched a Kshs10 billion ($118 million) national bio-prospecting strategy to protect species within and outside protected areas in November 2011. A joint initiative involving the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife and KWS, the strategy will provide structures and systems to effectively and efficiently manage and regulate bio-prospecting. The strategy seeks to tap the huge market of bio-prospecting and generate wealth and knowledge for the country, and enable it to benefit from the Kshs2,800 trillion ($33 trillion) annual global biodiversity cheque.
With 80 per cent of Kenya’s population dependent on biodiversity, bioprospecting can be a huge avenue for wealth creation and income generation and an incentive for conservation and environmental protection. The launch of the strategy makes Kenya among the first countries in the world to have a bio-prospecting roadmap after the Nagoya Protocol on access and benefit sharing. The strategy will be implemented through enhancing institutional capacity and review of the statutory and regulatory framework for bio-prospecting and developing a system of bio-informatics and benefit sharing.
Pursuing bio-prospecting without proper knowledge and lack of prior consent of the owners of the resources and without sharing benefits accrued from them is likely to give rise to biopiracy. Elsewhere, Kenya hosted the first ever National Regional Centres of Expertise (RCE) conference in November 2011 organised by Nema. The focus of the meeting was sharing experiences and best practices on how local expertise and innovations can solve sustainable development challenges across the country. Issues discussed included pollution and waste management; climate change; indigenous knowledge and sustainability; education and sustainability; biodiversity, agriculture and food security; and health and sanitation.