Kenya has five main water towers – The Mau, Aberdares, Mount Kenya, Mt Elgon and the Cherang’any hills. From 2003, successive governments have moved to preserve these water sources that sustain lives in eastern Africa all the way to Egypt. They’re the cradle of the many rivers that rise in the highlands and drain to Lake Victoria as well as the Mediterranean Sea in the north. This year, the government embarked on a process of further reclaiming the Mau hitherto invaded by squatters.
The economic power of these water towers cannot be gainsaid – irrigation, electricity, tap water, etc. The Aberdares contributes Kshs60 billion to the economy while the Mau complex contributes Kshs120 billion. The other water catchment powerhouses deliver even more.
The provision of water and the protection of the environment are key planks in the futuristic Vision 2030, and in the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution. Water and environment must be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations.
It is instructive to note that Kenya, nay Nairobi, hosts the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the world’s leading environmental agency, and other international agencies of repute, among them the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE).
Gloomily though, Kenya’s unique biodiversity is in fierce competition with unmitigated development. The number of threatened species has been on the rise; about 100 plant, 50 mammal, 22 bird, five reptile and 18 fish species are classified as “threatened”.
Kenya’s key conservation challenges are pollution, deforestation, climate change and global warming, land use and waste management.
It’s thus against this background that the Government continues to craft legislations, laws and policies, build institutions and engage highly trained personnel to safeguard the unique biodiversity treasure. The Environment Management and Conservation Act (EMCA) of 1999 is a huge legislative plank intended to ensure human (or any other) activities hardly compromise the capacity of the resource base to meet the needs of the present as well as future generations.
EMCA 1999 harmonises about 77 sectoral statutes that address aspects of the environment. It provides an institutional framework and procedures for management of the environment, including provisions for conflict resolution.
In 2014/2015, authorities, particularly the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, developed a number of blueprints and proposed legislations targeting the preservation of biodiversity. These included: The Climate Change Bill, The Water Bill, The National Water Harvesting and Storage Policy, The Forest Conservation and Management Policy, The Sessional Paper on Multi-purpose Dams, The National Forest Policy and the Bamboo Policy.
Several of them are still being refined or debated in Parliament.
The Wildlife Conservation Act of 2013 was enacted into law and is now operational.
The Government developed more policies and legislations to preserve Kenya’s unique heritage. The Government has also made it a priority to involve the youth in protecting the environment. Youth and climate clubs that create awareness among the young about the consequences of global-warming have been formed all over the country.
Water is life, so the mantra goes. Implicitly, trees are life because they’re the source of the water that provides for human survival. Indeed, trees are a crucial resource in humanity.
Yet the destruction of forests around the world is perplexing. The Kenya economy losses an estimated Kshs39 billion to land degradation through cutting down of forests and other vegetation, logging and firewood gathering, bush encroachment, invasion of alien species, charcoal production, mining, human settlement, infrastructural and industrial development, uncontrolled fires, livestock overstocking and overgrazing, and climatic changes.
Four years ago, Kenya had 1.64 million hectares of closed canopy, 610,000 hectares of tree plantations, 851,000ha rainforests and 211,000ha dry zone forests – all covering three per cent of the country’s landmass.
Kenya’s forest sector has experienced poor performance in the past, and improving forest governance has been an implicit objective in forest sector reforms over the past 10 years.
The Forests Act of 2005 introduced participatory forest management, through the engagement of local communities and the promotion of the private sector investment in gazetted forest reserves, accompanied by concomitant institutional and organisation change, notably the establishment of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), and the formation of CFAs.
The Government’s plan is to increase the cover to 10 per cent of the land area by 2030, as provided by the Constitution. Even though authorities are yet to publish figures indicating the gains made in reforestation programmes and in protecting the existing forests, the large feeling among the public is that plenty has been achieved in this regard. A draft policy on forestry published early this year indicates that the figure has since jumped to 6.99 per cent.
In May, the Government embarked on an initiative to remove squatters from the Mau complex in Narok County. About 2,500 families were evicted and moved to several transition camps awaiting relocation to new settlements, with assurances that the exercise would be done with compassion.
Counties in average climatic conditions and water availability are dragging Kenya further from attaining the internationally recommended 10 per cent forest cover.
Siaya, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori and Kisii counties, which are around Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water lake, are ranked among the poorest in forest cover in Kenya. This is according to statistics released by the Kenya Water Tower Agency (KWTA) in 2015.
Kenya has an estimated forest cover of 6.9 per cent, more than five years after her deadline to achieve a 10 per cent forest cover lapsed.
The poor forest cover is regarded as a huge setback in safeguarding the country’s water catchments. According to KWTA, the Mau complex itself generates Kshs110.5 billion annually from various activities dependent on the existence of the forest. The country loses Kshs6 billion annually due to deforestation and there is a risk of 70 per cent loss of the country’s water supply as it happened between 2000 and 2010. The result would be health risks as well as loss of aquatic biodiversity.
The report, which also ranked counties on the loss of forest cover between 1990 and 2010, places Elgeyo-Marakwet as the most deforested county, having lost 46.31 per cent of its forest cover.
Nyeri is the most forested county, with 38.03 per cent of its land covered. Elgeyo-Marakwet comes in second with 37.49 per cent forest cover.
Lamu County is third with 33.9 per cent while Baringo (25.12 per cent) and Kericho (23.55 per cent) take fourth and five positions, respectively.
Ironically, Marsabit, Isiolo, Mandera, Turkana and Kitui counties, which are classified as arid or semi-arid areas, had better forest cover than the lake side counties.
Mandera, for example, had 3.04 per cent forest cover, more than triple Busia’s 1.01 per cent and Kisumu’s 0.44 per cent. Siaya was ranked worst with 0.42 per cent.
Counties with Kenya’s major water towers like the Mau and Mt Elgon have lost a lot of forest cover, signalling a ticking time bomb for Kenya’s renewable water supply.
According to KWTA, while the country had 647m3 of renewable freshwater resources per capita per annum in 1992, these water resources have declined by more than 200m3 per capita per annum since that time. The close relationship between forest cover and hydrology makes it important to consider how forest cover decline has had its effect on our fresh water resources.
Nakuru County, for example, lost 32.8 per cent of its forest cover, close to thrice its current cover of 9.29 per cent. The county, which hosts part of the Mau has been on the receiving end of this forest loss.
The KWTA report says rivers draining into Lake Nakuru have become seasonal. The lake shrunk by more than one kilometre, displacing its famous flamingos to other regional water bodies.
The report notes that to avert the water crisis threatening the survival of its national park, wild animals had to be at one point be supplied with fresh water using tankers.
Two landmark events this year highlight the Government’s seriousness in addressing forestry: The drafting of the Forest Conservation and Management Bill 2015, and the National Forestry Policy.
Indeed, in March, the Ministry of Environment released the draft National Forestry Policy that proposed a broad range of measures and actions necessary in responding to the challenges faced by the forest sector. It was the product of views and expert opinion drawn from the public and private sector, and civil society organisations.
The blueprint was overdue. The first formal forest policy was prepared in 1957, and revised in 1968 as Sessional Paper No 1 of 1968. It focussed on management and conservation of forests in public land, but did not provide for the participation of stakeholders in forest management. Due to emergent challenges facing the sector, a revised policy and legislation was prepared in the mid-1990s, which led to the enactment of the Forests Act No 7 of 2005, but the policy was not debated.
The Forests Act of 2005 provided for management of forests outside public land, and for community and private sector participation in forest management.
According to the drafters of the new blueprint, the sector is now faced with various challenges, which necessitate review of both the 2005 policy and legislative framework. These include decreasing forest cover arising from unsustainable utilisation and conversion of forest land to other land uses, and re-aligning it to the Constitution.
Several strategic initiatives have been introduced in the new policy to improve and develop the forest resource base, integrate good governance, transparency and accountability, equity and reduce poverty. It seeks to balance the needs of the people of Kenya with opportunities for sustainable forest conservation, management and utilisation. It is also particularly informed by the Constitution, the National Land Policy, Transition to the Devolved Government Act of 2012, the Inter-governmental Relations Act of 2012, the Land Act of 2012 as well as the National Climate Change Response Strategy, which underscores forestry’s unique role in both climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Instructively, the draft blueprint provides for the preparation of a national strategy to increase and maintain forest and tree cover to at least 10 per cent of the total land area and for the rehabilitation and restoration of degraded forest ecosystems, and the establishment of a national forest resource monitoring system.
The Status of the Forests and Forest Resource Assessment reports will be published on a regular basis.
The envisaged policy will provide the basis upon which the ongoing governance, administrative and legislative reform process will be continued.
All over the world, climate change is increasingly becoming the byword for sustainable development. Nations, corporates and private organisations consider the phrase key to the survival of mankind.
Kenya, like every region in the world, continues to suffer from the adverse effects of climate change. Farmers keep complaining about loss of revenue due to change in farming season – or cyclic fluctuation of the rains. In cities and towns, dwellers have witnessed extreme change in the wet-dry, cold-hot seasons.
It’s all about global warming. And it is the result of too much greenhouse emission that is depleting the ozone layer cover, experts warn.
The country’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are relatively low, standing at 73 MtCO2eq in 2010, out of which 75 per cent is from land use and forestry – demand for fuel wood and agricultural land and urban development. But as the country moves fast to join the family of newly industrialised nations by 2030, the carbon emission level is likely to rise.
Kenya, therefore, seeks to abate its GHG emissions by 30 per cent to 143 MtCO2eq by the year 2030. To achieve this, Kenya must expand its geothermal, solar and wind energy production, other renewables and clean energy options, enhance energy and resource efficiency, and achieve a tree cover of at least 10 per cent of the land area, among other climate-change mitigation measures.
It will also have to adapt and adopt new farming techniques that are environment-friendly.
Authorities developed the National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS 2010), and the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP 2013) to meet this target.
The National Adaptation Plan (NAP) is being prepared, and it will provide a vision for low carbon and climate resilient development pathway. Also, being prepared is the National Climate Change Framework Policy and legislation to facilitate effective response to climate change.
According to a brief by the Ministry of Environment, Kenya is actualising these policies and plans through the implementation of climate change actions in various areas, such as afforestation and reforestation, geothermal and other clean energy development, energy efficiency, climate smart agriculture and drought management.
Thus, the publication of Kenya’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in response to decisions adopted at the 19th and 20th sessions of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is part the government’s commitment to being part of the assembly of global nations seeking to halt the brunt of climate change. The country’s INDC includes both mitigation and adaptation components based on its national circumstances and in line with decisions made at the UN conferences.
But perhaps the landmark event has been the drafting of the Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Programme 2015-2030 by the Ministries of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries and Environment, Water and Natural Resources. Technical and financial support was from the NEPAD Climate Change Fund, Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the East African Community (EAC), and the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
It works on the premise that 98 per cent of Kenya’s agriculture is rain-fed. Total dependence on rain-fed agriculture and poor soil health increases vulnerability of farming systems and predisposes rural households to food insecurity and poverty, thus eroding their productive assets and weakening their coping strategies and resilience.
It targets improving and sustaining agricultural advisory services; demand-driven research for development and innovations; value chain systems approach (including the provision of an enabling framework for integrating gender and the needs of the youth in value chain businesses); and national systems for enhancing climate smart agriculture best practices, technologies and approaches.
Kenya is now the world’s eighth largest geo-thermal producer with a steam power capacity of 579 megawatts.
Notably, the country’s power generation mix is overwhelmingly green, and this positions it among the global leaders when it comes to the nexus between climate change and sustainable development.
Hence, it was hardly surprising that Kenya’s effort to reduce greenhouse gases emission received accolades from the international community. The Delegation of the European Union to Kenya had expressed confidence that the country’s leading role would influence other nations in achieving a new binding global deal on climate change during the Conference of Parties (COP 21) conference in Paris in December.
The European Union Heads of Missions noted that Kenya’s powerful voice could rally other countries to cut emissions.