Kenya’s biodiversity treasure trove is awe-inspiring, with numerous species of animals, birds and insects, and a rich diversity of ecological zones. A defining moment was the death in 2011 of leading environment crusader and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai.
Kenya is long acknowledged as the home of life. And this is not just because of the human fossils excavated in the Rift Valley. The country’s biodiversity treasure trove is awe-inspiring. It is estimated to contain at least 315 mammals, 1,133 birds, 191 reptiles, 88 amphibians, 872 fish, 25,000 invertebrates, 21,575 insects and 2,000 fungi. The country’s rich diversity of ecological zones and habitats includes lowland and mountain forests, wooded and open grasslands, semiarid scrubland, dry woodlands, inland aquatic ecosystems and coastal/marine ecosystems. In addition, a total of 467 lake and wetland habitats are estimated to cover 2.5 per cent of the territory.
Indeed, the environment is Kenya’s life; its security, its heritage, its posterity. Sustaining the environment is critical to food security, political and social stability, and good health. Forests remain critical to Kenya’s life. Four in every five Kenyans depend on agriculture for a livelihood while 80 per cent of Kenyans use wood-fuel for their daily energy needs. But, the forest cover has dwindled over time due to human activities and climate change. The area under indigenous forests has declined from 165,000 ha in 1988 to 120,000 ha presently. Less than 3 per cent of Kenya is under forest while 8 per cent is protected as wildlife sanctuaries. The fast-growing population is not the only danger to the biodiversity. Pollution, bio-piracy, and other activities present real threats as well.
The government, non-state actors and individuals are involved in efforts to conserve the environment and to ensure that all development projects are sustainable for posterity. At the core of environmental conservation is the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). The authority was created by the Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) 1999 as the principal organ in the implementation of all policies relating to the environment. It became operational in 2002.
NEMA offers the following services: registration of environmental experts; environmental licensing; environmental auditing; environment incident management; environmental inspection; environmental education and awareness; environmental reporting; environmental planning; endorsement of proposals on Global Environment Facility (GEF) small grants; and development of curriculum for training environmental impact assessment/audit experts.
EMCA 1999 is a huge legislative plank in efforts to ensure human or other activities do not compromise the capacity of the resource base to meet the needs of the present as well as future generations. It 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. Section 3 of EMCA 1999 states thus, “Every person in Kenya is entitled to a clean and healthy environment and has the duty to safeguard and enhance the environment.”
Another important plank in Kenya’s effort to protect the environment is the National Environment Action Plan 2009-13 (NEAP). The second of its kind (the first one was published in 1994), NEAP integrates development and the environment, and emphasises better management of resources.
With a kitty of Kshs72 billion ($847 million), Kenya stepped up efforts to save the environment. Mechanisms were put in place to ensure Kenyans benefited from conservation efforts. State institutions responsible for protecting the environment and wildlife, and providing safe, clean water, and sanitation moved to discharge their mandate in line with the Vision 2030 and the new Constitution. The Constitution recognises access to safe, clean water and sanitation as a fundamental human right.
Some key milestones witnessed in environmental conservation in 2011 were:
- The country engaged the donor community to fund environmentally sustainable projects. A number of projects were initiated, and others completed.
- The 2011/12 budgetary allocations to the environment, water and sanitation sectors was Kshs 58 billion ($682 million), up from Kshs51 billion ($600 million) the previous year. Treasury set aside Kshsh4.4 billion ($50 million) for construction of new irrigation systems to cover 6,500 ha and a further Kshs1.3 billion ($14.7 million) to expand a further 11,000 ha.
- Up to Kshs8.5 billion ($100 million) went towards irrigation projects, as the country strives to reclaim 40,000 ha.
- Kenya developed its first National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS), putting in place adaptation and mitigation measures to minimise risks and maximise opportunities. The strategy is expected to enhance Kenya’s participation in the global climate change. It integrates climate information into development.
- Kenya moved to consolidate its position as Africa’s hub for carbon trading – the new global business of selling and buying carbon emissions.
- The Government declared that all minerals within the country were for the interest of Kenyans.
- Work on the titanium project in Kwale was launched. The $250 million investment is expected to earn the country $150 million a year in exports and will employ 350 Kenyans.
- The High Court allowed the multibillion- shilling biofuel project to go on, effectively paving the way for Kenya’s first biodiesel scheme. According to scientists, the project will dramatically cut down carbon emissions even as it helps Kenya deal with energy supply. NEMA had licensed the project earlier in the year.