Desertification is intensifying and spreading in Kenya, threatening one third of the population and severely reducing the productivity of the land.
Kenya’s Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources, Mr John Michuki, says that the recurring droughts have accelerated soil degradation and reduced per-capita food production.
“Much of the problem is due to a growing imbalance between population, resources, development and environment,” Mr Michuki says.
The minister, who was speaking during the World Day to Combat Desertification (WDCD), said rapid population growth is exacerbating the existing problems of; imbalance between human numbers and available arable land, deforestation, poor land use systems and inappropriate farming methods.
WDCD is an annual event set aside by the United Nations and a time for the world to reflect on the environment. The day is celebrated on the 17th of June every year. The event lays an emphasis on fragile ecosystems in arid and semi arid lands.
The day also aims to sensitize the public to the fact that desertification, land degradation and drought dramatically affect the productivity of natural resources.
“All these are among the major problems leading to food crises and desertification in Kenya. There have been resource use conflicts over the scarce pasture and water resources in the drylands. The recurrent deaths of livestock due to drought has been a major concern to the government of Kenya,” Mr Michuki explained at Gingo Secondary School Suba District, Homa Bay County, Nyanza Province.
The Minister said that in Kenya, about 80 percent of the land surface is vulnerable to desertification and drought. These areas support about 30 percent of the total population. In addition, 50 percent of the livestock population and a wide variety of wildlife that forms the basis of Kenya’s tourism industry are found in these lands.
Mr Michuki said that afforestation programmes are the first steps towards healing the dry lands and protecting them from desertification.
Thus he announced that the Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASALS) development programme has been given priority following the creation of the Ministry of Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands.
“The government further developed a comprehensive policy and an Environmental Action Plan for Arid and Semi Arid Lands in 2008. Through these initiatives, the government has on an annual basis allocated funds for the development of these areas,” the Minister Michuki pointed out.
Kenya’s development partners, particularly the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nation Environment Programme (UNEP), have also supported programmes in the arid and semi-arid areas of the country through Drylands Development Centre among others.
Additionally the Minister said that the Ministries of Agriculture, Environment, Water, Livestock, Wildlife, Forestry and Roads among others have put in place programmes geared towards improving the productivity of Arid and Semi Arid Lands.
He further articulated that the country prepared and adopted its first National Action Plan in 2002 under the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification as a requirement of the conference of parties for all governments signatory to the convention and other regional initiatives designed to implement the convention.
“Kenya is currently reviewing the National Action Plan (NAP) to conform to the requirements of the Conference of Parties (COP) decisions to align NAPs to the 10 Year Strategy,” Mr Michuki said, adding “others include full domestication of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) convention through the Performance Review and Assessment Implementation System. This is aimed at building capacity for effective monitoring and assessment of the progress on the domestication of the UNCCD.”
The Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources was happy that the constitution of Kenya gives scope for the proper management of the environment in Chapter 5, Part 2 by outlining the environmental rights of Kenyans. “It goes further to call upon the government to put in place policies and legislations for the enhancement of environmental goods and services. This constitution has come at an opportune time because the environment is increasingly being degraded to unprecedented levels,” the Minister said.
Globally it is noted that over two-thirds of the planet’s surface is affected by desertification affecting over 2 billion people and around 100 countries across all the 5 continents. Regrettably the impact of desertification is greatest among the poorest population groups, essentially living off threatened natural resources.
The desertification process is posing a challenge for Kenya’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. “While arid zones are the most vulnerable to desertification and land degradation, their ecosystems, including the forests, are more fragile and suffer more from unsustainable human activity and extreme climatic changes,” Mr Michuki said.
The Minister cited Suba district which is classified as Semi-arid because 10-29 percent of its land surface experiences drought and receives low precipitation. There are three major water catchment areas in Suba district. These include Gwassi hills covering an area of 11835.7 hectares, Gembe hills covering an area of 2100 hectares, and Lambwe hills with an area of 3000 hectares.
Over the years, the forest cover has been declining because of the increased demand of land for settlement, woodfuel for curing of fish and for expansion of agricultural land. Mr Michuki said Gwassi hills are an reference case, where forest was encroached upon to such a level that the government had to intervene by protecting it through gazettement.
“The forests at Gembe and Lambwe hills are greatly degraded. The Gembe hills have since been gazetted and protected. We must curb desertification in this district through joint efforts by the government, partners, community groups and individual citizens,” he said.
He affirmed the ministry’s resolve and determination to forge a strong team spirit among Ministries, Departments and parastatals, and create strong linkages and networks to foster better environmental management systems. He said in conclusion “my Ministry will play its supervisory role, while also ensuring a strong linkage between the Ministry, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and other Lead Agencies.”