Desertification is Kenya’s major challenge in achieving the Millennium Development Goals as well as fulfilling its economic blueprint, Vision 2030.
Kenya’s Permanent Secretary (PS), at the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources, Mr. Ali D. Mohammed, says that the Government is committed to combating desertification and the mitigation of the effects of drought as a central strategy in its efforts to eradicate poverty since it affects the poorest of population groups who entirely depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.
Kenya, Mr Mohammed says, is signatory to United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and was thus obliged to mark the World Day to Combat Desertification on 17th June – in line with the requirements of the national implementation of the convention.
The UNCCD defines desertification as land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas (also referred to as drylands) resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.
At the national level, he says the UNCCD calls for the implementation of activities aimed at prevention and/or reduction of land degradation, rehabilitation of partly degraded lands and reclamation of degraded lands through National Action Programmes to be developed by all parties.
“It also calls for the development of contingency plans for mitigating the effects of drought in areas degraded by desertification and/or drought,” he adds.
In Kenya, the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASALs) host about 13 million people. These areas have the lowest development indicators and the highest incidence of poverty.
Over 60 percent of ASAL inhabitants live below the poverty line (subsisting on less than one dollar per day). Nevertheless, the PS articulates that pastoralism provides direct employment and livelihood to over three million Kenyans. Moreover, the symbiotic interaction between wildlife and pastoralism provides an opportunity for sustainable resource use.
However, Mr Mohammed says ASALs have an enormous potential for mineral exploitation; for example soda ash mining in Lake Magadi contributes substantial revenue to the country’s exchequer and employment opportunities.
In an effort to mitigate desertification, the Kenyan government has established strong cooperation mechanisms with development partners at multilateral and bilateral levels for development initiatives in drylands.
“The Government strives to streamline the operation of development partners-funded projects to avoid conflict of interests and duplication of efforts,” he says, adding that “this is being done through development of National Action Programme to address desertification issues in a coordinated manner.”
The National Policy for the Sustainable Development of the Arid and Semi-Arid Lands of Kenya has strong support and the potential to reduce poverty and increase resilience to drought in arid lands.
The policy aims to involve local people in development through improved local institutions and decentralised planning; improved water systems, land management, animal health, marketing and alternative income opportunities to pastoralism as well as improving the legal framework for land tenure, management and land conflict resolution.
Further, it hopes to focus on equality and opportunities for women and girls, who are particularly disadvantaged and especially affected by drought because they have responsibility for providing food and water to their family. The policy will also increase links with other areas to open up markets and develop financial services.
In addition to these efforts, Mr Mohammed says “the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) together with other government agencies will continue to consolidate efforts to train communities in best practices in conservation activities. This has been done in the recent past through capacity building initiatives in Baringo, Taita Taveta, Kwale, Isiolo and Narok among others.”