Dissenting remarks by some Rift Valley leaders led by Senate Majority leader Kipchumba Murkomen and Kericho Senator Aoron Cheruiyot regarding the Mau complex pulls the country aback, despite significant strides in environmental protection.
Early this year, the country experienced a prolonged drought. From Baringo, Samburu to Turkana counties, the dearth was real. People and animals died because of lack of food, pasture and water. The ever-whispering Kerio River, which serves the contiguous Baringo and Marakwet counties, for the first dried. Several other rivers dried across the country. Farm commodity prices spiked. River Enkare, which meanders through Narok town became a dry crust and farmers cultivating along its banks couldn’t farm. Shortly after the dry spell, heavy rains followed and lives and property were lost.
No one can change the environmental evils of the past but a failure to reflect on what the underlying drivers for the intensifying weather changes is a direct indicator of an environmentally polarised future that confronts this country. This may paint us as a people who saw the indicators but chose to ignore them. It is unethical when society becomes reluctant to learn from its past and make its future and that of its children better, hospitable and sustainable through environmental protection.
For long, land has had problems in regards to contested ownership, use and management. Encroachment of protected areas such as forests and wetlands has in the past led to confrontations between security officers manning the areas and communities. There has also been human and wildlife conflicts, especially during droughts, in various parts of the country. The recent harsh environmental events are enough indicators that we have exceeded the limits beyond which we ought not to explore our protected forests. This is because forests are a habitat to diverse flora and fauna species and their destruction imply rendering them dead and extinct.
Kenya is endowed with at least 56,914,000 hectares of land and like her peers; the country is experiencing a steadily exploding population. It has been observed that her total natural endowments per capita are on the decline. Statistics reveal out of the country’s total land area, about 10 per cent is arable, with farming activities depending directly on rainfall; 7.5 per cent is forested and one per cent under permanent crops, year round. The remaining 81 per cent is either bare or under alternative use.
Efforts to increase the forest cover from its current proportion to reach the internationally recommended 10 per cent are slowed excision and invasion of forests for settlement. Statistics also reveal over the years, there has been a steady decline in the size of arable land per person from 0.2 hectares in 1994 to 0.13 in 2012, a trend that is largely attributable to the increasing population. The adoption of fertilizer and climate smart agriculture techniques such as irrigation and use of hybrid seeds and animal breeds to boost growth of crops, increase yields and livestock production has not cushioned the country from being food insecure.
As many households are faced with the potential challenge of malnutrition, which has propensity to spiral child mortality rates, dwindle school enrolment and transition rates, the government’s Big Four agenda to improve the welfare of the citizenry through provision of affordable housing and healthcare, manufacturing and ensuring food security is the software that the country needs to triumph over her ailments. Destruction of the country’s water towers through invasion, for instance, the Mau Complex for timber, charcoal and settlement is not only interfering with weather patterns and narrowing the country’s forest cover, but is also destroying the natural habitat for wildlife, propelling the human-animal conflicts and reducing the potential of the catchment areas to provide enough water.
Ordinarily, weather prediction should help the country plan ahead. Smart policies that can ensure constant and consistent supply of water to households are inevitably important and this should start with the full protection of all Kenyan water towers, at a time when Kenyan cities are facing the problem of access to clean and sufficient drinking water.
Nyangena is an economist and commentator on environmental issues