|ESEA 2007 Conference report - By Dr. Nick Oguge|
Inaugural Conference towards an Ecological Society for Eastern Africa
The National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi
3 – 4 May 2007.
DR. NICHOLAS OGUGE
FOUNDING PRESIDENT, ECOLOGICAL SOCIETY FOR EASTERN AFRICA (ESEA)
In 2007, Dr. Nicholas Oguge (representing Earthwatch Institute, Kenya) and Dr. Nathan Gichuki (representing The School of Biological Sciences, University of Nairobi, Kenya) facilitated a two-day conference aimed at establishing a foundation for an Ecological Society in eastern Africa. This professional forum was made possible through the generous support of the British Ecological Society as arranged for by Dr. Oguge and Dr. Gichuki. The conference had the specific goal of addressing ecological concerns for professionals in the eastern African region through:
Several professionals and their organizations gathered to support Earthwatch Institute and the University of Nairobi in coordinating the activities for this event. The Organizing Committee (See Annex A) arranged high-quality guest speakers to present papers in eight thematic areas: (i) Ecological Challenges, Governance and the Role of Civil Societies, (ii) Climate Change and Sustainability in Eastern Africa, (iii) Habitat Loss and Fragmentation, (iv) Threats to Eastern African Biodiversity: Role of Invasive Species, (v) Ecology and Policy, (vi) Business and Ecosystems, (vii) The Role of an Ecological Society in the Development of Eastern Africa, and (viii) Harnessing Human Resources Towards Millennium Development Goals. Mr. Anthony Kuria of the Tropical Biology Association (TBA) also provided invaluable support by arranging for the conference information to reach a wide international audience of scientists that contributed to the success of the conference. The committee also engaged Togo Consultants, a public relations (PR) outfit in Nairobi, to manage the conference secretariat. Event attendance met the high expectations of organizers as there were 125 (see Annex B) participants from six countries—all who contributed to the robustness of the conference with their wide-range of research experience. During the event, they exchanged ideas among their peers and also attended sessions where they could learn about the theme, i.e. “Integrating Environmental Sustainability and Development in East Africa”, from eminent guest speakers. The first day of the conference was comprised of plenary sessions and discussions; the second had a combination of plenary and “break-out” sessions. Although the conference’s presenters were involved in national, regional or international work, the event had a strong regional focus both in participation and presentations. Updates through the conference secretariat and the TBA website ensured that participants were kept well informed of conference details prior to the event.
The opening keynote address was delivered by Hon. Prof. Kivutha Kibwana, Kenya’s Minister for Environment and Natural Resources. The speech was read on his behalf by the Assistant Minister, Hon. Jayne Kihara. Prof. Kibwana’s speech entitled, “Ecological Challenges, Governance and the Role of Civil Societies”, detailed the status of Kenyan environment and economy and elaborated on why civil society needs to be involved in order to speak in the interest of its poorer members. The Minister explained that population growth has put tremendous pressure on the country’s natural resources, particularly land, water and forests. That land use practices have disregarded land potential and carrying capacity accelerating loss of productivity, desertification and loss of biodiversity. Since Kenyan economy is driven greatly by natural resources and agriculture, maintenance of healthy ecosystems is of essence. He concluded by saying that the civil society has an important role to play since it is segregated to serve diverse interests of the community even at the local level.
Hon. Kihara was formally introduced to the audience by the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry, Prof. James Kiyapi, who also emphasized the need for the integration of biophysical sciences with social sciences; collaboration with policy makers; and need to increase presentations to the general public with attractive scientific topics.
Mr. Erick Mugurusi, Director of Environment for the Vice President’s Office from the Republic of Tanzania, spoke about climate change and its implications for disaster prevention. After giving an overview of climate change, Mr. Mugurusi looked at its possible impacts (e.g. increase in temperature, rise in sea level, droughts and water shortages) and their implications for human communities. Possible ramifications of these threats include the destruction of infrastructures along the coastal zone; an enormous increase in the numbers of environmental refugees; and a negative impact on the productivity of agriculture, biological diversity, and food supplies. Mr. Mugurusi then discussed measures necessary for climate change alleviation such as greater energy conservation and efficiency; increase in use of renewable energy sources; combating deforestation; and promoting reforestation programs. He then directed his discussion towards the implications of climate change in eastern Africa and relevant policy considerations. He concluded his presentation by suggesting a focus on coastal zones, arid and semi-arid areas, and increased research and monitoring activities to develop early warning signals.
Dr. Mohamed Said of the International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi Kenya, gave a presentation on biodiversity, fragmentation and habitat loss. Dr. Said commenced by giving a brief overview of the patterns of biodiversity—at global, regional and landscape levels—their determinants, and predicted threats to the region. He then presented the drivers of biodiversity change and mechanisms operating at the various scales, i.e. increasing understanding of processes (how changes are occurring and why) while also increasing perception of broad patterns (what is actually changing and where). Land use patterns and climate were noted as the major drivers of change in biodiversity. Focussing on the eastern Africa region, he noted the causes of wildlife loss, conversion and the fragmentation of ecosystems. This was followed by discussion of cases of land fragmentation at regional, national and local scale. He concluded by interrogating the challenges of conserving biodiversity in East Africa in the next 20, 50 and 75 years, respectively.
Dr. Geoffrey Howard, Invasive Species Coordinator at The World Conservation Union (IUCN) in Nairobi, Kenya, reviewed threats to biodiversity in eastern Africa through an examination of the role of invasive species. His presentation commenced with a description of concepts along a gradient from native to invasive to transformer species. Focusing on the invasive species, Dr. Howard discussed their spread and management. He noted presence of alien and native invasive species in the region such as Lantana camara (a noxious shrub taking over many landscapes in sub-humid parts of the region) and Corvus splendens (the Indian crow threatening total loss of native avian diversity in the coastal towns of Africa along the Indian Ocean). Dr. Howard suggested the role that the society will need to play to reduce threats from invasive species and concluded by suggesting methods for managing invasions in eastern Africa.
Dr. K.W. Kipkore of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission and the East African Community (EAC) discussed the ecological policy dynamics and strategies of the environment and natural resources sector of the EAC. Dr. Kipkore asserted that Lake Victoria is the single most important shared resource that defines the EAC. He then detailed the (i) environmental and natural resource management approach of EAC partners; (ii) structures of the EAC in relation to the management of the environment and natural resources; (iii) regional policy decisions on the environmental and natural resources; (iv) opportunities for sustainable management of environmental and natural resources of the eastern Africa region; and (v) the challenges therein such as release of raw sewage by Municipal Councils into Lake Victoria. Dr. Kipkore expressed specific concerns about the changes in water quality and species abundance especially in fish; emergence of water hyacinth; pollution loading (urban & municipal); catchments degradation (high deforestation rates); draining of critical wetlands; silt loading into the lake; and dropping water levels. Strategies to address these include political commitment, partnerships and collaboration (e.g. the establishment of a Lake Victoria Development Programme); regional mechanisms (e.g. a research funding programme for the lake region referred to as ”VicRes programme”); stakeholder involvement in the private sector and civil society; and funding by partner states to support community and partnerships. Dr. Kipkore, in separate discussion outside this session, indicated the willingness of Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme to host the society.
Dr. Brent Swallow of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya reviewed the business case for ecosystem management. He presented the environment as a potential “profit centre” with markets for scarce ecosystem services, i.e. more efficient business systems and supporting industries; and more efficient technologies and business systems that can decrease waste—reducing both input and waste disposal costs. He also presented business risks that accompany environmental opportunities such as (i) the possibility of non-compliance to environmental laws, which could potentially lead to business disruptions and closure; (ii) reputation risks from NGOs, labourers, suppliers, regulators, consumers, and shareholders; and (iii) a decreased access to capital. Dr. Swallow’s discussions then focused on (i) a business case for investment in water resource management; (ii) some evidence on business and ecosystem management in eastern Africa; and (iii) a new initiatives for linking business and ecosystem management in East Africa. He then introduced a new initiative, Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA), and its compatibility with the proposed Ecological Society in eastern Africa.
The first day ended with a paper presented by Prof. Jonathan Baranga of Mbarara University who talked on ‘the role of an Ecological Society in the Development of Eastern Africa’. Prof. Baranga commenced his talk by listing the critical needs of the region— poverty alleviation, investments, industrialization, and development—which at times create pollutants and lead to an unclean environment. He highlighted some of the characters that the society should embrace to include promotion of environmental protection without curtailing regional development; to encourage science & clean technology—driven development; to contribute to high quality, relevant research & sustainable utilization of resources; to be in the vanguard of enhancing the quality of life of East Africans. Prof. Baranga also suggested a communication strategy for the society which would include development of less technical language for wider communication; involve policy makers and other stakeholders from the beginning: and provide structured and practical advice.
The second day of the conference commenced with a keynote speech by Mr. Hadley Becha of the East African Wildlife Society. Mr. Becha spoke about the potential role that the ecological society for eastern Africa could play in capacity development. He also detailed its potential for harnessing human resources towards the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals. Mr. Becha noted that in eastern Africa, the knowledge and understanding of environmental conditions and human contributions to these issues has increased significantly. However, there is still urgent need to address issues related to ecosystems degradation, declining quality and depletion of natural resources such as water, pollution, poverty and social inequality. Based on this, Mr. Becha suggested harnessing human resources to address Millennium Development Goals through (i) placing an emphasis on public education and training; (ii) concentrating on technical skill building; (iii) disseminating knowledge to wider audiences; and (iv) integrating indigenous and scientific knowledge. He concluded that people represent the most flexible resource available in organizations. Efficient use of this resource will require deploying people with the appropriate skills in sufficient numbers and in the right place. Therefore, the Ecological Society in eastern Africa should plan accordingly and develop a strategy for the recruitment, utilization, improvement, and retention of its human resources on a long-term basis.
This was then followed by break-out sessions where participants deliberated on four broad areas towards formation of the society. These main areas were constitution, structure, operations, and sustainability. Each group representative gave a 15 minute report to the plenary. Following plenary deliberations of group presentations, it was agreed that participants would move on with election of interim office that will deliberate further on points raised during the breakouts. The following participants were elected as interim officials:
Biography of some of the founding Governing Council members are attached (Appendix C).The incoming committee then set their agenda as follows:
Completing the constitution
Earthwatch Institute and its many in-country partners thank the British Ecological Society for its generous grant in the amount of £10,000 through which this conference was made possible. The role of Earthwatch Institute in coordination of the conference is acknowledged. The Tropical Biology Association ensured that information was timely relayed to a wide base of potential participants. Support for registration of a number of participants was made possible by the East African Wildlife Society, Kenyatta University, Jomo Kenyatta University and the National Museums of Kenya. The National Museums of Kenya were excellent hosts—making the meeting room available at no cost. Togo Consultants helped develop conference material and were in constant communication with participants. Without support from The British Ecological Society, none of these parties could have come together to fulfill their crucial role in laying a foundation to establish an ecological society in eastern Africa.
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