INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ON BIODIVERSITY, LAND-USE AND CLIMATE CHANGE
15-17TH SEPTEMBER 2010, INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL, NAIROBI, KENYA
TOWARDS A NATIONAL CONSERVATION FRAMEWORK
Dr. David Western, Chairman of the Conference Steering Committee while giving his opening remarks was optimistic that the threats to biological diversity in the country could be analysed and dealt with. He cited hindrances such as lack of investment in biodiversity as impediments to a comprehensive national biodiversity framework. In terms of climate change adaptation, he urged the participants to consider developing mechanisms for carbon trading markets. He further urged the government to develop systems for fair pricing for ecological services and highlighted the sections of the new constitution in the Bill of Rights that ensure the rights to land and the resources derived therein.
Reading a speech on behalf of Dr. Noah Wekesa, the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, his deputy – Hon. Josphat Nanok indicated that inasmuch as 10% of Kenya’s land area is classified as Protected Areas (PAs), the boundaries of these exclude some key biodiversity hotspots. He further gave the conference participants the assurance of his ministry’s utilization of the “invaluable input” provided at the conference to yield tangible results.
Officially opening the conference, Mr. Ali Mohammed, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources who was stepping in for Hon. John Michuki, the Minister, stated that “ecosystems, biological resources and their interactions are essential for (the) growth” of our nation. He lauded Kenya’s development blueprint – Vision 2030 for promoting the use of renewable energy. He acknowledged the need to review conservation policies within the relevant ministries and urged the participants to invest in developing partnerships and integration.
Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, Director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) began his address by urging Kenyans to appreciate the richness and abundance of biological diversity present within the country’s borders calling it the “Hottest biodiversity hotspot in the world.” He however noted with grave concern that the variability of the region’s climate had changed dramatically resulting in two successive drought periods. He cited that the growing population was causing changes in land-use patterns amongst Kenyans and this in turn was becoming a major driver of biodiversity loss.
Dr. Kipng’etich explained that this primary problem was giving rise to secondary problems such as increased water stress with the current citizen receiving just 600 cubic metres of water per year whereas the global minimum is meant to be 1,000 cubic metres per annum. Other secondary problem he highlighted were food shortages, insecurity and biomass energy reduction. The latter being of growing concern as he stated that 80% of the Kenyan population rely on biomass for their energy needs.
The KWS Director added that the government had, and was in the process of, putting in place mechanisms to mitigate biodiversity loss and climate change. Citing the new constitution, Forest Act (2005) and the Environmental Conservation Management Act (1999), he stated that what needed to be refined were the institutional frameworks for implementation of the same. He added that two vital policies dealing with wildlife and climate change were pending discussion in parliament.
Dr. Kipng’etich informed the participants that the KWS was modernizing its forces through training and technology and stated that in three years, the force would rival paramilitary elites such as the US Marines and the Israeli Naval forces. Further he added that through science and better management, they were increasing the number of scientists and were developing two new fully equipped labs from forensics and genetics.
Lashing out at poor governance as a hindrance to development, he used Narok County Council as a case in point. He said that the Maasai Mara Game Park and National Reserve generates between Kshs. 2-3 Billion each year but this does not trickle down to the communities. As a result, the people are resoting to changing their land-use methods which is leading to encroaching agricultural settlements in the Protected Areas.
Earlier, Mr. Mureithi Ndegwa – the Managing Director of the Kenya Tourist Board spoke about expanding the horizon of tourism in the country through marketing Kenya as an environmental tourist destination. He stated that there are numerous benefits that we obtain from biodiversity including food, medicine and raw materials for industry. Mr. Mureithi highlighted KTB’s efforts toward mitigating climate change as promoting minimal disruptive human traffic in the parks, cultural preservation and reducing human-wildlife conflice.
Also highlighting Vision2030, the Mr. Mureithi spoke of projects such as the Premium Parks Initiative to boost revenue, the Underutilized Parke Initiative to promote the less visited parks and the development of Niche tourist product packages. He further indicated the KTB was embarking on a product diversification initiative to build capacity in, and promote other tourist areas such as adventure, medical, sports and conference tourism.
Parkinson Ndonye from the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources in the department of Multilateral Environmental Agreements stated that the main drivers for biodiversity loss in the country were the degradation of habitats through unsustainable land use, pollution, invasive species and climate change. He noted that the opportunities for reversing this tide lay in redefining the sectoral policies across the relevant ministries, multi-sectoral planning and equitable distribution of resources.
THE WAY FORWARD TOWARDS A NATIONAL CONSERVATION FRAMEWORK
The Kenya International Conference on Biodiversity, Land-Use and Climate Change drew to a close with spirited calls for the Government of Kenya to implement recommendations made during the three day conference.
Prof. Ratemo Michieka, who chaired the session on the last day, exhorted participants to value the richness of diversity that exists within the region. He noted with concern that increasing land use pressure was causing a vast reduction in vegetative cover. He said, “We must grow up as a country to protect our pristine environment.”
One key concern through the three days was in the area of bioinformatics data sharing. Numerous panelists and participants acknowledged that there exists a vast amount of information that was not being utilized. Ms Betty Buyu, the Executive Director of the African Conservation Centre (ACC) said that, “There is a lot of data out there and through the use of data modeling skills and the integration of maps, bioinformatics can be used to draw up environmental scenarios.”
Responding to sentiments from some of the participants, Fred Okero from the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB) indicated the organisation had a specific programmme for domestic tourism. He said that KTB had launched the Western Kenya tourism circuit which would aim at improving tourist traffic to that region. He also added that KTB was working with the ACC in disseminating promotional materials and intensifying promotional activities within these areas.
It was further noted that due to land use changes, farmers had become the greatest threat to biodiversity conservation outside the government protected areas. To mitigate this threat, participants recommended the intensification of community based conservation projects. A case in point was the Southern Rift Association of Land Owners (SORALO), which promotes making communities the drivers of biodiversity conservation. SORALO initiatives include promotion of eco-tourism, formation of a cattleman’s association that educates the pastoralists, a game-scout programme as well as engaging in research in biodiversity monitoring and mapping. A pillar of SORALO’s success in collaboration with the ACC is the foundation of the South Rift Resource Centre.
In summing up the event, Dr. David Western, the Chair o f the Secretariat said that the two year draught of 2008 - 2009 in Kenya was not to do with climate change, but rather land degradation. He compared it to the Great Dust Bowl in America during the 1930s. This was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. He added that people are willing to conserve as long as it is in their interest.
He stated that the goals of the National Conservation Framework would be:
- to put a value on biodiversity
- Provide a status report
- to shift the focus from wildlife conservation to biodiversity conservation
- to enforce policy implementation
He added that the National Conservation Framework would feature a National Conservation Council that would jumpstart with a biodiversity task force that would comprise inter governmental agencies and non-governmental expertise. Dr. Western further outlined the following steps towards creating a national conservation framework:
- an all species inventory
- creation of a national Information Base
- Definition of a Minimum Viable Conservation Area Framework
In his closing remarks, Mr. Ali Mohammed, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources (MEMR) acknowledged that there were gaps in the field of conservation. However, he stated that a lot has been done by the government to meet these challenges. Focusing on the constitution, he cited the chapter in the bill of rights that assures Kenyans the right to a clean and healthy environment. He informed participants that the MEMR had set up a secretariat on climate change and it intends to convert it into a CDM.
He stated that the Cabinet had given his ministry twelve months operationalise their part of the constitution. He said that he had appointed Mr. Donald Kanyagu, the Chair of the Environmental Tribunal, to lead a team that will handle all the issues, come up with revised and new environmental legislation. He said, “We shall work on the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, Forestry Act, Water Act to make them in line and harmony with the new constitution.” He added that his ministry is very interested in engaging with all stake holders in particular Civil Society Organisations who have expertise in environmental issues.
Biodiversity loss is a serious matter and needs to be accorded adequate attention. The gravity of the situation can be condensed into the remarks made by a participant on the closing day. He said, “Biodiversity is life. If we stand aside as wildlife observers, we cannot truly articulate biodiversity. Conservation agencies do not do conservation, but the people on the ground are the ones. Kuhifadhi si mradi…Ni maisha.” (Conservation is not a project… It is Life).
For more information on this conference log on to www.kenyabiodiversityandclimatechange.org