NEWS 2005


ENVIRONMENT-KENYA: Sustainability Collides With Poverty

Joyce Mulama

MT KENYA, Nov 4 (IPS) - Visitors to Mbeere district in Kenya’s Central Province can hardly miss them: bags of charcoal laid on either side of the road. Those who sell the bags are far less visible, however. They hide in the surrounding dense vegetation, only appearing to make hurried sales.

The reason for this secrecy? Fears of imminent arrest by officials who are trying to curb the illegal logging in Mount Kenya forest which supplies the wood used to make charcoal.

There are fears that tree felling may decimate the 2,700 square kilometre forest, which serves as a catchment area for no less than 60 rivers. Dwindling tree cover is blamed for massive erosion in the area, said to lose four million tonnes of soil annually to the Indian Ocean.

As illegal logging is motivated largely by poverty, putting environmental concerns first in this region is no easy task.

In an effort to address poverty and provide an alternative to logging, the Rome-based International Fund for Agricultural Development has teamed up with local communities in Mt Kenya east to support small projects aimed at generating income.

These include the Kamurugu Agricultural Development Initiative, which focuses on mango and vegetable cultivation – and rearing chickens and goats for sale. According to Marketing Manager Peter Mbogo, the project produces about 20,000 kilogrammes of mangoes annually, which fetch up to about 50 cents per kilogramme.

"We teach farmers that, using grafting and correct manure application, a tiny piece of land can produce something substantial that can help earn income – instead of logging, which ends up depleting the forest and the environment at large," Mbogo told IPS.

Another initiative, the Mt Kenya East Pilot Project for Natural Resources Management, is a seven-year scheme that seeks to improve the lives of 580,000 people in five districts through more effective use of natural resources and improved agricultural practices.

Government, through its National Environment Management Authority, has also embarked on a campaign to inform communities about the importance of reforestation. This is done through "barazas" (community meetings), and distributing material about reforestation in simple brochures printed in local languages.

Initiatives that promote agriculture have encountered an obstacle, in the form of forest elephants that destroy crops.

"You see, banana, sugarcane, maize and others are not in existence on our farms because they have been destroyed by elephants. Our farms have been invaded 42 times since 1984," says Elisha Njeru, a farmer and community leader.

According to Wilson Ndegwa of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), there were four deaths and several injuries from elephant attacks in the region last year.

However, efforts continue to prevent communities from turning back to illegal logging, by providing them with alternative sources of income.

"The fight against desertification is fundamentally a fight against poverty," Hama Arba Diallo, executive secretary of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification, said at a conference held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, recently.

The Oct. 17-28 meeting sought to assess the progress made in combating desertification and reducing poverty by the 191 member countries which signed up to the convention in 1994.

During the conference, African states, development agencies, donors and other groups launched an initiative called ‘TerrAfrica’ to enhance efforts at preventing land degradation and to promote sustainable land use on the continent. The hope is that about four billion dollars will be sourced for the plan, reportedly the largest of its kind, which is to be managed by the World Bank.

According to the United Nations, about two thirds of Africa’s population is affected by land degradation, while the same proportion of cropland could become unproductive as a result of degradation within the next two decades.

While just 17 percent of the world’s forests are found in Africa, more than half of all deforestation takes place on the continent.

TerrAfrica will help those involved in the fight against land degradation to share knowledge, and to ensure that policy makers at all levels give consideration to sustainable land management.

"TerrAfrica is unique in that it will look at the root causes of land degradation, as well as the barriers and disconnects between demand for investments in support of SLM (sustainable land management) and the major delivery and financing mechanisms both at the domestic and international levels," says Warren Evans, the World Bank’s director of environment. (END/2005)