Mau litmus test for Kenya, says UNEP

July 24, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 24 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has said that the conservation of the Mau ecosystem was a litmus test for Kenya.

Executive Director Achim Steiner said on Friday that how the conservation of the Mau forest was handled would determine the protection of other water towers.

“It is our hope that having seen how Kenyans understand the vital importance of turning decades-long forest degradation practises around is something that now needs to be acted upon,” Mr Steiner said.

He said Kenyans had shown they wanted the government to turn around the fate of the forest and the debate now was political and financial.

“I am optimistic that the Mau will just be the beginning of a fundamental shift in Kenya of looking after its forest resources,” the UNEP boss said.

Kenya has five water towers- the Aberdare Range, Mt Kenya, Mt Elgon, Cherangani hills and the Mau complex which is the largest.

According to the Kenya Forest Service, about 100,000 hectares out of the 400,000 hectares of the Mau complex were already depleted through encroachment and illegal allocation.

World Agro forestry Centre Director General Dennis Garrity said the upcoming Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen could come up with a mechanism to finance forest protection which could be a solution for Mau.

“Through the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) mechanism when it is created, it would make possible the investment in forest protection which could then be a source of financing to enable the government of Kenya to assist those who are currently dependent on the forests to have alternative sources of livelihood,” said Mr Garrity.

At the same time he called for a radical shift in food production to increase food security.

Mr Garrity said Kenya and the world desperately needed to expand food production by changing the way food was produced.

He said Kenya needed to deeply review the consequences of its underinvestment in agriculture and seek innovative ways to increase production sustainably.

“To overcome these challenges, Kenya and the world need to shift to a green agriculture that will deliver multiple benefits to the world’s rising population- boosting food production, combating climate change and eradicating poverty at the same time producing sustainable sources of energy and building materials for the poor,” he said.

Mr Steiner on the other hand supported a directive by Environment Minister John Michuki for land owners to have 10 percent of their land covered by trees.

“If farming is to become part of the solution of climate change rather than a net contributor of carbon emissions, then we have to find a way to make it worthwhile for a farmer to plant trees on a much larger scale,” he said.

According to the United Nations, Agriculture, deforestation and other forms of land use account for nearly one-third of global green house gas emissions. Agricultural and environmental experts now want all forms of land use included in a new deal expected to be reached at the High level Climate Change meeting in December.

According to a UNEP report, the agricultural sector could be largely carbon neutral by 2030 and produce enough food for a population estimated to grow to nine billion by 2050, if proven methods aimed at reducing emissions from agriculture were widely adopted.

Key among these methods is agro forestry, reduced cultivation of the soil and other use of natural nutrients such as fertiliser trees.
They were speaking ahead of the 2nd World Congress of Agro forestry to be held in Nairobi next month where they both accepted that an International arrangement aimed at reducing green house gas emissions had been a failure.

The World Agro forestry Centre Director General said the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) had not created practical ways in which African countries could participate in the process.

He said this was one reason that had made Africa develop a unified position to present at the Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen.

“And we need to have realistic streamlined mechanisms of investing in carbon projects in agriculture and land use and forestry that we can implement and that will not be bogged down by bureaucracy,” said Mr Garrity.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said although the project had been a failure there was need for Kenya to formulate a policy to make investments in the project possible.

“Kenya has an extra ordinary opportunity to become a country over the next ten years that could have a zero carbon electricity generating infrastructure,” he said.

“There are not many countries who can say that easily. Kenya has hydro power, geothermal power, is beginning to invest in wind power and hasn’t even begun to tap on the large scale solar power.”


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