Unplanned developments a threat to biodiversity


Kenya has a wealth of biodiversity vital to the social and economic development of this country.This biodiversity is found in wetlands, forests, drylands and marine ecosystems. These are Kenya’s key biodiversity areas now threatened by commercial developments.

For decades, Kenya’s development has not been well guided, costing the country the loss of biodiversity-rich land. The country has however realised the need for planning and hence the reason for adopting the land policy.

Section 3.4 of this policy provides for land use planning. This section has now been highly empasised in the New Constitution Chapter 5 on Land and Environment. These provisions are now law since immediately after the constutition was adopted, all other laws should be implemented in a way that they are not contradicting the New Constitution. 

To make these provisions work, the central government has an uphill task in monitoring their implementation by the proposed county government. It is stated that only about 15 percent of the county government budget will come from the national government. The balance will have to be generated by the county government and this is where the challenge will be especially because the county government may turn to exploit natural resources within their mandates or give a blind eye to developments that compromise biodiversity conservation.

As the country lays out strategies to roll out the Constitution and create new government structures, it is worth to take note of some of the commercial development and guide their implementation in a way that ensures that biodiversity is conserved and peoples livelihoods are not compromised. Some of these include the proposed large scale growing of Jatropha in Dakatcha woodlands in Malindi and the commercial developments at Tana Delta. These are a few of the cases that EAWLS would like to present as case studies as they are very relevant to the thematic areas being covered by this conference.  
Dakatcha woodland is located in Malindi, Coast Province of Kenya.  It has been suggested that the woodland is the breeding grounds of the Clarkes Weaver bird (and hence important to Kenya’s biodiversity heritage). They also form an important water catchment area that the local community depend upon. This is the land where an Italian company tried to lease 50,000 hectares (120,000 acres of land) for the growing of Jatropha, despite social, economic and environmental grounds that state quite clearly that growing of Jatropha in this marginal area is not viable. 

Their Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was last month rejected by the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) though NEMA adviced them to go for a pilot. Following this, the company is seeking an approval for 10,000 hectares as the pilot project. This being land within Dakatcha woodland and the fact that the main reasons why any growing of Jatropha stated above stands, the Society is of the view that this pilot project should not be allowed. Any approval at this stage would also be contradicting the New Constitution which has various provisions on land use that should be adhered to. One of the themes of the conference is on land use and livelihoods. The proposed land requested for the Jatropha cultivation was under the old Constitution trust land under the custodianship of the County Council of Malindi and 70 percent of it is settled.

Under the New Constitution, the county council does not have any role and the land is recognised as community land. The provisions of the New Constitution that secure this land for the community living there should therefore be applied so that they do not in any way lose the land and be deprived of their livelihoods. The other issue being discussed in the conference is land use and climate change. In this era of climate change, it is not wise to replace Dakatcha woodlands with a crop that does not have the capacity to store large quantities of carbon. The net effect is the release of large amounts of carbon by cutting Dakatcha woodlands.

The second case study is that of Tana Delta. The Tana Delta wetlands within Tana River district of Coast Province is arguably Kenya’s largest, most ecologically and biologically diverse, socially and economically important wetland. The Tana Delta is formed at the lower Tana River floodplains covering about 130,000ha of which some 69,000ha are regularly inundated.  In summary, the Delta has very rich and diverse biological resources. 76 percent of this biodiversity is wetlands, comprising permanent water bodies; swamp or marsh vegetation; seasonally flooded grasslands; mangrove forests; riverine/floodplain forests; marine sea grass beds; coral gardens and coastal dune habitats.  The remaining 24 percent comprises wooded grassland and bush land associations.  At the species level, parts of the Delta sustain two species of monkeys that are considered endemic to Kenya – the Tana River Crested Mangabey and the Tana River Red Colobus – and several globally threatened bird species, including Basra Reed Warbler and Malindi Pipit.  The delta also qualifies as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA).

Just like the Dakatcha woodlands, there are many examples of development done or planned without land use planning and consideration of conservation needs. These include the Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) proposed project to undertake sugarcane growing and ethanol production in the Tana Delta. More recently there is a growing demand to use the Delta area for the commercial production of Jatropha curcas and other oil crops (sunflower, castor & crambe) as a biofuel. There is no control over the land allocation, there is no co-ordinated decision making and management in regard to development. The rights of the local people are ignored and sooner than later, there will be a serious land use conflict. 

The above case studies show that in any commercial development and land use change we should not lose sight of their impacts on biodiversity and climate change. The Society would therefore advice that in promoting particular developments in biodiversity rich areas, science and economics should be used to guide them and this should be done with environmental protection consciousness, recognition of people’s needs and rights and in the absence of such information, let precautionary measures, supported by objective research, prevail. The Society would also strongly advice that the fundamental principle be that any development is based on sound environmental management.  

In this regard, the East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) is happy to be associated with the Kenya’s International Conference on Biodiversity, Land Use and Climate Change to be held on the 15th- 17th September 2010 in Nairobi.

(The author is a Technical Adviser, Interim coordinating secretariat, Office of the Prime Minister)

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