July 2, 2014

Urbanization Poses Risks to Integrated Landscapes in Kenya

Isaiah Esipisu

Kenya is one of the leading countries in Africa to embrace the Integrated Landscape Approach, though experts attending the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature in Africa Conference say that urbanization and the quest for development is a real threat to this progress.

“Urbanization is a major conflict for rural landscapes in Kenya, hence, there is an urgent need for the government to develop a policy for rural development, and an acceptable plan for land use,” said Hon. Joshua Irungu, the Governor for Laikipia County.

Hon. Irungu referred to Rwaka area in Kiambu County in Central Kenya, which just a few years ago was a coffee plantation, but has now been converted into an urban centre. “We have other examples like Kitengela and Konza regions in Eastern Kenya, which are quickly transforming into urban centers – thus leading to human wildlife conflict,” he told a plenary session.

Recent work by the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative has investigated pathways for integrated management of urban regions. Land use planning was found, indeed, to be a key component. The Naivasha landscape in Kenya is a case study of the report.

Verrah Otiende, a scientist from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) further pointed out that ecosystems on some landscapes in the country were threatened by investors who are funding farmers to grow particular tree species that are not good for the environment and the ecosystem.

“Embu County in Eastern Kenya is a perfect example, where coffee factory operators are supplying farmers with eucalyptus tree seedlings because they (investors) are in need of the eucalyptus timber supply for coffee processing. Yet most of these trees are grown in water catchment areas,” Otiende told the conference in Nairobi.

The eucalyptus trees, also known as blue-gum trees, are known for their heavy consumption of water, and their ability to dry wetlands. Though, they are arguably the most commercially viable trees given the fast growth for particular species, and the good quality of timber.

However, ICRAF and EcoAgriculture partners in collaboration with the government of Kenya are currently engaged in a policy dialogue in view of improving the policy and institutional framework for the Integrated Landscape Management (ILM) in Kenya based on the needs of communities.

Visiting the water office near Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Photo by Krista Heiner, EcoAgriculture Partners.

Visiting the water office near Lake Naivasha, Kenya. Photo by Krista Heiner, EcoAgriculture Partners.

The team has already visited five landscape sites in Kenya, namely Bungoma and Embu landscapes, which are sites for a strengthening rural institutions project that is being implemented by ICRAF. Other sites include Lari, Laikipia and Naivasha which are specific landscapes in Kiambu, Laikipia and Nakuru Counties.

For the integrated management of the Naivasha landscape for example, there is an organization known as Imarisha Naivasha, which is composed of representatives from key government ministries, commercial flower growers, water resource users, forest resource users, beach management units, pastoralists, and civil society organizations that operate within the basin.

“Imarisha Naivasha, which conserves and manages the landscape in the area, was formed as a result of the 2009 drought, which almost dried up the Lake Naivasha. That was the wake-up call that made us realize that if we do not manage our landscape, nobody will do it for us,” Kamau Mbogo, project manager with Imarisha Naivasha told the Nairobi conference.

In Laikipia, the county government is working hand in hand with the community and civil society organizations to ensure that the landscape is well managed. “The communities know what they want, and they have very good ideas on how to manage particular landscapes. That is why we will never underestimate their knowledge and ability,” said Hon. Irungu.

“It is clear that the landscape concept is alive in Kenya. We can clearly see how agriculture is interacting with nature, and these are some of the lessons other countries should embrace for a better future,” said Kwesi Atta-Krah, the Director, CGIAR Research Program on Integrated System for Human Tropics.

Isaiah Esipisu is a freelance journalist specializing in agriculture and climate change reporting.
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