Judi Wakhungu: Strength in biodiversity | Eco Africa | DW | 08.03.2017
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Eco Africa

Judi Wakhungu: Strength in biodiversity

In an exclusive interview with DW, Kenya's Environment Minister discusses the country's approach to climate change and explains how developing infrastructure and protecting biodiversity can go hand in hand.

Watch video 04:12

Joy Doreen meets…Judi Wakhungu

DW: What measures is Kenya taking to fight climate change and its effects?

Judi Wakhungu: We are one of the very few countries in the world that have a climate change act. What we have now mandated the entire sectors to do is to look at climate change challenges. For example if you look at the forestry sector, we are mandated by the constitution to have a mandatory forest cover of 10 percent by the year 2030. The best opportunity to grow our forestry sector is actually the arid lands, the arid and the semi-arid lands. So the Kenya forestry research institute is doing research to see what indigenous species are suited for these areas.

If you look at what we have done in the water sector: We have promoted water harvesting. The agricultural sector is using climate-smart technologies. We are also storing more water for irrigation to avoid the unpredictability of weather and erratic weather.

If you look at our industrial sector we are promoting a circular economy as much as possible to recycle and reuse products. And also we have green economy strategy that encourages all sectors to become green and to use less input. Nationally, we have identified 5.1 million hectares of land of rehabilitation and the sector that is leading this is the forestry sector.

Kenya is rich in biodiversity. What is the government doing to preserve it?

When it comes to biodiversity, and if you look at how well we are endowed, internationally we are one of the most important countries in the world when it comes to biodiversity. We need to appreciate that more and as a ministry we’re working very hard to do so. If you look at the percentage of the national landscape of Kenya, at least 10 percent is protected area: national reserves, national parks, national marine parks and reserves. What we are also doing is that we are encouraging people that have large areas of land, be it private or group [ownership], to preserve these particular areas, to conserve them for our biodiversity. It is our diversity that will allow us to weather the effects of climate change.

We also see that a country that is as well-endowed as ours can also use this to generate revenues for the economy, tourism being a very important sector in the country. And our tourism is largely based on wildlife. In other words, it is largely based on biodiversity. We also talk about wildlife, but also our fauna is extremely important, our birds are also particularly important.

Once we can encourage our communities that conserving our biodiversity generates revenue, they are in the frontline of protection. Protecting our biodiversity is very difficult. Why? Because Kenya’s size is not growing, but the population is growing. Demand for development and infrastructure is growing, but we also try to promote sustainable development; to maintain our biodiversity but at the same time grow our infrastructure.

How will Kenya tackle the issue of its growing population?

We are seeing an increase in human-wildlife conflict. From a wildlife perspective it is we humans who are encroaching on areas for wildlife. And that’s why one of the key attributes that we have in the country is creating corridors. We don’t believe in fencing in the wildlife. Most of our wildlife is outside the protected areas, therefore there can be #link:conflicts between humans and wildlife#. But also wildlife and humans have also lived in harmony for a long time. And that is what we are promoting.

We’ve seen increased conflict again because of the drought - we have situations where communities that live adjacent to the protected areas are fighting for the same resources as the protected wildlife. So it is not unusual go to a waterhole and find wildlife, livestock and human beings competing for the same resource.

Watch video 03:34

The fight for water in Kenya

We have put fences in certain areas to separate the wildlife and the humans, therefore reducing the conflict. We do not always win. The government offers compensation in cases where people lose their lives when they encounter the wildlife. We also have compensation schemes for loss of crops or injuries. It is not working very well. But at least we have that in place.

How can Kenya adapt to future environmental changes?

Old seasoned farmers will tell you that decades ago decades ago, we used to start preparing the land in February, because we knew very well the rains would come in March. It was predictable, like clockwork. But all of that has changed now because of climate change. Nowadays, it is not unusual to have rains in December, whereas 30 years ago it rained October and November.

That is why we must store water. That is why we must increase the amount of irrigated agriculture. That is why we encourage farmers, those that can, to use greenhouses as much as possible, to combat the negative consequences of climate change.

But the easiest way of controlling that is by rehabilitating our landscapes. To stop cutting down trees, to maintain our water-towers. That is really the easiest way - to expand our forest and tree cover. We are encouraging as many farmers as possible: even if you have only one acre, put a tenth of that under trees. It will help. It will go a long way in helping to control the effects of weather.  

Interview: Joy Doreen Biira 


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