Sustainability Collides With Poverty
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
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
"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
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
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
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.