The absence of proper land use plans across the country is to blame for increased conflicts over use of natural resources, which have led to loss of lives and property.
Accelerated effects of climate change including the current floods in Budalangi, locust invasion in North Eastern region, conflicts over grazing land in Samburu, encroachment on wetlands, road reserves, drying up of watering places in Taita Taveta and changing weather patterns are largely because of lack of land use policies that provide guidance and restrictions on natural resource use.
There was a time when every Kenyan was asked to plant a tree, largely to play a role in environmental protection and help the government realise its green growth economy. Nearly all public agencies included tree planting in their corporate social responsibility budgets, money from the Constituency Development Fund was invested in the project, and county governments allocated budgets for the same.
A noble project it was and a huge investment. However, outside gazetted forest lands, little attention was given to the space and land where such huge tree planting exercise was going to take place, and in the cases where community space was to be used, who eventually will own the trees, aware that many counties are yet to develop and implement land use plans.
And those Ward Development funds have seen every Member of County Assembly want to implement development projects in their areas, without regard to existing land use.
The national government through Parliament has already enacted land related regulations, and now, county governments must move and put in place land use plans and policies that will regulate access, proper use and improved natural use management leading improved sustainable livelihoods, security, equity and biodiversity conservation.
Such proposals must be included in the County Integrated Development Plan (CIDP).
And the development of such policies must ensure to create proper governance structures through the participation of the local communities.
This will ensure that implementation is ease and owned by the people.
Given that most of the areas targeted for tree planting, hosting watering points, provide water catchment and water flows, grazing lands, minerals are protected under community land, counties must put in place measures to ensure that current forest cover, water quality, quantity and quality of biodiversity are maintained through a system of gazettement as community conservation areas that are supported by regulatory frameworks and management plans implemented by government, private sector and local people for posterity.
Climate change is not waiting for us; the development of proper land use policies and their implementation including on disaster management, water tower protection, forest cover recovery, distribution of proceeds from minerals and related is urgent, as we work to mitigate the adverse effects of the changing climate patterns.
One the best land use policy that counties can borrow from is the Tana River and Lamu counties land use policy that was developed by the two counties, Ministry of Land, Housing and Urban Development, the National Treasury and Nature Kenya.
The land plan has been very instrumental in helping deal with the resource-based conflicts that were synonymous with the counties, especially Tana River pitting the pastoralists against the farmers over use of water.
It has helped in the regulation of the use of the delta’s resources; to make sure these resources are used wisely to support the sustainability of the various livelihood options pursued by the communities; to promote security, equity and effective service delivery; and to ensure that biodiversity remains part of the heritage of the local people.
Similarly, in Lamu, the land use policy has seen less tensions and conflicts even with the implementation of major infrastructural developments including the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport Corridor (Lapsset).
Victor Bwire via email