Each season, Peter Gichangi a vegetable and arrowroot commercial farmer who owns four hectares of land in Nyeri County, Kenya’s Central Province, cultivates his crops near the Nduyi River.
“Although every now and then the Nduyi River bank bursts, flooding the farm, the loss is small compared to the good harvest and financial gains during good weather patterns,” Mr Gichangi says.
But he is just one of a significant number of small-scale farmers who have taken to commercial farming in water catchment areas, according to the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.
In Kenya, smallholder farmers account for at least 75 per cent of the total agricultural output, according to the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries.
“Due to the scramble for scarce land and because agriculture here is rain-fed, we now have more and more farmers encroaching on water catchment areas,” Nancy Mumbi, a government agricultural researcher in Central Province, said.
She says this is especially prevalent in the Rift Valley, which is considered the country’s breadbasket and Central Kenya.
Ms Mumbi says the government is attempting to put a stop to the practice by imposing “fines of up to Sh52,000 or imprisonment not exceeding six months or both.”
However, Ken Muchai from the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources warns “the lack of a national policy on natural resource management is leading to the depletion of natural wealth.”
“We may not have any lions in the next 20 years, we are losing 100 lions per year to human-animal conflict,” he said.
He says that the draft Natural Resources Development and Management Policy 2012 will address these issues.
“And many other sectoral policies are already under review to facilitate conservation and management of natural resources.”
But while Kenya may have in place at least 90 pieces of legislation on how to manage its natural resources, experts say the country’s excess of legislation is weak and inadequate to meet the challenge of sustainably managing this.
Kevin Kinusu, a climate and energy advocacy officer at Hivos, a Dutch organisation for development, said that the weak laws have proved ineffective in the face of the country’s capitalist economy.
“Market forces have overlooked the importance of sustainable management of natural resources. Due to the current craze to develop real estate, wetlands in areas in Nairobi County, parts of Kiambu County and other parts of the country have been converted into settlements,’’ Mr Kinusu says.
He explains that although there are policies like the Wetlands Atlas and the Master Plan for the Conservation and Management of Water Catchment Areas in place, there is no comprehensive policy on conservation of wetlands.
Wetlands are facing severe pressure despite their importance as a water resource for agricultural productivity and in sustaining livelihoods, he says.
He says the real value of such protected areas has been ignored and “the market forces and extreme hunger for a cash economy has been given dominance at the expense of our environmental and natural resource health.”
Mr Kinusu says that there have been a few success stories in management of natural wealth. This includes the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest ecosystem — the largest of the country’s five water towers.
He points out that the country’s forest cover also increased “from a decline of about two per cent to nearly six per cent.”
Duncan Okowa, a programme officer at local NGO Institute for Law and Environmental Governance (ILEG), said that the Environment Management and Coordination Act 1999 “should have served as the overarching policy.”
The Act provides a framework for environmental legislation and for establishing appropriate legal and institutional mechanisms for the management of the environment.
However, he points out that the Act itself has been overtaken by other legislation and is now outdated.
“For instance, there are demands in the 2010 Constitution that are not covered by the act. Also, most sectoral laws were enacted after the act had been developed, for instance we have the Water Act 2002, Forest Act 2005 and the Land Act 2012.”
For example, while the 2010 constitution demands that communities be at the heart of natural resource management, many are still left out of the country’s multi-billion dollar mining industry.
“The production-sharing contracts signed between the government and oil companies are often in favour of the companies since they are signed under the archaic Petroleum Act of 1986,” Samuel Kimeu, executive director of Transparency International Kenya, said.
“Unclear means of awarding mining licences have been used to fleece the public, compromising the terms of the licence against the public interest, thus swindling the public of possible revenue,” he says.
Mr Okowa says that going forward laws must be reviewed to reflect new realities.
“An enabling environment for these laws to be effective must be created where implementing institutions are given both technical and financial support,” Mr Okowa says.