Writer: James Mwaniki Wahome
Integrated wetlands and afforestation solution
Kenya’s forest cover is estimated at 7.29 per cent according to Economic Survey 2018. This is below the United Nations recommended 10 per cent. Forests have come under great pressure as demand for wood to meet the needs of the rising population estimated at 2.5 per cent per year. The government has committed to plant 5.1 hectares with trees by 2030 as its contribution within the National Determined Contribution (Paris Agreement) of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change to mitigate the effects of climate change. The challenge is that government protected forests contribute between 2 to 3 per cent of the forest cover. The rest of the forest cover is in private held land with a more liberal cutting of the trees. This means the small scale farmers have to be encouraged to embrace afforestation despite the shrinking land sizes if the country is to balance between its demand for wood and maintaining a healthy ecosystem and biodiversity. A sustainable supply of tree seedlings is therefore essential in the rural areas. The small scale farmers would be encouraged to grow trees as shade in farms against the rising temperatures and to deal with effects of heavy rains that erode soils. The small-holders farms would also be encouraged to plant trees along the boundaries of their farms to act as wind breakers.
Role of the wetlands to wider ecological zone
Wetlands or marshy areas cover between 3 to 4 per cent of the total landmass in Kenya. These wetlands are found across the country. They are diverse in type, size and distribution as some are natural and others man-made.
According to anecdotal survey, the observable activities around the wetlands are farming, grazing, car washing and construction. Few are used to advance agroforestry.
Some have become dumping sites of non-biodegradable materials like plastics and the recently banned polythene bags. Ramsar Convention on wetlands has acknowledged the role of wetlands in ecosystem services. These wetlands or marshy areas play the role of ‘sponges’ absorbing surface run-off, slowing velocity of water hence preventing flooding. They also play role of reservoir of ground water, and filter of domestic and industrial waste. They enrich the ecosystem due to the variety of fauna and flora found here.
Public awareness on possible benefits from conservation of such wetlands is lacking. Most consider these wetlands as wastelands. The negative perception is further strengthened due to lack of proper mosquito control measures. In making economic and environmental use, conservation of the wetlands and its integration with the conservation of the environment in the wider ecological zones would result in sustainable environment and wider economic benefits.
Establishment of tree nurseries around the wetlands to supply tree seedlings to the wider ecological zone would have multiple benefits to the communities. Apart from afforestation, increased food production, and income generation, the project would foster sustainable regeneration of undermined ecosystems, and expand biodiversity. Around these wetlands, community bee-keeping and propagation of indigenous trees with herbal benefits that have been depleted would be carried out.
The communities or youth groups would be organized to grow the seedlings around the wetlands which would either be offered for free or at a fee, creating a sustainable supply of tree seedlings in the communities. These would include fruit trees which would improve nutrition of the population and earn income for them.
- Increased public awareness on the use of wetlands and their sustainable use.
- Prevention of soil erosion brought about by pressure on land and overuse.
- Increased crop production in small-holder farms as a result of healthier ecosystem and reduced evaporation
- Increased income to the group members