News Column

There Is a Need to Mitigate Against the Causes of Desertification

June 24, 2014

Agatha Ngotho

There are plans to expand land under rice irrigation in Kirinyaga County as consumption of the product continues to rise in Kenya with the current consumption rate at 300,000 tonnes annually.

Njenga Mwaura, National Irrigation Board in Mwea said the area earns Sh 3 billion per year from rice production, and small-scale farmers who largely depend on the crop stand to benefit.

" There are plans to expand 800 acres of land in Kiangungu and Kiamanyeki areas and 25 hectares in Mutithi area," said Mwaura.

Lydia Machira, a small-scale farmer from Mahigaini, Mwea leases land to grow rice and she said the expansion is timely.

Machira leases a quarter acre of land for rice farming which earns her about Sh 30,000 but currently she has not planted due to erratic rainfall.

" I was late to plant for the off season and since water is a problem, I did not want to risk planting and then get losses," she said.

National Environment Management Authority (Nema) director general, prof Geoffrey Wahungu said climate variability and extremes are a major threat to sustainable development of the county, with rising temperatures contributing to increase of malaria, erratic rainfall resulting to drying up of some rivers and also flooding especially on the lower parts of Mwea.

Wahungu added that the major contributors to the degradation of the environment in the county are deforestation, poor solid waste disposal, cultivation along river banks by the community, and pollution from industries and farmers.

"Waste water from residential areas and car washes located on river banks has also greatly contributed to water pollution. This has adversely affected farming due to lack of proper rainfall patterns. Disease prevalence has also increased due to water and air pollution leading to increased costs of treatment and loss of labour force," he said during the World Day to Combat Desertification in Mwea, Kirinyaga County.

"The county is also already experiencing the effects of the recession of the glaciers on Mt Kenya which is a water tower in the county. The most affected sectors are agriculture and health," said Wahungu adding that to address climate change, the county is planting more trees especially along the rivers, roads, public places and schools.

Environment cabinet secretary, Judi Wakhungu noted the need to adopt practices that promote sustainable land management, identify and adopt alternative livelihoods as well as promote green energy technologies to achieve our desired goal of a green economy.

"We need to rededicate our efforts to the conservation of our fragile ecosystems by focusing on minimising the causes of desertification, land degradation as drought," she said in a statement read by environment sectary Alice Kaudia.

The government is also undertaking initiatives such as constructing water pans which will reduce withdrawal of water from rivers, distributing treated nets to malaria prone areas and public education on awareness of environmental friendly technologies and their transfer to the community, as well as promotion of drought resistant crops including rice which is produced through irrigation technologies in the county.

89 per cent of land is classified as Arid or Semi-arid Lands (ASAL) and thus affected by desertification. ASALs host most of the protected areas including game reserves, national parks and forest parks and are well endowed with stocks of natural capital including flora and fauna.

These areas are vulnerable to desertification and drought and they support about 13 million people, which is about 30 per cent of the total population.

In addition, 50 per cent of the livestock populations, a wide variety of wildlife that forms the basis of Kenya's tourism industry, are found here.

Wahungu said the need to conserve these areas is paramount and should be supported by everybody including the global community.

This year's WDCD sought to increase the attention given to land and soil within climate change adaptation, mobilise support for sustainable land management, calling for the inclusion of land and soil and their significance in food security into national climate change adaptation policies.

The theme was ecosystem-based adaptation with the slogan 'Land Belongs to the Future, Let's Climate Proof It'.

" If every citizen does not play their role to mitigate against the causes of desertification that endanger our very basis of economic development, we may in future not only lack fresh water but may have hardly enough water and food at all. At the micro-level of development, the conservation of the forests, agricultural land, soils, biodiversity, rivers, wetlands and lakes found in this county will go a long way in contributing to improved livelihoods of our people. By conserving these natural resources, we shall also be contributing cumulatively to sustainable development at the global scale," he concluded.

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Source: AllAfrica