Environment

Mau Forest Appeal Brings Multimillion Dollar Pledges and Hope to Kenya

Posted on 6 May 2010. Filed under: Environment |

UNEP Pledges Support and Calls for Donor Action to Meet the USD $ 99 Million Target

Nairobi, 5 May 2010 – Donors Wednesday pledged approximately USD $10 million in support of the Kenyan Government’s appeal to save the vital Mau Forest Complex, at a Partners Forum convened by the Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The appeal, launched last September, aims to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mau, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400, 000 hectares – the size of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares. In recent years, over 25 percent of the Mau Forest cover has been lost to ecosystem encroachments threatening natural capital, biodiversity and livelihoods in Kenya and the region.

According to a Kenyan Government project document, over USD $ 99 million are needed to restore the entire Mau ecosystem.

A total of USD $ 7 million was pledged by the United States Government to finance a Watershed Conservation pilot project in the upper catchment of the Mara River. The project aims to help restore forest ecosystems and to create more secure land titles and better livelihoods for residents.

Meanwhile, the European Union is expected to contribute Euro 2.3 million (approximately USD $ 3 million) to be disbursed over a period of 36 months to restore the Mau Forest Ecosystem and create a sustainable basis for its conservation and management. The EU project aims to strengthen key capacities and develop innovative approaches in support of governance, livelihood development and ecosystem rehabilitation.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “I would like to commend the Kenyan Government for the sensitive way it is handling the complex issue of resettlement and the involvement of forest dependent people in the process.”

He added, “I would also like to commend donors for having risen to the request for assistance. Together we have gone from the science, spotlighting the degradation of the Mau, through the economics in terms of what this large close canopy forest means to key sectors and the Kenyan economy as a whole, to beginning the implementation of restoration and rehabilitation.”

Kenyan Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, said “Kenyans have accepted that the restoration of the Mau and other water towers is a critical sustainable development imperative. Consensus has now emerged that the very existence of many communities and the welfare of the country depend on how we live with our forests and our ecosystems, and indeed how we address the key environmental challenges of our time.”

The Prime Minister added, “As we move forward to rehabilitate the Mau Forest, we are conscious of the fact that we have a duty to be sensitive to the human and social needs of those who must leave the forest. This is essential, because the sustainability of any rehabilitation efforts will depend on these very people as friends of the forest. So far, illegal activities have been reduced by an estimated 60 – 70 per cent in southern Mau.”

The Kenyan Government is undertaking the rehabilitation of the Mau Forests Complex in five phases, of which the first two phases have been completed. During phase one, 4,530 hectares of unoccupied forest land were repossessed. As part of phase two, an additional, 19.000 hectares were repossessed from illegal squatters by December 2009; a decision that was in keeping with the recommendation of the Mau Task Force report, approved by the Kenyan Cabinet and Parliament. Over 1,400 hectares of forest have been replanted and plans are underway to rehabilitate an additional 5,000 more hectares during the current rain season.

Prime Minister Odinga noted that the goodwill and commitment of local communities to the Mau restoration project have been crucial to the success of the project pointing out that, so far, up to 42 large-scale titles have been surrendered back to the Government without any demand for compensation.

The news comes as UNEP and the Convention on Biological Diversity launch on Monday a report entitled Global Biodiversity Outlook 3 in which the challenges and opportunities of improved forest management are brought in sharp focus in 2010 – the UN International Year of Biodiversity.

A report released by the Mau Interim Coordinating Secretariat in September warned that if encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the forest ecosystem continue, it will only be a matter of time before the entire ecosystem is irreversibly damaged with significant socio-economic consequences and ramifications to internal security and conflict.

At the global level, there are increasing concerns over biodiversity loss and increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss and poor soil and water resources.

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Ethiopian Dam Critics Won’t Go Away

Posted on 12 February 2010. Filed under: Energy, Environment |

What will happen to the Omo River and the lake it feeds if the Gilgel Gibe III dam is completed? Credit:Oxonhutch/Wikimedia

ADDIS ABABA, (IPS) – Ethiopia is building a 240-metre high dam on the Omo River that is intended to end the country’s electricity shortage and supply power to neighbouring countries. Not everyone’s happy.

The Gilgel Gibe III dam will hold back 14.7 million cubic metres of water. Its 1,870 MW generating capacity will be a significant boost for the Ethiopian Electric Power Company (EEPCO) which has plans to extend electricity supply within the country and export power to other countries in East Africa.

A 1.7 billion dollar contract to build the dam has been awarded to Italian multinational Salini Costruttori SPA. But the project’s critics have assembled a damning dossier of problems with it.

Two environmental organisations, Friends of Lake Turkana and International Rivers, are challenging the ecological soundness of the project. They say it threatens biodiversity in the Omo River and Lake Turkana which it feeds. The basin has large populations of Nile crocodiles, hippopotamus, and over 40 different species of fish.

IR and FoLT say changes in the river’s flow will also put the livelihoods of up to 200,000 people who depend on the lake for fishing, herding and irrigation at risk.

The groups have raised questions over the quality of the environmental and social impact studies completed for the project.

Gilgel Gibe III’s opponents also point out that the contract to build the dam was not awarded through a competitive international tender; it was negotiated directly with Salini, in violation of Ethiopia’s procurement guidelines.

Procurement

EEPCO argues that both Ethiopian and international procurement guidelines allowed Gibe III’s contract to be reached without a tender process due to its size and huge financial requirements. EEPCO CEO Miheret Debebe says the project’s opponents are using false allegations to try to stop the project.

However Ken Ohashi, World Bank country director for Ethiopia and Sudan, confirmed that the omission of a competitive tender means the Bank cannot loan the Ethiopian government money for the project. This does not rule out World Bank involvement entirely.

“In a situation like this, there is a possibility for us, in line with our guidelines, to help mobilise financing from the private market to finance the project by providing a guarantee to those interested in financing it,” Ohashi told IPS.

“If decided, we will provide guarantee against certain types of risk of non-repayment to commercial financiers – basically ‘political’ rather than ‘commercial’ risk of repayment,” he said.

Construction on Gibe III is already more than a third complete, but more money will be needed. The Ethiopian government’s task of addressing concerns – environmental, social, technical and financial – in order to secure a World Bank credit guarantee has now been complicated by problems facing an earlier phase of the massive hydroelectric project.

A cautionary tale

Barely two weeks after it was formally opened on Jan. 14, the Gilgel Gibe II hydroelectric power station suffered a collapse in its main tunnel, forcing closure of the new facility while it is repaired.

Gibe II, also built by Salini, has – or had – a generating capacity of 420MW; it relied on water released from the Gilgel Gibe I dam channeled through a 26 kilometre tunnel into the Omo River valley. The terms for this project too were negotiated between the Ethiopian government and Salini without competitive bidding.

According to Italian World Bank watchdog group Campagna per la Riforma per la Banca Mondiale (CRBM), the 490 million Euro contract for Gibe II (today equivalent to 670 million dollars) violated Italian and Ethiopian regulations. Italy’s Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGCS) nonetheless approved the largest single aid credit it had ever granted.

This was against the advice of both Italy’s finance ministry and DGCS’s own internal evaluation unit. Reviewing that advice, CRBM lists the flaws: a no-bid contract, an inadequate feasibility study, the absence of funds for environmental mitigation, and an unrealistic projection for servicing the loan.

The European Investment Bank also loaned the project 50 million euros ($69 million at today’s exchange rate); according to the CRBM accepting Ethiopia’s argument that it faced an emergency electrical shortage in lieu of more complete preparation and procedure.

Construction ran into severe difficulties as the tunneling engineers encountered unexpected mud, sand and aquifers; the project was finally completed two years behind schedule, with the Ethiopian government – and taxpayers – picking up the cost overrun as the contract held Salini liable for any delays due to engineering failures, while these problems were due to an inadequate geological survey.

Returning to Gibe III

In 2009, a group of eight academics and consultants collaborating as the Africa Resources Working Group (ARWG) published a sharp critique of the studies done for Gibe III. The ARWG says that contrary to the findings of the environmental and social impact assessments provided by Salini and EEPCO, the downstream impacts of the dam will likely be devastating.

They predict radical reduction of water flowing into Lake Turkana; the loss of cultivation of seasonally-flooded land in the Omo River delta, and of riverine forest and woodland the length of the river, damaging biodiversity and livelihoods.

“Altogether, more than 200,000 indigenous peoples of the lowermost Omo Basin are dependent on riverside and delta recessional cultivation… This population would face massive economic losses, with widespread severe hunger, disease and loss of life occurring on a regional scale, if the Gibe III dam is completed.”

The authors reject the official studies’ claims that lake water levels are already dropping due to evaporation from uncontrolled flooding, or that using the dam to deliberately increase water flow in the river during the dry season will alleviate drought.

Instead, they explain their view that extensive leakage through fissures in the walls of the eventual reservoir behind the dam, as well as the planned abstraction of water for new commercial agriculture and industrial development just downstream will see water levels in Lake Turkana fall by as much as 10 metres. The ARWG also expresses concern that clay rich soil around the dam could become prone to landslides as it fills up – and to top it off: the dam site is on an active earthquake fault line.

“An accurate assessment of environmental and social processes within the lower Omo Basin indicates that completion of the Gibe III dam would produce a broad range of negative effects, some of which would be catastrophic in the tri-country region where Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya intersect.”

As the World Bank’s review board meets on Mar. 5th, it will have much to consider. At stake is the life of a river, the fate of 200,000 people along its banks, and the commitments to transparent and effective aid made by governments and multilateral institutions alike.

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Tree planting in Kenya’s Mau Complex Signals New Beginnings for a Critical Ecosystem

Posted on 18 January 2010. Filed under: Development, Economy, Environment |

Nairobi, 15January 2010 – Kenya took a step to restore its diminishing water towers and address rapid environmental degradation when it launched a tree planting drive in the Kiptunga area of the Mau Forest Complex on Friday.

20,000 tree seedlings were planted on 20 hectares at a ceremony attended by Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director, Angela Cropper.

Mau, the largest indigenous forest in East Africa and Kenya’s most vital water tower, covers some 270,000 hectares. After Mau, restoration will also take place in Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Mt. Elgon and the rest of Kenya’s forests and water catchment areas with the aim of increasing the forest cover from the current 1.7 percent to 10 percent by the year 2020.

In partnership with the government and other stakeholders, including Kenyan NGOs, UNEP has assisted in chronicling and raising awareness about the damage and the degradation of East Africa’s largest closed-canopy forest.

Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares – approximately 25% – of its forest cover, which has had devastating effects on the country as a whole; including severe droughts and floods, leading to loss of human lives and livelihoods, crops and thousands of head of livestock.

UNEP’s contribution to the national debate that has surrounded the Mau has been based on science and the economics, and in 2009 it appointed an expert to provide technical advice to a government-led Mau task force.

One of the findings of this task force was that continued destruction of the forests will inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.

The impetus to restore the Mau is particularly strong this year, as the world marks the International Year of Biodiversity.

So far, the international community has failed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity. Economies everywhere continue to dismantle the productive life-support systems of planet Earth.

The latest estimates by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, which UNEP hosts, estimates that up to US$5 trillion-worth of natural or nature-based capital is being lost annually.

However, through Friday’s tree-planting initiative, the Mau is emerging as a possible inspiring example of how the tide can still be turned in favour of biodiversity and sustainable ecosystem management.

After planting a Kaligen Berekeiyet tree at the ceremony, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper said: “These first saplings, planted in the soils of Kenya, speak of new shoots and new beginnings. New beginnings for a critical ecosystem: new beginnings for the people of Kenya who depend inextricably on the services that the Mau forest complex generates.”

UNEP Spokesman Nick Nuttall planted a Podocarpus tree at the event, declaring: “This is the first tree I have planted, ever. It shows that even at 51, it is never too late.”

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What drives conflict in northern Kenya

Posted on 18 December 2009. Filed under: Environment, Humanitarian, Insecurity |

Turkana youths in northern Kenya, near the Sudanese border.Increasingly severe and unpredictable drought has contributed to an increase in conflict between different groups competing for dwindling resources of pasture and water

MARSABIT, 18 December 2009 (IRIN) – Cattle raids, inter-communal resource conflicts and banditry are common across much of the arid lands of northern Kenya, where firearms are increasingly common among pastoralist communities. In 2009 alone, such violence claimed more than 354 lives, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Kenya.

In the northeastern Isiolo region, drought management officer Paul Kimeu told IRIN: “People are no longer attacked using spears and arrows. Sometimes very sophisticated guns are used, increasing fatalities.”

According to OCHA, the onset of the short rains, from mid-October to December, tends to increase the likelihood of cattle raids and thus conflict, because this is when pastoralists restock their herds and it also when rites of passage take place, increasing the demand for livestock.

In Samburu district, morans, or young warriors, frequently target livestock traders and passenger cars on main roads.

“People are not able to take their livestock to the market in Dagoretti [in Nairobi about 350km south],” said Peter Emanman, a resident of the Samburu town of Maralal. “If security were improved, people could be self-reliant,” he said.

Umuro Roba Godana, executive director of the Marsabit-based Pastoralists Integrated Support Programme (PISP), a national NGO supporting pastoral livelihoods in the north, is worried there may be even more conflict now that the rains have come. “If you steal during the drought, where do you take stunted animals?” he asked. “People fight when there is plenty, not a lack.”

Conflict over water and pasture

Livestock movement in search of water and pasture remains a driver of conflict. “Competition for scarce natural resources is widely understood to be a primary cause of conflict in the region,” notes UK think-tank, the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), in a November report, Pastoralists’ vulnerability in the Horn of Africa, Exploring political marginalisation, donors’ policies and cross-border issues.

“The movement of livestock and herders often transcends national borders and pastoralist groups across the region depend on the same communal pool of natural resources. Endemic conflict represents one major obstacle to the free movement of pastoralists and their livestock, and therefore greatly contributes to pastoralists’ chronic vulnerability in the region.”

A young Turkana man armed with an AK-47 rifle, Oropoi, northwestern Kenya. Conflicts involving pastoralists associated with resource competition, cattle rustling and arms are widespread and of increasing concern in the region

Pastoralist communities across the Horn of Africa frequently cross national borders in search of pasture and water. Although neighbouring states often share ethnic groupings, such migrations can be problematic.

“Sometimes there are cross-border attacks,” Rashid Osman, an assistant chief in the town of Moyale, told IRIN, adding that these were especially frequent during the rains.

“During the drought, the police are sent to seal the wells, but during the rains it is less secure,” he said. “Rainfall is an indicator of conflict.”

Land demarcation is also presenting a problem, Godana of PISP told IRIN. “Communities are claiming ownership of territories and regions yet … the boundaries are not clear,” he said.

The loss of communal grazing land to farming and environmental degradation has also fuelled conflicts in a number of pastoral areas across the Horn of Africa region, states ODI, noting that freedom of movement over large areas was a crucial element of the pastoralists’ dry lands resource management system.

“Competition for scarce natural resources is widely understood to be a primary cause of conflict in the region and is in part related to the inability of pastoralists to assert their land rights,” ODI adds.

“The absence of the government in some parts makes people take the law into their own hands,” said PISP’s Godana. Poor leadership and a breakdown in community values also help to foster insecurity, he said, adding: “The role of elders is fast diminishing and people are [instead] operating in cliques.

“Nowadays, even the elders cannot sanction raids.”

Remote areas in the north rely on community-organized security groups such as home guards and police reservists to maintain law and order. This has in part led to the proliferation of weapons in the north – as has the proximity to unstable neighbours such as Somalia.

According to one Marsabit resident, the availability of weapons was to some extent a deterrent to petty crime. “Here, even if you leave the door to your house open no one will come in. You never know what kind of weapon your neighbour may have.”

Involvement in wider conflict

According to the ODI, politics can be a driver of conflict in pastoralist areas.
“Since the second half of the last century, pastoralists have also been involved in larger conflicts in the region and many have joined armed opposition groups. For example, the presence of the Oromo Liberation Front [OLF] in northern Kenya has provoked several Ethiopian military incursions into Kenya,” it said.

This is true in Moyale, where the District Commissioner, Joshua Nkanatha, confirmed that there were “occasional incursions by the Ethiopian army” in search of OLF forces. “We tell them [the Ethiopian forces] to inform us of impending incursions,” he said.

Some residents see the cattle raids as a ploy to drive away specific communities ahead of 2012 national polls, Samburu DMO, Samuel Lempushuna told IRIN. New election constituencies are likely to be created before the polls and ethnically dominant communities stand a better chance of electing a leader from among their own.

Already, a new district, Baragoi, has been carved out of Samburu, north of the main town of Maralal. It borders the Turkana region, and is mainly occupied by the Samburu and Turkana, who clash from time to time, which could result in the Samburu being marginalised.

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Dandora Waste Site Under the Spotlight

Posted on 18 December 2009. Filed under: Environment, Public Health |

A truck delivers waste at the Dandora rubbish dump

Eight years after Dandora, the site of Nairobi’s only rubbish dump, was declared full and a health hazard, tons of fuming waste from more than four million city dwellers continue to be added daily, exposing local residents to illness but also profiting a few.

More than 100,000 people live around the dumpsite, a 13-hectare grey zone in the eastern Korogocho slum area of Nairobi, where children grow up deprived of basic services such as water and electricity and play on smelly waste ground, around rotting food, broken bottles, medical waste and much more.

“Because of the toxic fumes, every day people come to the Catholic Dispensary with chest pain and breathing problems,” said Father Paolo, from the Comboni missionary in Korogocho.

A 2007 UN Environmental Programme (UNEP) report highlighted the prevalence of respiratory and gastro-intestinal problems, skin infections and different kinds of cancer among residents living close to the dumpsite. UNEP called for immediate action in either regulating waste collection or relocating the dump.

“Little progress has been made on the recommendations and people keep on getting sick,” Comboni’s Father John told IRIN.

However, Michael Njoroge, 26, who works at the dumpsite collecting paper and steel to sell, did not want the dumpsite relocated, despite experiencing chest pain and breathing problems for the past three years. “This is my only source of income,” he told IRIN. “If the dumpsite moves, I will follow it.”

Cash from rubbish

Recyclable waste is a profitable business: every day, children from slums around Dandora go to the dumpsite in search of food, recyclables and other valuables they can sell.
With 1kg of plastic selling for KSh2 (about US$0.03), in a day one can earn an average KSh50 ($0.67), John Webootsa, a Catholic priest and coordinator of Kutoka Network, which is lobbying for the closure of the dumpsite, told IRIN.
Webootsa said whatever is collected is then sold off to middlemen, the “scavengers”, who sell it to companies for recycling.

The poor are the best recyclers in the world. Nothing gets wasted but they should have an alternative to earn an income without having to put their health and lives in danger.

“If a controlled and well-managed waste-processing system is established, the health and environmental impact would be reduced while generating jobs and income for the local community,” he told IRIN.

Medical records collected by the Kutoka Network show that between 2004 and 2009 there was a 44 percent increase in the number of patients treated at the Catholic Dispensary. Respiratory cases went up from 765 to 3,356 in the period.

In the UNEP study, samples taken from 328 children aged two to 18 living around the dumpsite showed low haemoglobin, and iron deficiency anaemia, which are symptoms of lead poisoning, according to experts. Some of the children were also suffering from chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Soil samples from the site showed dangerously high levels of lead, mercury and cadmium.

Half the children tested had concentrations of lead in their blood exceeding internationally accepted levels, while 42 percent of the soil samples recorded lead levels almost 10 times higher than what is considered unpolluted soil (over 400 parts per million against 50).

A cleaner Dandora

On 10 December, Kutoka launched a “Stop Dumping Death on Us” campaign to lobby stakeholders for the closure of Dandora, its relocation to a non-residential area and the creation of a recycling plant. They are also advocating for alternative jobs for those living off the dumpsite.

The campaign brought together government representatives and is aimed at improving the livelihoods of the people living in the Korogocho area. At present, children are still going to the dump to collect trash, putting their health at risk, said Kadija Juma, a representative of the Korogocho Slum Upgrading Programme, a joint initiative of the governments of Kenya and Italy.

An Integrated Solid Waste Management plan for Nairobi is being developed and UNEP is supporting the City Council of Nairobi, the National Environment Management Authority and relevant government ministries in developing it.

It will incorporate waste minimization, segregation, collection, transportation, reuse/recycle, resource recovery, treatment and disposal to maximize resource efficiency, Annemarie Kinyanjui from the Division of Technology, Industry and Economics at UNEP, told IRIN.

A sanitary landfill for the city is also expected to be established.

Kinyanjui added that the plan would incorporate awareness raising and capacity building on proper waste management.

UNEP plans to launch it in early 2010 at a national workshop, for replication in other East African cities. “The hourglass for Dandora is flowing and people at Korogocho will get back their right to health and life,” said Kinyanjui.

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Historic UN Climate Change Conference Kicks off in Copenhagen

Posted on 8 December 2009. Filed under: Environment, Governance |

Copenhagen (Denmark), 7 December 2009 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference kicked off today in Copenhagen with a strong sense of confidence that countries can seal a comprehensive, ambitious and effective international climate change deal in Demark and with an unprecedented sense of urgency to act on climate change.

The highly anticipated conference marks an historic turning point on how the world confronts climate change, an issue with profound implications for the health and prosperity of all people.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen announced that 110 heads of state and government will attend the conference at its conclusion.

The Prime Minister pointed to the fact that climate change knows no borders. “It does not discriminate, it affects us all,” he said. “And we are here today because we are all committed to take action. That is our common point of departure – the magnitude of the challenge before us is to translate this political will into a strong political approach,” he added.

The two-week meeting, the fifteenth Conference of the 193 Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the fifth meeting of the 189 Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, is the culmination of a process set in motion in Bali, where Parties to the UNFCCC agreed to conclude negotiations on a new global deal in Denmark in 2009.

As the conference kicked off, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) released a report with Lord Nicholas Stern showing that the gap between countries’ strongest proposed cuts and what is needed may be only a few billion tonnes of greenhouse gases.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner arrived in Copenhagen on 5 December with the CO2-free Climate Express , a train from Brussels that brought together more than 400 activists, environmentalists and business leaders to discuss the challenges ahead to tackle climate change.

Other passengers on the train included James Leape, Director General of WWF and Jean-Pierre Loubinoux, Director General of the International Union of Railways. The Climate Express was welcomed upon arrival in Copenhagen by the new Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Lykke Friis, Søren Eriksen, CEO of the Danish Railways (DSB), and Kim Carstensen, Leader of WWF International’s Global Climate Initiative.

Upon arrival in Copenhagen, Mr Steiner opened the UNEP Climate Maze, a giant labyrinth in the city centre made up of hundreds of cloth banners stamped and signed by Seal the Deal! campaign supporters. The accompanying photo exhibition, Hard Rain, is a stark exploration of the state of our planet and its people at this critical time.

The urgency to act in Copenhagen was underscored by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, who told the conference that global emissions would need to peak by 2015 for the world to stay below a two degrees Celsius temperature rise. “The costs of responding to climate change will become progressively higher as time goes on, therefore we must take action now,” he said.

“We have reached the deadline and there is no going back”, said newly elected COP President and Danish COP 15 Minister Connie Hedegaard. “Copenhagen will be the city of the three C’s: ‘Cooperation’, Commitment’ and ‘Consensus’. Now is the time to capture the moment and conclude a truly ambitious global deal. This is our chance. If we miss this opportunity, we will not get a better one,” she said.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said there was unprecedented political momentum for a deal.

“World leaders are calling for an agreement that offers serious emission limitation goals and that captures the provision of significant financial and technological support to developing countries,” he said. “At the same time, Copenhagen will only be a success if it delivers significant and immediate action that begins the day the conference ends.”

According to the UN’s top climate change official, negotiators must focus on solid and practical proposals that will unleash prompt action on mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries and capacity-building.

Yvo de Boer spoke of three layers of action that governments must agree to by the end of the conference: fast and effective implementation of immediate action on climate change; ambitious commitments to cut and limit emissions, including start-up funding and a long-term funding commitment; and a long-term shared vision on a low-emissions future for all.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an aggregate emission reduction by industrialised countries of between minus 25% and 40% over 1990 levels would be required by 2020 in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with global emissions falling by at least 50% by 2050. Even under this scenario, there would be an only a 50% chance of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences.

“Industrialised countries meeting under the Kyoto Protocol need to raise the level of ambition of developed countries with regard to individual targets and the need to make rapid progress on the tools and rules that developed countries can use to reach their targets, such as carbon market mechanisms, land use and land use change and new gases,” said Yvo de Boer.

The UNFCCC working groups starting Monday will have six days to conclude negotiations before the Ministerial High Level Segment starts 16 December.

Ministers will then in turn have two days to take any unresolved issues forward before the more than 100 world leaders arrive the evening of 17 December. This means a total of eight negotiating days to prepare a workable package that consists of both immediate and long-term components which leaders can endorse on 18 December.

More than 15,000 participants, including government delegates from 193 Parties to the UNFCCC and representatives from business and industry, environmental organizations and research institutions, are attending the two-week gathering.

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Can indigenous knowledge reduce climate disaster risk?

Posted on 17 November 2009. Filed under: Early Warning, Environment |

Borana nomadic people fetch water from a dam near the border between Kenya and Ethiopia on July 12,2008. REUTERS/Antony Njuguna

I have just spent three weeks in Northern Kenya among the Borana people, followed by three weeks in Mindanao, southern Philippines, partly with the Higaonan tribe. Vastly different countries yet I was immediately struck by the similarities in the challenges the communities faced, including drought, conflict, floods and general environmental degradation. In my discussions with the indigenous communities I wondered how they had survived in the past to change with their environment and why they appeared less able to cope today? The answer lies in the richness of indigenous knowledge. Indigenous communities had and still have knowledge that enables them to adapt to environmental change. Indigenous knowledge can help reduce vulnerability and that is something we need to take into account as we develop strategies to reduce risk.

‘OUR KNOWLEDGE HELPS US COPE’

“Our knowledge helps us to cope. We have strong community support and an early warning system which helps us be prepared,” reported one Filipino living in a flood- and conflict-affected area in northern Mindanao. “We used to be able to cope with the effects of drought … they were not so bad before,” said a Borana pastoralist struggling to keep his livestock alive in northern Kenya. Indigenous knowledge is still relevant, but we need to be careful not to over-romanticise it. As the Kenyan I spoke with suggests, indigenous knowledge is perhaps less relevant in the context of an increased pace of change being experienced today, which could be due to worsening environmental degradation or climate change. Climate change is affecting many indigenous communities throughout the world. Environmental degradation resulting from inappropriate human activity is also a major threat. For example, the loss of traditional farming techniques can lead to damage as families adopt modern techniques that are seen as more sophisticated but are perhaps not suited to the specific context. So given all these threats and pressures upon indigenous communities to ‘change’, the big question is: Can indigenous knowledge still help reduce disaster risk now and in the future? The fact that indigenous communities have survived for centuries in hazardous environments suggests it can. So why are we not utilising this rich indigenous knowledge within international efforts to reduce disaster risk? The loss, misuse of and general disregard for indigenous knowledge is partly the fault of ‘science’. We in the West have been quick to dismiss indigenous knowledge as inferior and insignificant.

EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES KEY

Communities need to be empowered to recognise the importance of their knowledge and how it could contribute to reducing disaster risk and adapting to climate change. The Borana people, for instance, believe the behaviour of their cattle can forecast drought. Bulls that bellow or run from their herd indicate dry times ahead; cows kicking their water troughs suggest rain within three days. The Borana also have traditional methods of storing and preserving food, and their in-depth knowledge of the environment enables them to identify which seasonal rivers are flowing and what water sources will be full in times of hardship. During times of hardship community elders also ban all traditional activities such as marriage and circumcision ceremonies in order that all community resources go into surviving the drought. An informal traditional loaning system exists in which families may loan a milking cow to those less fortunate or in need in order to see them through the hard period. The Higaonan, similarly, use terracing and indigenous plants to stabilize soil to reduce the risk of landslides, as well as building houses on stilts to reduce the risk of flooding. Not all such knowledge may be applicable, effective or appropriate as these communities confront climate change. The importance of ‘science’ in reducing disaster risk also needs to be recognised.

INTEGRATE SCIENCE AND TRADITION?

One answer may be an integration of the most appropriate indigenous knowledge with the most effective and culturally compatible scientific knowledge. Too often in the past, disaster risk reduction strategies have failed due to their inability to fit the local context. Combining local knowledge and science may be a way to overcome such problems and deal with the effects of climate change. Can indigenous knowledge address climate change impacts and reduce disaster risk? Yes. But it must be combined with other knowledge and used in the broader context of sustainable development.

Written by Jessica Mercer, a disaster risk reduction adviser to CAFOD, the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development.

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Africa Takes Firm Stance on Climate Change

Posted on 30 October 2009. Filed under: Environment |

Africa will neither accept replacement of the Kyoto Protocol, nor its merger with any new agreement, say African climate change negotiators meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia at the last African major preparatory gathering, before the UN Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen in December.

Negotiators say actions for Africa should be voluntary and nationally appropriate, and must be fully supported and enabled by technology transfer, finance and capacity building from developed countries. Added to this, any new climate deal must include provision for Africa to be compensated for climate related social and economic losses.

Negotiators also made a strong bid for new, sustained and scaled-up finance to provide technology and capacity to assist with adaptation and risk management related to a changing climate. A key point from the meeting said the provision of financial, technological and capacity building by developed countries for adaptation in developing countries is a commitment under the Convention that must be urgently fulfilled.

It recognises that climate change is an additional burden to sustainable development, and a threat to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Climate change threatens some 20-30 percent of species in Africa with extinction if trends continue. According to a detailed study by Mozambique’s national Disaster Management Institute, Mozambique will be overwhelmed by more natural disasters like cyclones, floods, droughts and disease outbreak as a result of climate change in the next twenty years and beyond.

Negotiators said that Africa, as the most vulnerable continent, which has contributed the least to the global greenhouse gas emissions, deserves full support to adapt to climate change. In addition, negotiators stated that for Africa, successful negotiations at the UN Climate Meeting in December in Copenhagen must produce a 2-track outcome. This translates as amendment of Annex B, which includes all developed countries of the Kyoto Protocol for further commitments for the second and subsequent commitment periods of the Protocol.

They are also requesting a separate legal instrument for the outcome of the negotiations of the Bali Action Plan, which include long term goals for emission reductions, enhanced action on mitigation of climate change, enhanced action on adaption, technology development and provision of financial resources.

Developed countries must reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40% below 1990 levels by 2020 and at least 80% to 95% below 1990 levels by 2050, in order to achieve the lowest level of stabilisation assessed by the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report. Negotiators concluded by saying that any Copenhagen outcome must provide new, additional, sustainable, accessible and predictable finance to support a comprehensive international programme on adaptation that reduces vulnerability and increases resilience to current impacts and changes that are likely to occur in the future.

Africa reaffirms the UNFCCC principle of common, but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and that these should form the basis for the post-2012 regime. The updated and consolidated African Common Position will be submitted to African Ministers and Heads of State on the eve of the COP- 15 in Copenhagen.

The meeting was the initiative of AMCEN and the African Union, (AU), in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

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What is Behind the Mau Complex Controversy?

Posted on 1 October 2009. Filed under: Economy, Environment, Food Security |


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Over the past two decades, the Mau complex has lost at least 107,000ha of forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, logging and charcoal burning, as well as increased agriculture (file photo)

The continued degradation of the Mau complex – Kenya’s largest water catchment area – threatening everything from the spectacular annual migration of the wildebeest to pastoralism, agriculture and hydro-power generation, has dominated public debate for the better part of 2009. The government’s plan to evict the illegal settlers has added to the controversy.

The threat posed by the continued depletion of the Mau complex ties in with the increasing concerns, on a global level, over loss of bio-diversity, increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss, and poor soil and water resources.

However, while climate change could be a major contributor to the current crisis in the Mau complex, the destruction of the forests has reduced the ability of the Mau eco-system to absorb or reduce the impact of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of the people to changing weather patterns.

We look at some of the issues surrounding the country’s largest closed-canopy forest eco-system:

Where is the Mau Complex?

Mainly in the Rift Valley Province, the Mau is one of the country’s five major water towers; it forms the upper catchment of the main rivers west of the province. The rivers are: Njoro and Makalia (these drain into Lake Nakuru), Sondu, Yala, Nzoia and Nyando (draining into Lake Victoria) and the Ewaso Nyiro, Kerio and Mara rivers.

The complex supplies water to many lakes in the Rift Valley, from Lake Turkana in the northwest to Lake Natron in neighbouring Tanzania – the only regular breeding site for millions of flamingos.

Historically, it is home to a minority group of indigenous forest dwellers, the Ogiek.

What is the size of the Mau complex?

It covers at least 400,000ha – as large as the forests of the Aberdares and Mt Kenya combined.

Over the past two decades, the complex has lost at least 107,000ha of forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, logging and charcoal burning, as well as increased agriculture.


Photo: go2africa
The Mau Complex is in the Rift Valley Province

What is at stake if degradation of the complex continues?

The importance of the complex lies in the eco-system service it provides to the country and East Africa as a whole, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, bio-diversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and micro-climate regulation.

The area contributes to the water supply to urban areas and supports the livelihood of millions of people in rural areas but the widespread irregular and poorly planned settlement and illegal forest resource extraction have affected the ecosystem, from water supply for commercial and domestic use to hydro-electric power generation, tourism and agriculture.

Moreover, experts have warned that continued destruction of the complex will lead to a water crisis that could extend beyond the country’s borders.

According to a September 2009 report by the government’s Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex on the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem, if encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the eco-system continue, damage could be irreversible, with serious ecological consequences and ramifications for internal security.

When did degradation of the complex begin?

Originally divided into 22 blocks, the real devastation of the complex began in 1997 when the government allocated large plots of land to individuals in what was seen as a political bid to win votes during the general elections that year. The present government has said all land allocations in the late 1990s are illegal and wants to evict the occupants.

What is controversial about the Mau?

The government and conservationists agree that quick action needs to be taken to stop the continued destruction of the complex but Rift Valley politicians are divided over the eviction of those deemed to be illegally settled in the complex. Sections of government want the Mau settlers evicted without compensation while most MPs from the province insist they must be fully compensated.

Already, cases of intimidation have been reported in areas surrounding the forest while conflict over water points, pasture and land has been on the rise in recent months.

How many people would be affected by the government’s planned evictions?

An estimated 50,000 people are expected to be moved out of the forest once the government begins to execute its plan to save the area. Humanitarian agencies estimate up to 500,000 people could be displaced should violence follow.

Already, there are reports of communities living in the Mau arming themselves.


Photo: Manoocher Deghati/IRIN
A camp for the displaced: Humanitarian agencies estimate up to 500,000 people could be displaced should violence follow the eviction of people who have settled in the Mau complex (file photo)

What is being done to save the complex?

On 9 September 2009, the UN Environment Programme and Kenyan government launched a US$400 million appeal to save the complex, aimed at raising funds for its rehabilitation.

“The Mau complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the eco-system will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project,” Achim Steiner, the UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said during the launch.

What will it take to reverse the destruction of the complex?

The restoration of the Mau is a strategic priority that requires substantial resources and political will.

On 4 September, Prime Minister Raila Odinga launched an interim secretariat to co-ordinate the implementation of a multi-stakeholder taskforce’s recommendations on the rehabilitation of the complex.

The recommendations include fencing off the area, as well as relocating individuals living in the forest.

A 10-point intervention plan was identified by the 11-member secretariat to implement the recommendations of the Mau Forest Task Force for immediate and medium-term action.

Sources:
The Ministry of Lands
The Prime Minister’s Office
The African Conservation Fund
UNEP

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From Nairobi’s Kibera Slums to ‘Canaan’

Posted on 23 September 2009. Filed under: Development, Environment |


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Pius Okello points at the entrance of his new home

At least 1,300 slum dwellers from Kibera – Nairobi’s largest informal urban settlement – have been moved to new blocks of flats under a slum-upgrading programme.

“I can’t believe I have left Kibera for good! My new home is so clean, we have a toilet inside the house; it is a dream come true,” Pius Okello, 46, father of six, said.

Okello, who had lived in Kibera’s Soweto East zone for 10 years, was one of those who moved on 16 September. The government provided trucks and workers to help the residents settle into their new homes, which they have dubbed `Canaan’, the Promised Land.

Kibera is one of the largest informal settlements in sub-Saharan Africa. According to UN-HABITAT, estimates of its population range from 500,000 to 800,000, with densities of over 3,000 people per hectare – one of the most densely populated informal settlements in the world.

The monthly rent for a room in the new flats, about a kilometre from Kibera, is Ksh 500 (US$7) and tenants pay an additional Ksh300 ($4) for electricity and Ksh200 ($2.5) for water. The kitchen, toilet and bathrooms are shared but if a family takes three rooms, they get exclusive use of these facilities.

“I took three rooms because I have six children and I take care of four other children of my dead brother when schools close; at least now my wife and I have our privacy and the children have a bedroom for the first time,” Okello said.

“The only problem is that I feel that water and electricity charges are high because they are charged per room; I should be charged a single fee for the whole house.”

The ongoing $300,000 Kenya Slum Upgrading Programme (KENSUP) was mooted in 2000, and jointly funded by the government, HABITAT and the World Bank Cities Alliance.


Photo: Jane Some/IRIN
Some of the new blocks of flats, with Kibera in the background

Targeted intervention

Raila Odinga, Kenya’s prime minister and member of parliament for Langata, in which Kibera falls, participated in moving the slum dwellers to their new homes.

“Absence of decent housing means abundance of other problems,” he said in an address to the residents. “Today, we take the first step towards meeting the basic needs and rights of slum dwellers and saying No to slum related problems. This is an initial step towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals.”

Nairobi has some of the most dense, unsanitary and insecure slums in the world, according to HABITAT, with almost half of the city’s population living in over 100 slums and squatter settlements.

“The objective of the programme is to improve the overall livelihoods of people living and working in slums through targeted interventions to address shelter, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment issues, as well as the impact of HIV/AIDS in slum settlements,” according to HABITAT.

See also:

FILM – Slum Survivors – reality in Nairobi’s Kibera

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Kenya Launches Multimillion Dollar Appeal to Restore Vital Mau Forest

Posted on 10 September 2009. Filed under: Environment, MDGs |

Over 25% of Forest Cover Lost to Ecosystem Encroachments Threatening Natural Capital, Wildlife and Livelihoods in Kenya and the Region

UNEP Pledges Continued Support and Calls for Urgent Action at Strategic Partners Forum

Nairobi, 9 September 2009 – A multimillion dollar appeal to save the Mau Forests Complex has been launched by the Government of Kenya at a Partners Forum hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The appeal aims to mobilize resources for the rehabilitation of the Mau, the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem in Kenya covering over 400,000 hectares – the size of Mount Kenya and the Aberdares combined.

The strategic importance of the Mau Forest lies in the ecosystem services it provides to Kenya and the region, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said: “The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya. The rehabilitation of the ecosystem will require substantial resources and political goodwill. UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project.”

Kenyan Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga said: “I wish to thank the Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Achim Steiner and his staff for the informed leadership and technical support they provided. Today we gather here to define the way forward for the Mau, I wish to appeal to every Kenyan and development partner to support the Government’s efforts to rehabilitate the Mau by ensuring adequate resources are mobilized to preserve and conserve the ecosystem.”

Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares – approximately 25% – of its forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, illegal resources extraction, in particular logging and charcoal burning, the change of land use from forest to unsustainable agriculture and change in ownership from public to private.

Excised areas include critical upper water catchments for the rivers and the lakes fed by the Mau, bamboo forests and biodiversity rich areas, as well as parts of the Mau escarpment summit.

Deterioration in the Mau ecosystem has impacted major natural assets and development investments around Kenya.

If encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the forest ecosystem continues, it will only be a matter of time before the entire ecosystem is irreversibly damaged with significant socio-economic consequences and ramifications to internal security and conflict, warns a report on the ‘Rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem’, released by the Kenyan Government’s Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex.

The Mau Complex is the single most important source of water for direct human consumption in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya.

The report warns that continued destruction of the forests will inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.

The Mau Complex is the largest of the five “water towers” of Kenya, forming the upper catchments of all main rivers in the Western part of Kenya.

These rivers are the lifeline of major lakes in Kenya and transboundary lakes such as Lake Victoria in the Nile River Basin; Lake Turkana in Kenya and Ethiopia, and lake Natron in Tanzania and Kenya.

But perennial rivers are becoming seasonal, storm flows and downstream flooding are increasing and wells and springs are drying up. The water stress in the Mau is largely attributed to land degradation and deforestation.

At the global level, there are increasing concerns over biodiversity loss, increased carbon dioxide emissions as a result of forest cover loss and poor soil and water resources.

While climate change may be a major contributor to the current crisis, the destruction of the forests has reduced the ability of the Mau ecosystem to absorb or reduce the impact of climate change, increasing the vulnerability of the people to changing weather patterns.

The appeal for the rehabilitation of the Mau Forest Ecosystem is launched at a time when Kenya struggles to cope with the consequences of widespread drought which has lead to water and electricity rationing across the country.

The Task Force report points out that the extensive degradation of the Mau Forests Complex could cost Kenya billions of Kenyan Shillings annually from losses in key economic sectors supported by the Mau ecosystem services, including energy, tourism, agriculture, and water supply.

Wildlife hubs such as Lake Nakuru National Park and the Maasai Mara National Reserve are among the areas impacted affecting wildlife and tourism activities.

Energy projects including Sondu Miriu Hydropower scheme (60 MW), Naivasha geothermal plants, small hydropower plants (4MW) and tea growing areas in Kericho Highlands have also been impacted, among others.

Degradation is likely to jeopardize current and future development plans, despite the Mau Complex’s significant economic potential.

The estimated potential hydropower generation capacity in the Mau Complex catchments is approximately 535 MW – which is 41% of the current total installed electricity generation capacity in Kenya.

The growing geothermal potential in the area is directly dependent on groundwater. If the water table declines the geothermal potential diminishes.

Prime Minister Odinga declared, “Our sights are set high on rehabilitating the Mau Forest Complex to function and provide its ecosystem services to this nation and the Eastern Africa region. We are looking at securing the livelihoods and economies of millions of Africans who directly and indirectly depend on the ecosystem.”

Key Interventions

The restoration of the Mau is a strategic priority that requires substantial resources and political will. A ten-point intervention plan has been identified by the Interim Coordinating Secretariat to implement the recommendations of the Mau Forest Task Force for immediate and medium-term action. Key interventions include:

  • Creation of Effective Institutional Frameworks
  • Strategic Management Plan for the Mau Forest Complex
  • Public Awareness and Community Sensitization
  • Boundary surveys and Issuance of Title Deeds for Forest Blocks
  • Monitoring and Enforcement
  • Relocation and Resettlement
  • Livelihood Support and Development
  • Restoration and Replanting of degraded Sites
  • Private Sector Investment
  • Resource Mobilization

Looking forward, environmental stability and secured provision of ecological goods and services will remain essential to attain sustainable development in Kenya. They are cross-cutting, underlying requirements to achieve vision 2030 – Kenya’s development blueprint.

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Trees “vital for food security”

Posted on 31 August 2009. Filed under: Agriculture, Environment, Food Security |

Countries tackling food insecurity and climate change adaptation can greatly benefit from agroforestry – integrating fleshy plants and trees into their farming systems, environmental specialists say.

Sub-Saharan Africa has a history of food insecurity brought on by meagre rains, land degradation, declining soil fertility and bad management of resources, among other factors.

“How do we, in a world of more than six billion people, rising to perhaps over nine billion, feed everyone while simultaneously securing the ecosystem services such as forests and wetlands that underpin agriculture, and indeed life itself in the first place?” Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), posited at the second World Congress on Agroforestry in Nairobi.

“We can empower people – not to wait for others to do something for them – but to take the initiative, one tree at a time,” Steiner said. “Trees are one of nature’s most ingenious answers to many of our problems.”

Agroforestry helps supply fodder, fruit and nuts as well as trees and shrubs that produce gums, resins and valuable medicines.

Steiner said agroforestry may have many roles to play in the new landscape of rewarding countries for their natural or nature-based services.

“Firstly it offers the potential for maximizing sustainable food production in the zones surrounding natural forests while also boosting biodiversity and other ‘natural infrastructure’.

“Secondly, it offers an opportunity for timber production and thus alternative livelihoods to meet perhaps a supply gap that may emerge under a fully-fledged REDD [Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation] regime.

“Thirdly these agroforestry areas can also potentially secure flows from carbon finance in their own right.”


Photo: UNIC
Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environmental Programme (file photo)

Better REDD

REDD is a strategy to help local communities conserve forests, including funding these efforts through governments and market-based mechanisms, such as trading the carbon stored by forests as credits to greenhouse gas-emitting industries.

Trees such as the Faidherbia albida, a leguminous acacia-like tree, are especially useful.

“Faidherbia goes dormant at the beginning of the rains and deposits abundant quantities of organic fertilizer on to the food crops to provide nutrients and increase yields, totally free of charge,” said Dennis Garrity, World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) Director-General. “They are fertilizer factories in the food crop fields.”

The leaves and pods of the Faidherbia, which are adapted to a wide array of climates and soils from deserts to humid tropics, provide fodder in the dry season too.

Garrity said: “The much higher food prices… have exacerbated the pain of hunger in hundreds of millions of households. The standard solutions just aren’t working. The question is, what are we as agroforestry scientists going to do about it? What are we going to contribute to sustainable solutions?”

With shrinking forests, he said, “the rising demand for tree products will have to be met from farm-grown sources. Clearly, agroforestry science has much to offer in overcoming the food security challenges in Africa, and elsewhere in the world.”

Tree cover

According to a 24 August report by ICRAF, “tree cover is a common feature on agricultural land”, and represents over one billion hectares of land.

“Agroforestry, if defined by tree cover of greater than 10 percent on agricultural land, is widespread, found on 46 percent of all agricultural land area globally, and affecting 30 percent of rural populations,” stated the report.

Namanga Ngongi, president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), said: “Seventy-five percent of Africa’s farm lands are degraded, and deforestation is taking place at four times the global average, destroying 1 percent of our forests every year.”

Agroforestry alone could remove 50 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere over the next 50 years, meeting about a third of the world’s total carbon reduction challenge, according to ICRAF studies.


Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Maize field: Mllions of households in Africa are facing hunger (file photo)

Carbon payback

Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai suggested that subsistence farmers might be more willing to invest in farming trees if there were carbon credit revenue guarantees.

UNEP recently launched a Carbon Benefits Project in the catchments of Lake Victoria, Niger, Nigeria and China, which seeks to find a standardized way of assessing how much carbon is actually locked away in vegetation and in soils under different land-management regimes.

This has been a major challenge for African smallholders seeking to access the carbon market. Preliminary findings are expected within 18 months.

According to Steiner, economic incentives are required to reverse deforestation and forest degradation.

“…Simply locking away forests to secure their carbon as if they are the Queen’s jewels, or putting up the modern equivalent of a Berlin Wall between forests and people, is almost certainly folly and almost certainly a recipe for disaster,” he said.

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Closer to Eden? Kenya Pledges to Plant 7.6 Billion Trees

Posted on 26 August 2009. Filed under: Environment |

Kenyan communities will undertake to plant 7.6 billion trees over the next 20 years to address massive losses in forest cover. Kenya’s Minister for the Environment, John Michuki, has demanded bold steps amidst economic, social and political unrest caused by forest destruction. According to the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, less than 2% of Kenya is currently forested, far less than the minimum 10% required cover for healthy ecosystems. The Mau Forest, Kenya’s biggest, has lost a quarter of its 400,000 hectares. The effects of this are being felt by surrounding farms that rely on a better micro-climate created by the forest, by the energy sector and by Kenya’s famous national parks.

The Kenya Atlas, produced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) for the Kenyan Government, showcases Kenya’s disappearing forests, shrinking lakes and changing landscapes by juxtaposing modern satellite images to those taken in 1970. It makes shocking changes visible to the eye. Mr. Michuki says it provides a welcome alternative to long reports and will influence the way that Kenyans understand their changing environment.

Jennifer Hanan came to Kenya this August to witness the great wildebeest migration across the Maasai, Mara. Like many who have visited recently, she reported a wilting environment. “The Mara River is nothing more than a stream in some parts and we passed hippos that were stuck in mud pools that used to have water in them.” Lodge owners from another major Kenyan park, Tsavo, report dying hippos there too. Prolonged drought is affecting much of the country.

The capital city, Nairobi, has recently been plagued with regular electricity and water rationing; a situation which UNEP says could be curtailed by increased forest cover. Part of the solution is to revive Kenya’s five “Water Towers,” the name given to five water catchment areas that source Kenya’s major rivers. It is a situation that Kenyans are not taking lightly. There are growing signs of citizen and state activism.

The 7.6 billion call to action by Kenya’s Environment Minister coincides with a widely advertised SMS campaign whereby citizens can send a message at a charge of ten Kenyan shillings or 13 US cents to have a tree planted in the Mau Forest. Recently, Nobel Peace Prize winner Wangari Maathai roused the hearts and imaginations of Kenyans by highlighting the importance of preserving and protecting a list of Kenya’s vital wetlands, forests and parks. UNEP’s Billion Tree Campaign records 162 million trees planted in Kenya in the last two years from a range of civil society, business, youth, religious, women and non-government organisations. Environmental grassroots activism in Kenya is on the rise.

The Kenyan Government has taken steps to sensitize young people in schools about the importance of trees and the state of Kenya’s rapidly changing environment. Raising public awareness through the educational system will have multiple benefits. It assures that if the problem can be managed today, these forests will be protected by future generations as well.

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Behind the Label: Cut Flowers

Posted on 18 August 2009. Filed under: Development, Environment |

What’s the real price of your bouquet? Pat Thomas dishes the dirt on cut flower production in less-industrialised countries

Behind the label: are cut flowers from abroad more environmentally-friendly?

Behind the label: are cut flowers from abroad more environmentally-friendly?

In 2007, just in time for Valentine’s Day, then UK minister for International Development Hilary Benn told consumers to buy flowers flown in from Kenya, rather than European hothouse flowers. ‘People want to buy ethically and do their bit for climate change, but often don’t realise that they can support developing countries and reduce carbon emissions. Recent research shows that flowers flown from Africa can use less energy overall than those produced in Europe because they’re not grown in heated greenhouses.’ ‘This is about social justice’ he continued ‘and making it easier, not harder, for African people to make a decent living.’

If you think there is something slightly sick-making about this melding of bleeding-heart liberalism and colonialism, you could be right.

The retail value of the cut flower industry in Britain is vast. It is worth more than £2 billion a year and, according to a 2007 War on Want report, Growing Pains, in the UK most of these, some 70 per cent, are sold through supermarkets – the highest proportion in Europe.

As consumers’ green concerns have come to the fore, the cut flower industry has gone to great lengths recently to convince us that cut flowers can have low carbon footprints. Much of the data has focused on the benefits of growing flowers in naturally hot countries and then flying them into the UK, over growing them in cold countries in hothouses which can be very energy intensive.

Yet investigating this issue properly would certainly broaden the focus beyond narrow CO2 calculations – which do not tell the entire story of the sustainability or otherwise of any product – including cut flowers.

What is more the ‘carbon footprint’ of cut flowers encompasses much more than simply their transport from one country to another. Such figures must encompass the entire life cycle of the flower and include carbon released from fossil fuels used in cultivation, fertiliser production, refrigeration and transport, as well as the methane released from binned flowers.

In these days of dwindling water supplies it would be important to ask whether it is right to use water that could be a lifesaving resource either as a daily drink or as a means of irrigating food crops, for producing a luxury niche crop that is inedible. This is particularly important given that most cut flowers are grown in developing countries where poverty is endemic and access to clean water is problematic – especially as large corporations buy up land and its associated water rights. It would be important to highlight the impact of large monocultures on local biodiversity, which we know from studies into other monocultures to be deleterious.

From Africa with Love

Some 90 per cent of the cut flowers sold in the UK are imported, mostly from Colombia or Kenya (Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Waitrose and Sainsbury’s all source from one or both of these countries). So let’s use Hilary Benn’s planet-friendly Kenyan flowers as our base.

Most of the Kenyan floriculture industry is concentrated on the shores of Lake Naivasha – a complex and sensitive ecosystem. Until a couple of years ago the industry was growing steadily. However, a disputed election in 2007, followed by violence and unrest which spread quickly to Naivasha.

According to the 2008 report, ‘Lake Naivasha: Withering Under the Assault of International Flower Vendors,’ by Food & Water Watch and the Council of Canadians, the flower industry is so important to the Kenyan economy that in the face of such instability the army and police put most of their resources into guarding flower shipments instead of local people – so that the Valentine’s Day delivery could reach European buyers in time. Since 2007, your Kenyan roses have come at a cost of more than 100 deaths and the displacement of more than 300,000 people.

Even the flower industry recognises the environmental degradation resulting from the overuse of water, pollution of the lake, and the increasing population in the area. While there are moves to make Fairtrade standards more widespread and reduce the environmental impact of the industry, the sheer volume of flowers growing in that region cannot fail to have a long-term impact. Since the floriculture industry moved in, Lake Naivasha has shrunk to half its original size and the water levels dropped three metres, its native hippos are threatened by the pollution in the lake and fish catches are dwindling (putting local fishermen out of business).

There are also gender issues and child labour issues – as well as low pay and little job security, the chemicals used in flower growing are a particular threat to a workforce made up largely of women and children.

DDT revisited

Because cut flowers are grown in countries where little pesticide regulation exists, this encourages the use of obsolete and potentially dangerous chemicals. A vast range of pesticides, fertilisers and fumigants are used in producing cut flowers. Some of these, such as DDT, dieldrin, methyl bromide and methyl parathion are no longer in use, or deemed to dangerous to use, in the industrialised world.

While groups like the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI) stress that conditions are better than they once were, there is still a long way to go in Kenya, Colombia and elsewhere. For instance, in 2005 the World Health Organization deemed 36 per cent of the chemicals applied by Floraverde plantations (that is Colombian plantations certified to meet specific social and environmental standards) as extremely or highly toxic. What is more the science of chemical mixtures has advanced considerably in recent years and we know that mixtures of chemicals such as pesticides can have a more potent adverse effect on health than single applications of single substances.

In Ethiopia for example recent data from the Ethiopian Agriculture Research Institute shows that 18 of the 96 insecticides and nematicides imported by the flower farms were not on the MPS-Code 2006 list (the list of pesticides registered in Ethiopia) and similarly for 19 of the 105 fungicides. The Pesticide Action Network believes these figures are likely to be underestimates.

And while most studies focus on workers in the developing world, the issues are just as relevant to growers in developed countries. For instance, data from the Netherlands’ Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment shows that Dutch floral workers are often exposed to 60 times the recognized ‘safe’ level of these poisonous chemicals, often in an indoor situation, where residues and vapours may not dissipate. Similar concerns have been expressed about workers in the Californian flower industry.

A 2007 study by the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), found that more than 66 per cent of Ecuadorian and Colombian flower workers were plagued by work-related health problems, including skin rashes, respiratory problems, and eye problems, due to chronic exposure to toxic pesticides and fungicides.

ILRF, drawing on the work of Harvard School of Public Health researcher Philippe Grandjean, published in the journal Pediatrics in 2006, also found that: ‘flower workers experience higher-than-average rates of premature births, congenital malformations and miscarriages’.

Another study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives in 2002 found that ‘over 50 percent of respondents who worked in fern/flower farms reported at least one of the symptoms of pesticide exposure – headache, dizziness, nausea, diarrhoea, skin eruptions, fainting and so on’.

According to Richard Wiles, vice president of research for the US Environmental Working Group, consumers are buying roses that, toxicity levels suggest, should be handled by workers wearing gloves. Wiles reports that pesticide residue on the petals of imported roses is fifty times that allowed on food imports.

Pesticide use has decreased somewhat in the years since that comment. But then again figures which measure reductions simply in terms of weight of pesticides per hectare can be misleading since they may not reflect the use of newer more powerful pesticides which are more active at lower doses.

It seems clear from the larger body of scientific reports that the environmental destruction that is inherent with the volume of cut-flowers produced in places like Lake Naivasha is neither improving quality of life nor protecting the environment for local people. In the face of this, a lower carbon footprint for shipping roses to the UK seems almost irrelevant.

Local and seasonal is not just for food

Most of us don’t even think about where our flowers come from. But experts say that locally-grown flowers have similar advantages to locally produced food. They are for instance, fresher, and thus have a longer vase life. They may even smell nicer: many cut flower roses, for example, are being bred without scent to extend their vase life.

Today the British cut flower industry supplies about 10 per cent of the UK’s cut flower needs. Just 10 years ago this figure was more than 20 per cent; 20 years ago it was 45 per cent.

However the recession might help change things in favour of a domestic cut flower industry. Earlier this year an article published in the journal Horticulture Week suggested that the unfavourable euro exchange rate was paying dividends for the British cut flower industry. Tesco, it said, had just announced that it was buying more from UK producers rather than the Dutch growers. This is good news but as long as retailers use market forces rather than ethics to determine what to buy, the tides can always shift back to imported flowers.

Once again it may be up to the consumer to lead the way.

Pat Thomas is a former editor of the Ecologist.

Republished from Ecologist.org

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Jamii Bora Microloan Financing Giving Birth to Eco-Friendly Town in Kenya

Posted on 13 August 2009. Filed under: Development, Environment, Microfinance |

Kenya’s Jamii Bora Trust has teamed up with an American nonprofit group to create Africa’s first ecologically friendly town built with microfinancing. Some 2,500 families are slated to live in Kaputei, near Kenya’s capital of Nairobi. The families, most of who are from slum areas of Nairobi, will be able to purchase these homes with micro loans.

Africa's first ecologically friendly town built with microfinancing
Africa’s first ecologically friendly town built with microfinancing

They are building their future, one brick at a time.

Members of Jamii Bora Trust produce the bricks, tiles and other materials needed to construct what has become a first in Africa.

A town that is virtually self-sustaining, with its own water supply, primary school and other services, built by the poor for the poor.

Kaputei is a 160-hectare plot located 36 kilometers from Nairobi. It will eventually be home to 2,500 families.

By the end of May, some 300 families had already moved into the homes.

A number of families have brought their businesses with them.

The families come primarily from the Nairobi slum of Kibera, said to be Africa’s largest informal settlement. Most people there earn less than one dollar a day and do not have access to electricity and running water.

Jamii Bora
Jamii Bora

Jamii Bora member Jane Ngoiri and her family used to live in Mathare, a slum similar to Kibera.

She says living in a house with several rooms, running water and electricity is a dream come true. “We are talking about [the] kitchen and now I am in my own bedroom, my children are in their own bedroom,” she says, “this is great!”

Kaputei is the brainchild of Jamii Bora Trust, a nationwide microfinance company that gives loans to the poorest of the poor, usually for small-scale businesses.

Members purchasing Kaputei homes receive loans with up to a 10 percent interest rate and up to 15 years’ repayment time. The monthly mortgage is $36, comparable to rents in the slum.

Jamii Bora member Ngoiri says that it makes little difference if people rise out of poverty but are still living in the slum. “If you come out of your house, from your house, outside your house you get flowing sewage. So you do not have different [life] with the person who is saying he is poor and you are saying you are able now. So the first thing we see is that now we have climbed a ladder and we have to change also our living [quarters] so that we can understand how far we have gone,” Bora said.

She says she is confident that her and other children will now not be lured into lives of crime or early motherhood as they might if they continued living in the slum.

Partnering with Jamii Bora Trust is Unitus, a nonprofit microfinance organization based in Seattle, Washington. Its president, Ed Bland, explains how the project fits in with micro-finance. “It is very, very innovative and it shows another element of the rung of a ladder out of poverty. One of the last ones is housing, and really robust housing. So that is what the Kaputei project is,” he said.

Kaputei is designed to be self-sustaining, with its own water and power supply.

Elijah Biamah is an engineer at the University of Nairobi who teamed up with Jamii Bora to design water and sanitation systems.

Waste water in Kaputei is treated and recycled
Waste water in Kaputei is treated and recycled

He gives the example of how waste water in Kaputei is recycled after it has been collected and exposed to ultraviolet light.

“Then that water is now safe – safe that is can be used for flushing the toilets. It can also be recycled and used for irrigating the crops around the homestead without any harmful effects whatsoever,” Biamah said.

Meanwhile, residents such as Ngoiri are turning their houses into homes, looking forward to their new lives away from the slum.

Source: VOA

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