Call to action against desertification and drought in Kenya
By Vincent Mogaka - Hivos
Drought is daunting, as its effects on people’s lives and livelihoods are devastating. But through ingenuity, commitment, and solidarity, it can be addressed successfully.
Background on drought and desertification
Kenya’s drylands account for 88% of her land surface area. They are the home to a population of approximately 10 million people. About 50% and 70% of livestock and wildlife respectively are located in the dry lands.
Desertification has both human and natural causes. In some cases, the natural cause is the sole cause and in other cases, the cause could be purely human. But then there are times when both human and natural causes combine to accelerate desertification. This should be quite clear now in Kenya given the present drought affecting the country. The root cause of the country’s vulnerability to drought is its dependence on rainfall for its economic and social development. Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, is almost entirely rain-fed.
The very severe drought in Kenya as reports have indicated has led to a depletion of grazing land where the holding capacity has been more than exceeded. Drought can lead to severe land degradation which in turn exacerbates desertification. In some of the dryland areas such as in the North and North-Eastern Kenya, the deserts have eaten the once-potential landscapes turning them into inhabitable landscapes that cannot support humans, livestock, and even wildlife.
Impacts of drought and desertification
Droughts have caused loss of life, arising from impacts, such as widescale crop failure, wildfires, and water stress. To have a picture of the magnitude of the drought phenomenon, in September last year Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster. The drought situation continues to bite in seventeen (17) of the 23 ASAL counties. This is attributed to the poor performance of the 2021 short rains coupled with the previous two failed consecutive seasons and late-onset of the 2022 long rains season. The number of people in need of assistance has increased from 3.1 million in February to 3.5 million currently.
Droughts adversely affect all sectors of the economy and the population at large. This is because it: i) affects water supply in both rural and urban areas, ii) leads to reduced hydropower generation and power rationing, iii) causes crop failures and reduced food security, iv) causes deaths of humans, livestock and wildlife, v) leads to job losses when industries shut down as resources get depleted, vi) causes the deterioration of human health due to malnutrition and poor access to quality water and vii) causes conflicts between communities and wildlife.
Call to action
Drought is daunting, as its effects on people’s lives and livelihoods are devastating. But through ingenuity, commitment, and solidarity, it can be addressed successfully. Everyone needs to be reminded of the importance of land and its role in producing food, fiber, feed, and generating local employment, as well as its ability to add to the sustainability, stability, and security of vulnerable communities.
Active restorations, using afforestation and reforestation methods, are effective biological approaches with the potential to help restore and rehabilitate degraded dryland ecosystems and halt desertification. Among other benefits, rehabilitation improves the soil biological activities where high rates of soil organic matter, organic Carbon and Nitrogen, suitable soil acidity range, and abundance of forest litter are considered the predisposing factors promoting higher microbial populations in enrichment planting as compared to secondary forest.
Land restoration helps biodiversity to recover. It locks away the atmospheric carbon warming the Earth, slowing climate change. It can also lessen the impacts of climate change and underpin a green recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
There is a need to develop suitable ASAL rehabilitation technologies and to uphold efforts employed in providing solutions that sustainably improve the lands’ productivity and combat desertification. Woody vegetation is one such renewable resource with an exceptional potential to provide the dry season’s forage for livestock and serve as soil cover. Forests and woodlands are also biologically important because of the diverse fauna and flora associated with them. They, therefore, contribute significantly to the livelihoods and welfare of inhabitants of dry lands.
Prevention and control of desertification require much more than money. Science and technology are fundamental in facilitating the development of improved and high-yielding varieties of crops, preserving the unique biodiversity of the drylands, clarifying the relationship between climate and desertification, and improving the techniques to reduce energy demand and enhance the retention and use of water. All these are fundamental to improved management of the drylands.
Tools are available to assess drought risk. Solutions exist to ensure lives and livelihoods are no longer lost to drought. Everyone is urged to take action on beyond Desertification and Drought Day. Action can be taken at all levels, from citizens, businesses, governments, and UN partners, everyone can come on board and lend a helping hand to rise up from drought together.