Kenya: Desertification threatening millions, government warns

NAIROBI, 2 July (IRIN) - The Kenyan government has released a report warning that millions of Kenyans are increasingly threatened by desertification.
In its latest National Action Programme on desertification, the environment and natural resources ministry said the phenomenon had "intensified and spread" in recent years, putting a severe strain on agriculture in the country.

The report said a combination of factors, ranging from population growth to frequent droughts which plagued the country between 1970 and 2000, had accelerated the rate of soil degradation in Kenya and reduced the per-capita food production in the country.

"Rapid population growth is exacerbating the existing problems of imbalance between human numbers and available arable land - deforestation, inappropriate land use and farming practices," the report said. "All these are among the major problems leading to food crises and desertification in Kenya."

According to the report, dry lands account for 88 percent of Kenya's total land surface, while forest cover continues to decrease rapidly, due mainly to clearance for settlement, extraction for timber, for commercial use and domestic use as well as removal for charcoal and fuel wood.

As a result, the country's forest cover has been reduced to a worrying 2.8 percent of the total land area. Furthermore, Kenya's forests are being cut much faster than they are being replaced, the report warned.

The report, which outlined a broad range of policies adopted by the Kenyan government to combat desertification, was released shortly after environmental activists in Kenya went to court to challenge the government's decision to denationalise some 4 percent of the country's remaining forests. The activists claim the excision would have a devastating impact on the country's fragile ecosystems.

The government announced in October 2001 it was planning to excise some 70,000 hectares (170,000 acres) as part of its programme to resettle landless people. The decision outraged environmental groups in Kenya, which were subsequently joined in their response by international conservation groups such as Survival International and Global Response.


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