Mwai Kibaki
describes the challenges of managing protected areas in Africa and outlines his Government’s polices for making conservation an integral component of the national development process

Biological and other natural resources are the backbone of development and livelihoods for most African economies and people. They provide industrial inputs, firewood, construction materials, medicines and ecosystem functions. We require these materials and services for both subsistence and commerce. Coming generations, too, will need these resources for social, health and economic needs, among other things. We must therefore use biological resources judiciously, ensuring that their availability and potential are always maintained – and where possible enhanced – to safeguard the needs of the future people of the continent.

In Kenya we have recognized the value of environmental resources. We recognize that the degradation of natural resources will adversely affect productivity and increase levels of poverty. In the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, Parliament has ensured that: ‘Every person in Kenya is entitled to a clean and healthy environment and has the duty to safeguard and enhance the environment.’ the conservation and sustainable use of biological resources is a key factor in Kenya’s objectives of industrialization, improved economic performance and enhanced social welfare.

Land is a primary resource base for all development activities in Kenya. However, current land-use practices often disregard its potential and carrying capacity and the limitations of biological resources. Consequently, incidences of land degradation have reached alarming proportions, impacting negatively on both the environment and socio-economic development.

Sustainable use
Human activities – including agriculture, tourism, ranching, infrastructure developments and human settlements – often disregard the sustainable use of natural resources, harming the environment.

The rapid growth of the human population in Kenya and the consequent demand for basic needs – especially for food, shelter, clothing, health and related services – has exerted tremendous pressure on natural resources, particularly land. This has led to encroachment of marginal areas, aggravation of land degradation and loss of biodiversity.

The present exploitation rate of many of the biological resources on which Kenya’s development largely depends is unsustainable. Natural ecosystems that store water, protect the soil, or are habitats to unique plants and animals, have been degraded or converted to other uses.

The consequences of these activities and changes include:

  • decimation of some of our animal and plant species to the point of extinction or near extinction;

  • poaching of some animal and plant species of great economic potential;

  • conversion of unique ecosystems for agricultural uses or as human settlements.

African countries face complex environmental and development challenges. Human population growth and poverty are putting severe pressure on biological diversity and natural resources. The natural landscape is fast changing from being rich and productive to barren and unproductive. Millions of tonnes of fertile topsoil are being lost daily through water and wind erosion. The natural resource base that is essential for development is continually being weakened and undermined by unsustainable land-use practices.

The current number and distribution of protected areas cannot guarantee effective and sustainable conservation of natural resources. We must therefore urgently establish additional ones so as to ensure the long-term conservation of biological diversity. It is particularly necessary to conserve representative ecosystems that are rich in biodiversity. Special attention should be given to endemic, rare and threatened species or those species and habitats with critical scientific and aesthetic values.

Management of protected areas in Kenya, as well as in other African countries, has been severely curtailed by many threats and challenges, including:

  • overexploitation of resources, including biodiversity;

  • encroachment of natural habitats by our increased human population;

  • closure of wildlife migratory corridors and dispersal areas;

  • civil unrest and warfare within and across national boundaries;

  • refugees and displaced peoples;

  • poor relationships with neighbouring communities;

  • lack of effective systems that promote devolution of ownership and management of natural resources to local communities;

  • inadequate technical capacity and funds for capital development and operations;

  • inadequate policy, legislative and institutional frameworks;

  • impacts of recurring droughts, desertification and land degradation on the environment; and

  • inequitable sharing of benefits accruing from natural resources.

The impact of these constraints and limitations are manifested in the poor state of the environment. The inability to respond effectively to these challenges requires us to undertake fundamental reforms with a view to improving our approach to managing protected areas.

Policies and legislation
Establishing, maintaining and expanding conservation areas is a fundamental approach to protecting the environment and conserving biological diversity. This could be undertaken within the framework of environmental and natural resources policies, legislation and programmes. Protected areas comprise the remaining samples of Earth’s natural systems – but it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain their ecological integrity and productivity, particularly in developing countries. Regrettably, many countries have not established an adequate or representative coverage of protected areas within their territories.
We must urgently establish additional protected areas so as to ensure the long-term conservation of biodiversity
Our reform programmes need to consider encouraging the establishment of areas managed by local communities primarily for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. Community-based initiatives should complement the efforts of governments and national institutions in conserving biodiversity and environmental protection.

Such community-based conservation – which should cover important migratory corridors and dispersal areas – is critical for maintaining the ecological integrity of protected areas. We need to explore economic incentives for communities that protect and conserve our vital environmental resources – and, equally, consider disincentives for land-use practices whose impact undermines the purpose for which the conservation area was created. Integrated management plans, including community initiatives, should establish and maintain buffer zones around the borders of protected areas.

Coordinated approach
We in Kenya are considering providing economic incentives and disincentives with a view to preventing or abating harm to the environment. These will work well, where necessary, if they are implemented in a coordinated approach with the active support and collaboration of the international community. These economic instruments will need to be used together with support measures that ensure that raw materials, non-renewable resources and energy are conserved and used as efficiently as possible. It is preferable that materials are re-used and recycled to the maximum extent possible, while non-degradable materials are disposed of safely and effectively.

Sustainable development practices should ensure that the conservation and management of natural resources are treated as an integral part of national and/or local development plans. Likewise, the formulation of all such plans should take full consideration of ecological, economic, cultural and social factors.

Development activities and projects should be guided by sound environmental policies to reduce adverse effects on natural resources, and on the environment in general. All policies, plans, programmes and activities likely to adversely affect natural resources, ecosystems and the environment should be subject to impact assessment and regular environmental monitoring and audit. The dissemination of environmental information and the participation of the public in key decision-making processes are critically important, as is respect for the traditional rights and intellectual property rights of local communities.

Access to indigenous knowledge and its use should be subject to the prior informed consent of the concerned communities and to specific regulations recognizing their rights to it, and its appropriate economic value. Income generation and benefit-sharing initiatives should be given priority.

Research and integration
Protected area management authorities should have capabilities to carry out scientific and technological research in the conservation, sustainable utilization and management of natural resources, paying particular attention to ecological and socio-economic factors, and to their integration. The results of the research should be applied in developing and implementing environmental conservation policies. Research programmes need to be coordinated with a view to achieving maximum synergy and complementarity, the exchange of research results and the development of joint research programmes and activities locally, nationally and internationally. Regional and international cooperation is especially important on conservation of transboundary ecosystems and migratory species.

My Government has a clear national agenda with regard to environmental protection and conservation. Priority environmental programmes of the Government of Kenya include:

  • planting at least 80 million seedlings every year in an aggressive afforestation and reforestation programme intended to increase national forest cover from 1.7 to 10 per cent;

  • the Environmental Management and Coordination Act, which we are now implementing, and which requires all policies, programmes, plans and projects to be subjected to environmental impact assessment regulations;

  • reviewing the national policy and legal framework to enhance the conservation of national parks and community-based conservation areas, while reducing human/ wildlife conflicts and increasing benefit sharing;

  • reviewing watershed management policy and legal framework with a view to enhancing management measures.

I consider environmental conservation to be an integral component of the national development process. Sustainable development is our goal in Kenya. This should, in the long term, ameliorate the negative impacts of poverty, provide for basic needs, and meet the aspirations of our people for a better life. Equitable sharing of benefits accruing from our natural resources is a critical factor in that process.

Finding solutions
I believe that the challenges I have raised in this short article will be discussed and elaborated on during the World Parks Congress and suitable solutions found. Africa needs technical and financial support to enhance its capacity to promote environmental protection and sustainable development. We all have a duty to protect our environment and conserve biological diversity for posterity

HE Hon Mwai Kibaki MP, EGH, is President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kenya.

PHOTOGRAPH: Emily Short/UNEP/Topham


The Mt Kenya World Heritage site is centred around Africa’s second highest mountain, which bears snow and ice right on the equator. Seven million people depend on its catchment for water. The mountain is home to rare endemic plant species, while the forests which surround it shelter endangered species of animals. It is one of the continent’s most dramatic landscapes.

Mt Kenya’s forests are threatened by a host of human activities – settlement and encroachment, illegal logging, firewood collection, poaching, charcoal burning, and destructive honey collecting.

Aerial photographs taken by UNEP show that forest ecosystems have partially recovered: a successful programme by the United Nations Development Programme and the Global Environment Facility, supported by the UN Foundation, has contributed considerably to this. Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation (COMPACT) is showing that community-based activities can significantly increase the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation at World Heritage sites.

One of COMPACT’s projects provides loans and training to small farmers around Mt Kenya to operate beehives, and has linked them with a fair-trade, socially and environmentally conscious company – Honey Care Africa Ltd – which buys their produce at a mutually agreed, guaranteed price. The project – which has won many awards – has increased the farmers’ income, while reducing forest fires caused by poor beekeeping practices.


This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Biological backbone | Benefits beyond boundaries | Common inheritance | Beauty or beast? | Wonders of the world | Protecting heritage | People | Parks and participation | At a glance: Protected Areas | Profile: Harrison Ford | Scorecard, catalyst, watershed | Coral Reef Fund | Coral jewels | Reef knots | Brief window for biodiversity | Books & products | Conservation amid conflict | News | Green, red or black? | Keeping faith with nature | Make parks not war

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on WSSD, 2002
Issue on Biological Diversity, 2000
Issue on Culture, Values and the Environment, 1996

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: