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Politicians are not talking enough about environmental conservation

 

Kenya Forest Services team plants a tree during the  ‘Adopt-A-Forest’ groundbreaking at Ngong Hills. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

 

Today, we celebrate World Mangroves Day in recognition of the unique trees referred to as a ‘super-solution’ and which thrive along our coasts and in our deltas because they can withstand low salinity.

Mangroves host millions of fish, other marine species and all forms of biodiversity, thereby enhancing food security and supporting the Kenyan economy by contributing an estimated Sh9.4 billion in annual economic net benefits.

Mangroves, which act as protectors, shelter our coasts from storms, floods and erosion. Without mangroves, 39 per cent more people would be exposed to flooding annually, and flood damage would increase by more than 16 per cent. As ‘superstores’, mangroves act as carbon sinks, capturing and storing five times more carbon than terrestrial forests. UNEP estimates that global mangrove forests sequester as much as 22.8 million tonnes of carbon each year.

Globally, mangrove forests can support progress under the Sustainable Development Goals and the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration 2021-2030 due to the critical role they play in providing resources and preserving ecosystems.  

Unfortunately, mangrove forests are in decline due to unsustainable logging, land clearing for agriculture and the impacts of cyclones and flooding. According to The Status of the Mangroves in the Western Indian Ocean report released last week at the African Protected Areas Congress in Kigali, 30,156 hectares of mangrove cover in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) region over the past 24 years have been lost.

In the WIO region, Mozambique and Madagascar have 78 per cent of mangroves cover while Tanzania and Kenya have 7 and 5 per cent respectively. According to the report, Kenya’s mangrove area decreased from 54,990 hectares in 1996 to 53,852 hectares in 2016, representing a loss of 1,139 ha. On the upside, since 2016, mangrove forest cover in Kenya has increased by 578 hectares due to natural expansion and restoration efforts.

The report illustrates the impact of the loss of mangroves not only on livelihoods in the WIO region, but also on biodiversity and climate.

Kenya aims to achieve 10 per cent tree cover by 2030, and this includes mangrove forests. Forest restoration is, therefore, a high on the government's agenda as reflected in the number of legislation and policies drafted in recent years. Kenya plans to restore 5.1 million hectares of degraded forests in line with the Africa Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative that aims to recover 100 million hectares of forests by 2030.

The National Mangrove Ecosystem Management Plan for 2017 - 2027 prescribes ecosystem and participatory approaches to mangrove forest management, including restoration of mangroves using the ‘community-based ecological mangrove restoration’ approach. Mangroves can also be incorporated into countries’ national development planning.

But these interventions cannot flourish if politicians do not recognise the linkage between the climate crisis and livelihoods of the people they represent or seek to represent so that they can integrate environmental conservation in their political party manifestos. It is disturbing that while millions of Kenyans face starvation due to drought, the conservation of natural ecosystems such as mangroves and other wetlands only get token mention, if at all.