Kenya's population bulging but little land for farming - report

Justus Monari sprays maize against Fall Army Worms at Kisii Agricultural Training Center. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Kenya has 4.5 million hectares suitable for crop production but has a high population, which is encroaching on key water catchment areas, according to a new survey.

The study titled “Analysis of the Implications of Africa’s Food Systems Development on Environmental Sustainability” was commissioned jointly by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), Alliance of Bioversity International, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) of the CGIAR and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

It was released yesterday on the sidelines of COP28 to help African countries to achieve food security and implement climate and nature commitments.

The report focused on the main drivers of Africa’s food systems, how food systems have responded to climate change and other drivers, and what the resulting environmental impacts of these responses have been.

Through food imports, agricultural trade with Africa also affects ecosystems outside the continent with a large proportion of food consumed in Africa being imported, with a net import of cereals alone of 58.6 million metric tonnes in 2010.

“This is projected to increase by 180 per cent to 164.2 million tonnes by 2050. Assuming average cereal yields of three tonnes per hectare, in the countries of production, producing this grain in 2050 would require an area of cropland equivalent to the size of France or Kenya,” said Nancy Rapando, WWF Africa Food Future Leader.

Hence, the environmental impacts of Africa’s food system expand beyond the continent, affecting land and water use in other parts of the world.

The report shows high concentration of population along the Mediterranean coast, in West Africa, Ethiopia and the great lakes region. Notably, expansions of human settlements can be seen in Kenya, Madagascar, Tanzania, Malawi, Nigeria, and other parts of West Africa.

“This reflects the increase of human settlements in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) alone (without North Africa) by nearly 85 percent during the period 2000 to 2015. These expansions are close to hotspots such as key trans-frontier conservation areas (TFCAs) and the threat to specific ecosystems becomes apparent,” Rapando said.

The report shows there has been an increase in human settlements between 2000 and 2015 and is likely to have continued since 2015.

It focuses on relatively recent human settlement expansion, showing “hotspot” areas of recent growth, and identifies where landscapes may be subject to settlement expansion in the future.

They include areas in East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia), West Africa (Nigeria and coastal West Africa), Malawi and Madagascar.

They include specific sensitive landscapes, revealing potential threats to these areas from human settlements and associated food system activities.

According to the report, there has been significant human settlement expansion within and around the Southern Kenya Northern Tanzania trans-boundary conservation area (TFCA).

The area covers an area of 134,000 km² and includes the following three ecosystems: Mara-Serengeti; Amboseli-West Kilimanjaro and Tsavo-Mkomazi and the areas that connect them.

The landscape is famous for its  iconic conservation areas. These include three Unesco World Heritage Sites (Ngorongoro, Serengeti, Kilimanjaro), a Ramsar Site (Lake Natron), a Unesco Biosphere Reserve (Amboseli), four important bird habitats (Lake Natron, Loita, Amboseli, West Kilimanjaro) as well as 39 community conservancies, three wildlife management Areas, and the ‘seventh wonder of the world’ (Mara Serengeti).

The report shows the area is valued for its extraordinary biodiversity and tourism value. The landscape is home to millions of wild animals including endangered species such as elephant, black rhino, lion, cheetah, hirola and African wild dog. The annual wildlife migration between Masai Mara and Serengeti is among the largest worldwide.

The report shows that there has been significant recent cropland expansion in most parts of SSA, with a concentration in coastal and shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya, West Africa, Angola, DRC, Mozambique, the Great Lakes region, South Sudan  and Zambia.

There have been increased human settlements in the greater Virunga landscape (GVL), which is home to the world’s last two remaining populations of mountain gorillas.

The report shows deforestation where smallholder agriculture is responsible for forest loss in much of the continent. Large-scale farming, logging for timber and charcoal production are also drivers of forest loss.

Rapando said the report is timely, following the signing of the COP28 Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems and Climate Action, so far endorsed by 152 countries. 

Dr Claudia Ringler, Director at IFPRI said ensuring equitable climate adaptation and mitigation strategies, optimization of water-energy-food-environmental systems, good governance of natural resources, and innovations for food and environmental systems is critical to ensure food and nutrition security in the face of challenges.

Carlo Fadda, Director Agrobiodiversity at CIAT said Africa, where food insecurity is still prevalent in many parts, insufficient responses to the main drivers could be catastrophic to the region’s natural ecosystems and could  exacerbate climate change.

The report recommends three main approaches: changing food production systems; planning where to grow; and influencing food demand and consumption patterns.