Seven people have been arrested, and seven Stop Orders handed out by National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA), in a two-day crackdown in Amboseli.
Among those busted include KiliAvo farm. The crackdown aimed to enforce NEMA regulations and President Ruto's recent directive on unlicensed development in the region.
The Amboseli ecosystem has witnessed a surge in crop farming in areas not designated for such practices.
Officials at NEMA indicated that this unplanned development has put immense pressure on the environment, leading to concerns about the sustainability of intensive agriculture and unregulated water use.
In a statement NEMA indicated several farms were found to be pumping water from vulnerable rivers using generators, further exacerbating the environmental challenges.
During the operation, NEMA officials assessed whether the farms had the necessary licenses and Environmental Impact Assessments in place. The goal was to understand the extent of environmental damage caused by those violating the Amboseli ecosystem's land use plan.
NEMA, in collaboration with Kajiado Police and conservation rangers, raided ten farms in the Eselenkey Group Ranch area and conducted an aerial survey of the entire ecosystem. The seven arrested individuals were later released on cash bail, while one 500-acre farm received a Stop Order for extracting water from the Rombo River, affecting downstream water users.
Those affected by the operation have seven days to produce the required paperwork to justify their operations or approach NEMA for the licensing process.
Kajiado County Governor, Joseph Ole Lenku, announced the formation of a regional task force comprising State and County officials, conservation stakeholders, and landowners, tasked with planning and feeding into the national conservation policy, as outlined by President Ruto.
In a separate directive, President Ruto instructed NEMA to halt the issuance of licenses and permits for various projects within vital wildlife conservation areas. The affected regions include Kajiado, Machakos (Athi-Kapiti corridor), Narok, Laikipia, Taita Taveta, and Baringo. These areas are critical wildlife habitats and corridors essential for the survival of numerous species.
The decision arose from a meeting between President Ruto and representatives from the wildlife conservation community. The meeting raised concerns about land management matters, such as ownership, adjudication, and change of land use, which have significant implications for Kenya's diverse and valuable wildlife.
The President's directive calls for the implementation of the Wildlife Corridors and Dispersal Areas Task Force report from 2016, with a special emphasis on the Athi-Kapiti corridor. Additionally, there will be a suspension of any further land subdivision and changes in land use within the identified wildlife conservation areas.
To support these initiatives, the Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning has been directed to expedite the implementation of the Community Land Act 2016. Furthermore, a review of the National Land Use Policy and the Physical and Land Use Act 2019 is in the works.
Multiple government agencies responsible for relevant matters will collaborate to form a multi-sectoral team led by the State Department for Wildlife. The team's purpose will be to develop and implement the country's conservation policy effectively.
Stakeholders have commended the President's actions, recognising the importance of stabilizing wildlife landscapes and preserving years of conservation efforts. Lucy Waruingi, Executive Director of the African Conservation Centre and Board Chair of the Conservation Alliance of Kenya, expressed relief at the decision, emphasizing the protection of precious wildlife and their habitats.
Benson Leyian, CEO of the Big Life Foundation, applauded the President and the Ministry of Environment for taking action to live within the limits of natural ecosystems. He stressed the need for careful planning of development to ensure sustainability and adherence to land-use plans.
Jackson Mwato, CEO of the Amboseli Ecosystem Trust, acknowledged the successful planning of land use zones in the Amboseli ecosystem. He praised the President's directive for emphasizing the importance of adhering to these zones to slow down haphazard development.
Gladys Warigia, Policy and Advocacy Manager of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association emphasized the importance of registering and titling community lands to optimize their productivity. She recognized the President's goodwill in realizing this goal and called for commitment from county governments and structured collaborations with partners for long-term conservation success.
Susie Weeks, Executive Director of the Mount Kenya Trust, highlighted the significance of keeping existing corridors open to benefit both people and wildlife. Well-managed corridors, she noted, help mitigate human-wildlife conflict and protect flagship species that contribute significantly to tourism income.