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Kenya - Country Profile

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Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Kenya has a large diversity of ecological zones and habitats, including lowland and mountain forests, wooded and open grasslands, semi-arid scrubland, dry woodlands, inland aquatic, as well as coastal and marine ecosystems. Wetlands contribute greatly to Kenya’s economy in terms of agriculture, livestock production, energy production (through hydroelectric developments), fisheries and tourism. Although the biodiversity of Kenya remains highly protected, there are many unprotected areas that are causing its status to quickly decline due to a number of threats that have led to numerous conservation challenges. It should be noted that biodiversity assessments are nearly two decades old which calls for an urgent re-assessment to ascertain the current status of biodiversity.

Forests are the backbone of Kenya’s economy through agriculture and tourism. They also support livelihoods through the provision of food, medicine, wood for construction and fuel, and services such as water catchment areas. They perform important watershed functions, in addition to providing sites for high plant and animal biodiversity. Although some high-altitude forests are well protected by their isolated positions and protected area status, others are being eroded at a fast rate. The Kenyan coastal forests, though small, are rich in plant diversity and endemism. The hills are reported to be the richest area for plant species in the country. In the western part of the country, the Kakamega and Nandi forests are highly threatened but have a high level of biodiversity. Because of the adjoining human populations, they represent an “island in a sea of population” and therefore pose considerable conservation challenges.

Freshwater and saline ecosystems cover about 8% of Kenya’s surface area. These are important areas of biodiversity, food production, hydrological stability, mineral cycling and socioeconomic development. This series of freshwater and saline lakes and associated wetlands constitute vital stepping stones along the migratory route of thousands of birds. The marine waters and mangrove areas along the Kenyan coast are known to have rich biodiversity, much of which is still pristine, except on areas encroached upon; they are key resources sustaining the country’s tourism industry. The mangroves system, though being rapidly degraded, provides local communities with timber, tannin and other products. They also provide excellent refuges and breeding sites for many coastal fish species, and important feeding grounds. Marine fisheries are not only an important source of protein for coastal populations but also constitute a significant economic activity. Although fishing is still done along the Kenyan coast at the artisanal level by locals, fishing activities are mainly conducted by a fleet of foreign-owned fishing vessels. Kenyan coastal coral reefs are high in biodiversity and tourism features (especially diving). In Kenya, inland waters occur everywhere and are a particular part of all landscapes. Lake Victoria produces 90% of Kenya’s total catch and sustains nearly half of the country’s population. Plant and animal species associated with inland freshwater wetlands are unique and highly specialized. In fact, some wetlands, especially in the extensive semi-arid parts of Kenya, provide the last refuge for rare and threatened species.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

The major threats to biological diversity in Kenya can be defined as: high population pressure; escalating poverty and conflicts; poor land use practices; inadequate laws, policies and institutional framework; poor education and inadequate involvement of the community. Other threats are invasive species (e.g. Nile perch and water hyacinth in Lake Victoria), land degradation and pollution, occasioned by poor land use practices. In addition, the tourism industry is encroaching on the fragile marine and coastal areas with the development of new hotels and access infrastructure.

Many live below US $1.00/day with no alternative means of livelihoods. Also, the lack of clear land policy has led to land adjudication into fragile ecosystems with rich biodiversity (e.g. forest reserves, wetland areas) where no buffer zones exist for mitigating the effects of nearby development. Moreover, the narrow genetic base of the country’s biological resources that is found only in a few plant and animal species have put entire ecosystems and their biological diversity in danger of being overexploited, thus exposing entire ecosystems to degradation.

Climate change is increasingly contributing to biodiversity degradation on Kenya’s coast composed of fragile forest and grassland ecosystems which more frequently experience mild to severe drought. Actions are not yet underway to mitigate the effects of climate change; consequently, both the biodiversity and communities remain vulnerable.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Completed in 1999, the goals of Kenya’s NBSAP are: to ensure and maintain a high quality environment for sustainable livelihoods for all Kenyans; to guarantee inter- and intra-generational sustainable use of natural resources and services; to maintain ecological and ecosystem processes; to preserve and benefit from genetic resources and biological diversity in the nation’s ecosystems and to preserve their cultural value. However, there is inadequate political will and financial support to implement the NBSAP which is moreover currently outdated. Thus ecological degradation continues in many biodiversity-rich ecosystems in Kenya except where there are clear political gains (as in the case of the Mau Forest).

A draft revised NBSAP is in place. Kenya intends to address the issue of national target-setting through national consultations and create awareness of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

There are good efforts being taken by the Kenyan Government, through the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI), to conduct research on marine and coastal ecosystems to provide the necessary data for implementing conservation programs for this rich biodiversity. The KMFRI has mapped out the commercial fishing grounds in the national sector. At the moment, pilot studies and demonstrations are being conducted on better methods to culture oysters and the Brine shrimp (Artemia) at the Kenyan coast to enhance economic gains, rather than re-stock the coastal waters with such species. However, in spite of the collaboration that exists among the KMFRI, University of Brussels, Coast Development Authority and some local NGOs, little progress has been made in this venture. The KMFRI has however made great strides towards understanding the causes of the massive fish kills that occur in Lake Victoria and establishing the status of rare and endangered fish species; they have also been cultured and released into Lake Victoria with the aim to restore the lake’s biodiversity. Also, recent findings of the KMFRI reveal that the fish stocks of Lake Baringo show both a suitable and profitable fishery, through a combination of closed and open fishing seasons which is a result of the lake being located in an arid zone. However, in Lake Naivasha and Lake Victoria, there is increasing pressure on fish resources, due to overfishing and increasing pollution loading, hence the continued desire to promote aquaculture in the country.

The key players in regard to in situ conservation of indigenous forest resources are the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), although the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) is the main agency concerned with in situ conservation and management of indigenous forests. The NMK is responsible for the conservation of crop plants at its herbarium and other sites located in various parts of the country. Due to lack of regular and adequate funding, this activity is still far from being complete as a number of species are yet to be addressed. Further, the Kenya Forestry Seed Centre (KFSC) was established with the goal to provide certified, high-quality tree seed in sufficient quantities to meet the rising demand. Seed collection is carried out by a network of 8 collection centres distributed in all ecological zones of Kenya; the Centre’s trained tree climbers are supervised by experienced foresters. Each seed lot is comprehensively documented with data which are maintained in a computerized database that has been locally designed.

Since the 1990s, Lake Victoria has been invaded by an exotic, prolific and noxious weed – the water hyacinth (Eicchornia crassipes) – whose management has posed a great challenge to both the scientific community and regional governments. In the meantime, this weed has caused serious ecological changes in the lake and impediments to livelihoods and development initiatives in the region. During the implementation of the first Lake Victoria Environment Management Programme (LVEMP I), much attention was placed on the management of the weed using integrated techniques that involved manual, mechanical and biological control. A biological control method proved to be the most successful and cheapest approach to deal with the weed. There is however a major challenge in regard to ecological succession and the resurgence of the weed following the end of LVEMP I, and because LVEMP II has not yet begun. Kenya has declared water hyacinth a national disaster and outlawed its transport and use in any way.

Further, the country has been aggressively promoting and strengthening national programmes dealing with population control so as to achieve sustainable population growth rates and minimize adverse effects on biodiversity. Evidence points to the fact that Kenya’s population growth has indeed declined over the last decade.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

A number of policies and institutions exist in Kenya to support NBSAP implementation. One example is the Forestry Master Plan (1995-2020) which contains various implementation strategies that target the conservation of indigenous forests and their biodiversity; particular attention is given to habitats of high biodiversity and endemism and priority areas for conservation, including wetlands (especially seasonal wetlands), forests, highland grasslands and natural areas near large urban areas. The Forest Act (revised in 2005) addresses reservation, protection, management, enforcement and utilization of forests and forest resources on Government land. Other pieces of applicable legislation include the Water Act, Fisheries Act, Government Fisheries Protection Act, as well as the Intellectual Properties Rights Act that recognizes local knowledge and the rights of communities to genetic resources and to benefits derived from tourism in their areas.

Although a strategic plan has been established for mainstreaming biodiversity conservation into the education sector, there is a lack of biodiversity mainstreaming in other sectors. Furthermore, many development programs are in conflict with desired biodiversity conservation activities. Also, although several ministries have environment in their portfolio, awareness of what each ministry is doing and how synergies can be achieved, remain a challenge due a lack of horizontal cooperation and ineffective partnerships among stakeholders. Moreover, many ongoing programs hardly engage the scientific community.

The country has inadequate environmental and biodiversity-related laws, policies and instructional frameworks as well as overall political instability. Although at present national environment management matters cut across various agencies, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is charged with the coordination and establishment of an appropriate legal and institutional framework for the management and conservation of biological diversity. However, conservation of plant genetic resources (PGRs) in Kenya is mostly uncoordinated and largely donor-funded with a timeframe that is not long enough to sustain the process.

Overall, being a party to the CBD, has improved the financial, human, scientific, technical and technological capacities of Kenya to implement the Convention, but more still needs to be done in the area of technology transfer and material transfer agreements.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Environmental monitoring has not progressed well making it difficult to adequately provide accurate information on the status of biodiversity in the country.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme