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Monday, March 24, 2008

Investing in Arid and Semi-arid lands is a Global Imperative

Arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs) comprise 80 per cent of Kenya’s total land mass. These grasslands and sparse wood lands stretch from Turkana to Mandera, from Wajir down to Taita Taveta and Kwale, from Kajiado to Narok, from Baringo, Marsabit to Isiolo.

The ASALs are by far the most crisis-ridden regions of Kenya. These dryland districts face severe and increasingly frequent challenges of droughts, floods, desertification, rapid population growth and extreme poverty. The ASAL region score at the very bottom on all indicators of the United Nations’ Human Development. These indicators include life expectancy, education, literacy and living standards.

Owing to the deepening ecological crisis made worse by climate change, the ASALs are prone to violent conflict over water and pasture. Take a close look at the violence in Marsabit, Pokot, Marakwet, Transmara, Garissa, Mandera, Ganze and Tana River-one encounters pastoral communities locked in incessant territorial conflict over water and pasture.

When bureaucrats in Nairobi look at many of the ASAL areas all they see is violence and banditry at the core. The response is often a surge in military and paramilitary forces. Policy makers fail to realize that that the root of the crisis in the ASALs is not inadequate security but environmental stress and resource scarcity, exacerbated by extreme poverty.

Added to the political neglect and under-development is another set of problems characteristic of the ASALs. The ASALs are the epicentre of a cycle of killer droughts floods and disease delivered by the El Nino phenomenon. Droughts in the region have risen fourfold over the past 25 years, ravaging landscapes, livelihoods and livestock. Drought in the ASALs now occurs every five years.

The drought, which affected Kenya from 1999 to 2000, has been described as the worst in living memory. More recently, the drought in 2005 to 2006 left 3.5 million people in need of emergency food aid. At the peak of the 2006 drought, emergency feeding was needed for 73,000 malnourished children under five, 7,200 pregnant and nursing mothers. The drought left more than 460,000 children were in need of urgent healthcare.

Massive deaths of cattle were reported in Marsabit and Mandera. In Turkana, the cows and sheep on which 250,000 pastoralists relied on for food and milk were decimated by drought in 2006. Some pastoralists in Kajiado and Narok in south-eastern Kenya reported deaths of up to 75 per sent of their herd.

The heavy rains in 2006 caused the worst floods since the El Nino event of 1997/98. The perched soils flooded, driving families from their homes, cutting off roads, disrupting vital humanitarian relief services, spreading diseases such as diarrhea, malaria and pneumonia.

The Rift Valley Fever (RVF), a rare zoonotic transmitted by mosquitoes is associated with El Nino and flooding in the ASALs. RVF causes pregnant animals to simultaneously lose their foetuses. Among new-born animals-calves, kids and lambs-the mortality rate can reach 90 per cent.

In the decades to come, climate change will act as a ‘threat amplifier’ that will aggravate existing concerns, such as water, pasture scarcity and food insecurity, more complex and intractable.

Oxfam International estimated that the loss of livestock and the cost of the humanitarian response to the 2006 drought was $800 million. However, these estimates do not take into account the nearly irreversible environmental degradation.

Decades of economic marginalization driven by with inappropriate development policies, have resulted in the ASALs being the most under-developed regions of Kenya. For instance, 65 per cent of people in the arid north-eastern province live below the poverty line, compared to the national average of less than 50 per cent.

Basic services such as health care, water and education are neither adequately provided nor adapted to the suit the special circumstances of these predominantly pastoral communities. A devastating combination of critical failures in public policy and environmental shocks has therefore turned the ASALs into a veritable poverty trap.

Under a business as usual scenario, the ASALs presents an intractable hurdle that may prevent Kenya from achieving the millennium development goals (MDGs), especially those related to eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, universal primary education, reduction of child mortality and promotion of environmental sustainability.

For the first time since independence, the Government of Kenya (GOK) has put together a policy, investment and implementation plan for the ASALs, the National Policy for the Sustainable Development of Arid and Semi-arid Lands of Kenya. The government estimates that $3 billion will be required to execute a long-term development strategy for the ASALs over a period of 15 years.

To end the poverty trap there must be significant and sustained public and private investments towards the provision of water, grazing management, rangeland management, weather forecasting, veterinary care, education, health services, livestock extension services and marketing of livestock and livestock products.

The oil rich states of the Persian Gulf and Middle East are potentially lucrative markets for livestock products from the ASALs. But to develop these markets, the ASALs will need paved roads, electricity, reliable water supply, storage facilities and cell phone coverage.

The Earth Institute at Columbia University through the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in Dertu in Garissa district provides a template for making investments to improve the livelihoods and economies of pastoral communities. Working with a population of 5,000 the MVP has implemented low-cost interventions to fight diseases, provide schooling for children, ensure basic nutrition, deliver veterinary services and provide reliable, all-season water for livestock.

The humanitarian crisis witnessed in Kenya’s ASALs is replicated in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, the Kalahari and Central Asia. Pastoralist clans everywhere from the Pakistani-Afghan border to Chad to Dafur and Somalia are engaged incessant conflicts over pasture and water. Increasingly, these conflicts have been hijacked by religious extremists groups and turned into training grounds for terrorists.

In a sense, global peace is inextricable bound with sustainable development and stable livelihoods of the pastoralist societies. Prof. Sachs believes that the only dependable path to real global peace in the vast and troubled drylands of the Africa and Asia will be through sustainable development.

There is an opportunity here to make the case for a Global Fund for Drylands. The US and its European allies should reconsider their military adventures in the war against terror and commit substantial resources to dryland research and development. The wealthy countries of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East as well as emerging economies with vested interests in Africa such as India and China should also be drafted in this effort.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Nairobi's transport system needs urgent reform

The directive last week by the Ministry of Local Government that PSV vehicles terminate at Muthurwa presents an unprecedented public policy goof. Public outrage was instantaneous and unanimous, and rightly so. This directive must be rescinded.

The implementation the directive wrought sheer mayhem. The traffic gridlock on Jogoo road was horrendous. For the commuting public, it was anguish untold. Colossal man hours were lost. The cost of fuel burnt in the endless traffic queue runs into millions of shillings. How about the amount of carbon dioxide that was added to the atmosphere?

That the Ministry of Local Government and the City authorities would go ahead and execute such a sloppy policy directive is simply callous and inexcusable. On a casual non technical appraisal of the Muthurwa market terminus, only one conclusion leaps out. The terminus and the associated infrastructure are gravely inappropriate for vehicular and human traffic.

Some common sense questions needed answers in order to evaluate the capacity of the terminus; what is the throughput of traffic at the terminus during AM and PM peak hours? What is the AM and PM rush hour commuter population? What proportion of the commuters is terminating at Muthurwa and what proportion is onward bound? Are the terminus exits large and safe enough to handle commuters?

One would expect that these questions were considered and factored into the design of the Muthurwa terminus. A near zero throughput at the terminus caused a horrifying traffic snarl up along Jogoo road. The effects of this snarl up reverberated through Kangundo road, Industrial area, Outer ring road, Mombasa road, and Airport North road.

Commuters were caught in a dangerous rush as they squeezed through a single exit out of the market terminus. Transit commuters had to walk several kilometres across town to access connecting vehicles. Commuters got to work late. But they left early to beat the madness of the return commute. In the evening, commuters confronted the insecurity that lurked in the dark alleys of this crime infested city.

A researcher with the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) said the was ill advised. Why would the government rush to implement such a significant decision before undertaking a comprehensive analysis of the implications?

Transportation problems within Nairobi and its environs are compounded by complex historical design factors. What is needed is a comprehensive rather than piecemeal, ill conceived hit-or-miss policy prescriptions. The current vehicle population far outstrips the existing road capacity.

The road design, especially the round-about works best for low traffic density and is now outdated. The round-about is the major cause of the most agonizing traffic snarl ups. The Michuki rules were great for public safety. However, these rules encouraged a proliferation of low occupancy public service vehicles. A city of Nairobi’s size demands high occupancy vehicles.

City zoning rules created “islands” of business, industrial and residential locations. These rules have created a high automobile dependency for daily commute between different zones. The largest volume of morning and evening rush hour traffic is between residential zones and business and industrial zones. Most mid morning and early afternoon traffic is generated by traffic between the business and the industrial zone.

Nairobi’s transportation system must be overhauled to relieve the commuters of needless agony and ease the endless traffic snarl ups that cost money and increase pollution. In the short-term we need to create rapid transit lanes exclusively for public vehicles and carpool. The expansion of Mombasa road presents a great opportunity for piloting rapid transit. There is need to institute regulation and tax incentives to encourage investment in high occupancy public service vehicles. Transit heavy commercial vehicles must be restricted to road by-passes.

In the long-term, we must end the over reliance on road transport by investing in light rail infrastructure. The government must invest in a rapid mass transit system and encourage big investors who can deliver efficiency as well as high quality jobs for drivers and conductors.

The city planning authorities must abandon the antiquated zoning approach and embrace mixed-used development. This will greatly reduce commuting and vehicle-dependence among residents. Punitive parking and transit tax should be levied on vehicles once a rapid mass transit system is in place and the by-passes are operational.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Land Reform in Kenya: Which Way?

Land is Kenya’s most intractable national issue. Kenya’s independence struggle was waged primarily on land grievance. But land is not only bound with sovereignty. It also lies at the heart of social, political and economic life. However,

Access and ownership of arable land underlines the deep seated political, socio-economic and regional inequities in Kenya. According to the Kenya Land Alliance, a network advocating for land reform, more than half the arable land is owned by 20 per cent while 13 per cent of Kenyans are landless.

Land is tied with ethnic identity. There are lingering claims to alienated tribal lands. The Pokot say they were not compensated for the alienation of what is now Trans Nzoia district. Similarly, the Maasai assert that they were swindled out of their land through the Maasai Agreements of 1904 and 1911.

The Ndungu Commission report revealed that landlessness among squatters is linked to the failure of the post-independence governments to implement a comprehensive resettlement programme. Because they lack ethnic entitlement, squatters are vulnerable to frequent displacements and dispossession.

The management of tribal land rights is a tripwire for social and political turmoil. In particular, the unresolved grievance of colonial land alienation underlies the risks of social and political conflict. Many analysts have argued that land is the reason why Rift Valley was the epicenter of the recent post-election violence. Unresolved historical claims to tribal territory render existing property rights weak or uncertain.

At independence, arable land was deemed inexhaustible resource. But rapid population growth, demographic mobility and rising land market value have triggered intense competition for land. Today, Kenya’s arable land which comprises only 20 per cent of Kenya’s total land area of 582,646 Sq. Km is inhabited by 75 per cent area of Kenya’s 34 million people.

Many sub-locations in Nyanza, Western and Central province have per capita land holdings of about 0.07 hectares, the benchmark of land scarcity. It is projected that by 2025, Kenya will join the ranks of countries suffering from a scarcity of arable land.

A Draft National Land Policy (DNLP) has been formulated to reform rights and access to land for all Kenyans. The land reform policy is based on the principles of redistribution, restitution, resettlement, and land readjustment.

The approach of the DNLP is redistributive. It is founded on the principles of State-led agrarian reform. There is little empirical evidence that redistributive policy approaches have achieved desired land reform goals. In India, home to a significant proportion of the world’s poor, the efficacy of this approach however, has been limited and much debated.

Implementation of the proposals of the DNLP depends on the availability of suitable land. In reality, runaway population growth, land degradation and declining per capita arable land holding leaves not enough land to go round.

Proponents of Market-led land reform advocate for individual land rights through secure tenure and progressive taxation to discourage speculative land hoarding. This policy approach leads inevitably, to a strong private land market that encourages land sale and supports land rental markets.

Market-led reforms do not favour the landless. However, a reliable land rent market has the potential to attract investors in who have access to capital and skills to invest in agro-business in rural areas. The rural poor and the landless then have an opportunity to offer their labour for competitive wages.

Smallholder farmers must be encouraged through land sale or land rentals to leave the agricultural sector to give way to larger holdings. Larger farms can attain higher production efficiencies, cope with competition and tap the benefits of globalization. Former smallholder farmers should seek employment as farm workers or shift to the industrial or service sectors.

Skeptics ask if this is realistic, especially when there is little evidence of an emerging industrial sector. Their sense is that the government should provide greater support so that smallholder farmers remain a central pillar of our economy.

Kenya will not become a MIDDLE INCOME COUNTRY by 2030 if 75 per cent of us are trapped in peasantry and poverty in handkerchief-seized parcels of land. I doubt that the heavy investment in education and the proposals to revamp science and technology are meant to gear up the next generation of peasant farmers.


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