By Saraflora Sakwa Chachalia

Kenya welcomes the General Assembly's adoption of the post- 2015 development agenda, including the Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDGs) and targets, in particular target 15.3 and recognizes that achieving national Land degradation neutrality (LDN) targets would significantly contribute to all three dimensions of sustainable development via the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land resources. Water Harvesting, Storage and Land Reclamation is one of the functions of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation (MWI) as drawn from the "Organization of the Government, Executive Order No. 2/2013" dated 20th May, 2013, and Assignment of Ministerial Functions OP/CAB/26 of 30/06/2015 and 23/07/2015". The function is also drawn from International Definition; "Land degradation neutrality is a state whereby the amount and quality of land resources necessary to support ecosystem functions and services and enhance food security remain stable or increase within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems".

The National Mandate is carried out through the Directorate of Water Storage and Land Reclamation with the Motto: "Every land use decision is a water management decision!"; to boost the engagement of stakeholders in the implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. In many countries, achieving land degradation neutrality will require a paradigm shift in land stewardship: from "degrade-abandonmigrate" to "protect-sustain-restore". This means cooperation among various sectors and national sustainable development plans that embrace complementary management options.


Land and soil have been missing, in any meaningful sense, from climate change agreements so far. But this is changing. Climate change is increasing the forces that degrade the land, for example, from drought, floods and landslides. Given the fact that land degradation accelerates climate change and vice versa, land rehabilitation and sustainable management, if widely adopted, could be a workable solution for both the adaptation to and mitigation of climate change. The poor and most vulnerable are already feeling the twin effects of climate change and land degradation. Farmers are caught in the vicious cycle of "poverty, food insecurity and natural resource degradation".

Land degradation is a decline in ecosystem goods and services from the land, which negatively affects the state and the management of the natural resources - water, soil, plants and animals - and hence reduces economic, environmental and social potential and productivity. Land degradation and improving natural resource use can be achieved through sustainable land management (SLM). Land degradation occurs in different forms on various land use types:

On cropland: soil erosion by water and wind; chemical degradation - mainly fertility decline - due to nutrient mining and salinisation; physical soil degradation due to compaction, sealing and crusting; biological degradation due to insufficient vegetation cover, decline of local crop varieties and mixed cropping systems; and water degradation mainly caused by increased surface runoff (polluting surface water) and changing water availability as well as high evaporation leading to aridification.

On grazing land: biological degradation with loss of vegetation cover and valuable species; the increase of alien and 'undesirable' species. The consequences in terms of soil physical degradation, water runoff, erosion are widespread and severe. Low productivity and ecosystem services from degraded grazing lands are widespread and a major challenge to SLM.

On forest land: biological degradation with deforestation; removal of valuable species through logging; replacement of natural forests with monocrop plantations or other land uses (which do not protect the land) and consequences for biodiversity, and soil and water degradation.

Kenya Position:
Land that is properly nurtured fosters food and water security and reverses negative climate change impacts, such as forced migration, by cultivating opportunities for growth and ensuring stability.

A threat to productive land is a threat to survival of people and ecosystems, yet today, more than half of all agricultural land is degraded.

Available estimates indicate that land degradation is increasing both in severity and extent, jeopardizing crop and livestock production systems. The phenomenon of land degradation usually starts as a local problem in various locations, with a cummulative effects at a larger area and eventually national scale. Millions of hectares of land are likely to be irreversibly lost for production, with serious repercussions for many Kenyans now and in the future.

Over-exploitation of natural resources coupled with natural calamities could result into devastating impacts on livelihoods, more so among nomadic populations. Unless this trend is reversed, the national food and water security situation along with the general poverty situation are bound to worsen, across all agro-ecological zones.


Across Africa, more than half a billion people depend on rain fed agriculture. Unfortunately, in most parts of Africa, rainfall is no longer as predictable as it were in the past before the onset of Climate change. Dry spells are longer, more frequent and emerging in new areas therefore families are finding it more and more difficult to survive and thrive. It is only a matter of time before these effects are felt in all corners of the globe. It is estimated that over US $390 million is lost annually from the national economy due to land degradation (Medium Term Plan 2008 - 2012). These are the direct economic and social costs suffered by the affected areas and include displacement of people affected by loss of productive land resources manifesting in loss of food security and over reliance on relief food, associated insecurity, siltation of dams, watercourses that reduce the economic life of irrigation systems, hydro-power dams, power generating stations, dust emissions that affect public transportation.

Kenya Position:
Examples are shown in Figure 1 whereby, indirect costs include and not limited to the cost of reclamation, increased fertilizer use and other resultant health hazards. The earlier the problem is recognized and reversed, the more efficient and costeffective is rehabilitation.


Frequently Asked Questions by New Employees/Senior Staff or Students/Lecturers in Engineering and Natural Resources Management:

(a) Is the world experiencing the consequences of land degradation and climate change in tandem? Or are they separate concerns?

- On the first part, consequences of land degradation and climate change are happening in tandem. Land degradation is a global development and environmental issue. Desertification is a big problem in dry places like the Sahel and most parts of Africa (Kenya included), but with most of the land degradation happening outside these areas, our common future looks bleak.

- The Global Assessment of Land Degradation and Improvement Report indicates that 22% of degraded land in Kenya is in the ASALs, while 78% is in the medium and high rainfall areas. It is estimated that 84% of the national land area is covered by the ASALs. The rate of land degradation in high rainfall areas is estimated at 3% per annum and is mostly located in hilly and mountanious areas where indiscrimate removal of vegetation cover and cultivation of steep slopes take place. The situation is aggrevated by inappropriate land use practices that have increased loss of productivity impacting negatively on livelihoods and the national economy. Increasing evidence of aridity in Kenya is real and the effects of climate change are a major threat.

- On the second part of the question, Climate change is considered one of the most serious threats to sustainable development globally. The strain this is putting on families, economies and, yes, even governance systems, is unbearable (e.g Forced migration, internal displacement and resource-related conflicts are on the rise everywhere). It cannot be emphasized enough how vital it is that climate change does not damage our limited productive land, irreparably.

- Analyses carried out by the Government of Kenya show that over the last fifty years average maximum temperatures have increased by 0.1oC to 2.1oC while minimum temperatures have on average increased by 0.7oC to 2.9oC, except in the Coastal strip where it has decreased from 0.3oC to 1.0oC due to the proximity of the Indian Ocean. - It was also found that Kenya might get wetter and hotter but the increase in temperature and rainfall will translate into increased agricultural productivity in specific locations, mainly due to increased evapotranspiration. The study also found out that there will be increase in frequencies of drought in arid and semi-arid areas that could cause irreversible decreases in livestock numbers. Kenya will have significant areas within arid and semiarid regions where cropping might not be possible due to climate change (Mario et al, 2010).

(b) How do we harness the potential of land and soil to help communities adapt to climate change or sequester carbon?

- We need national and international measures to help us recover degrading land and ensure that the productive land under our care can withstand future climate change-related stresses. Land-based adaptation is a practical and affordable path towards that goal and it is cost-effective. Mitigation is a difficult but necessary road to avoid a climate catastrophe but landbased adaptation is now indispensable for all communities across the world.

- The Government of Kenya (Jubilee) Manifesto therefore promises to tackle the issue of sustainable land management as required by the Constitution Article 10 section 1(d) and a combination of policies, technologies and activities all aimed at integrating socio-economic attributes with sustainable environment concerns. It only takes a few hours to erode an inch of soil but many years to recover it once it is gone. Let us act now on adaptation and resilience to avoid unspeakable losses in the future. The Jubilee's Transforming Kenya Manifesto commits the government to: "Rehabilitate arid areas through afforestation, prevention of soil erosion and land reclamation" (Page 57). The challenges include and not limited to the following: Climate change, Cultural practices, Land tenure systems which inhibit appropriate land use and response to reclamation needs, Limited data, information and awareness on land reclamation, Limited research and appropriate reclamation technologies, Low investment in land reclamation initiatives, Trans-boundary activities, Uncoordinated policy, legal and regulatory framework, Unsustainable exploitation of natural resources such as vegetation harvesting, mining practices, extracting resources from fragile ecosystems, among others.

(c) How can the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), other Multilateral or Bilateral Development Partners help Kenya combat climate change by rehabilitating degraded land?

- Facilitate ecosystem reconstruction and stabilization to maintain a safe and stable landscape with social and direct benefits to the communities. This could be achieved through seven (7) key strategic objectives shared among the sector institutions to: 1) Formulate, develop and review appropriate land reclamation policies, bills, strategies and plans; 2) Increase productivity and utilization of Marginal, Degraded lands, ASALs, Wastelands and Wastewater; 3) Enhance reliable and adequate water harvesting and storage; 4) Strengthen institutional and build capacity of communities/stakeholders; 5) Develop, maintain and monitor knowledge management systems and ICT for reporting, sharing and dissemination of Land Reclamation activities; 6) Develop and implement mechanisms that mainstream cross-cutting guidelines on Corruption, HIV/AIDS and Gender and 7) Monitor and Evaluate policy implementation nationally. It is projected that by 2020, many actors will be aware of the need for land reclamation, substantial land will have been reclaimed and more people will be practicing appropriate land management practices thereby slowing degradation, hence there will be a slight decline in funding that will be required for land reclamation.

(d) What are common indicators for stakeholders of the 3 Rio conventions (to measure progress and resilience), especially climate change?

Climate Change refers to a change in the state of the climate that persists for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural and anthropogenic processes. A permanent shift in the normal patterns of climate but to a local farmer or pastoralist, these abstract scientific terms do not make any sense! A definition and description in livelihood terms is required if we are to categorically deal with the climate change problems and ensure the local stakeholder will embrace adaptation actions. In very basic terms, Climate change can therefore be defined as the lack of rains, withering of crops, drying of streams and rivers, dying of livestock due to gradual climatic changes; an increase in temperature by an average of 2°C over the average weather over a period of time of 30 years.

(e) How to constitute policies regulating the use of inputs while attributing an important place to the increase of agricultural production in the light of climate change and in accordance with food safety by evaluating Sustainable Land Management (SLM) and environmental aspects?

- If we invest in sustainable land use practices and set up safeguards for the worst times, we can ease the food, water, income and security threats that communities will face; this is the aim of land-based adaptation. If we rebuild our land-based infrastructure and set global targets for success, our social, economic and political systems will be protected from land degradation; this is the purpose of land-based resilience.

- We need laws that support land users and promote tenure rights and financing that drives sustainable land management practices and adaptation powered by nature. SLM represents a preventive and cost-effective approach to climate change with a positive long-term impact on rural landscape and farmers’ livelihoods.

- It is noteworthy that most Sustainable Land Management (SLM) related policies are broad-based in approach excluding the unique nature of the Marginal, degraded lands, ASALs, Wastelands and Wastewater. There are critical questions to address in policy development in this regard, such as: who identifies development priorities; who drives implementation of these priorities; who is responsible for sustainability of development initiatives.

- Though in the past Kenya government has been committal in curbing land degradation, little has been realized in reversing the process. Achievement of sustainable land management has been hampered by various barriers such as weak policy support, inadequate knowledge and skills.

- Countries that implemented land reclamation initiatives very early in their development such as the USA through the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR- Reclamation Act 1902) and India were able to rehabilitate degraded lands and reclaim vast ASAL areas of their countries guaranteeing food and water security.

(f) Are there Opportunities for public employment in Water and Irrigation? The County Directors are responsible for overall coordination of the affairs of the National Government department responsible for Water and Irrigation affairs in exercise of the national functions on water, irrigation and land reclamation. Specific duties and responsibilities include the following:

i). Overseeing and coordinating the implementation of national policies, strategies and investment plans.

ii). Assisting counties to develop water, irrigation and land reclamation structures to undertake the respective county functions.

iii). Coordinating capacity building and technical assistance to counties.

iv). Establishing and maintaining linkage mechanisms with stakeholders and other national government departments.

v). Preparing and submitting regular reports on their functions to the national government department headquarters.

vi). Maintaining national water, irrigation and land reclamation assets in the counties.

vii). Ensuring utilization of national funds on water affairs and be the AIE holders.

viii). Undertaking monitoring and evaluation on water, irrigation and land reclamation activities funded by national government.

ix). Acting as immediate liaison officers between national and county governments on water, irrigation and land reclamation issues.

x). Supervising national government water, irrigation and land reclamation staff at the county level.


In the recent past, Kenya has experienced erratic weather patterns causing prolonged drought and frequent floods. The combination of climate variability and deterioration of forest cover in watersheds has had severe impacts, including loss of human life and livestock, damage to infrastructure, poor crop yields, famines, wildlife migrations, and human migrations and displacements due to major flooding events, all of which have had adverse impacts on livelihoods and the national economic performance.

- According to the most recent IPCC report on climate change (IPCC 2014), the frequency of occurrence and intensity of episodes of climate variability in East Africa can be expected to increase significantly over the decade.

- Kenya faces major food security challenges due to the over dependence on rain-fed agriculture for food production. The number of Kenyans requiring food assistance rose from 650,000 in 2007 to almost 3.8 million in 2009/2010. Pastoral and marginal agricultural areas are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Extended periods of drought erode livelihoods opportunities and community resilience in these areas; leading to undesirable coping strategies that damage the environment and impair household nutritional status, further undermining long-term food security.

- In the ASALs, about 2 million people are permanently on famine relief, with the number rising up to 5 million during severe droughts. Acute malnutrition rates are experienced by over 15 percent in children under five. Kenya has a population estimated at 40 million.

- The continued annual burden of the extreme climatic events could cost the economy as much as US$500 million a year, which is equivalent to approximately 2.6 percent of the country's GDP with implications for long-term growth. For example, the 1998- 2000 drought led to an economic loss of about US$ 2.8 billion resulting from the loss of crops and livestock, forest fires, damage to fisheries, reduced hydropower generation and industrial activity.

- The 1997/98 floods, on the other hand, are estimated to have affected about 1 million people, costing the economy US$0.8-1.2 billion in terms of damage to infrastructure (roads, buildings and communication systems), public health effects and loss of crops. Other losses amounting to US$9 million arose from flooding, property destruction, soil erosion, mudslides and landslides, surface and groundwater pollution and sedimentation of dams and water reservoirs.


Therefore, Kenya as an affected country requires clear policies to guide the sustainable use and management of land and land resources and suitable land-use practices that can lead to an increase in carbon stocks and enhanced resilience both of local stakeholder livelihoods and the ecosystem services that these rely on.

- In recognition of the serious threats posed by climate change the Government has taken and continues to take bold measures to secure the country's development against the risks and impacts of climate change.

- The Constitution of Kenya of 2010 provides for maintenance of at least ten per cent tree cover of the land area. The Kenya Vision 2030 targets the planting of at least seven billion trees to address food, water and energy security. During the last ten (10) years, Kenya has been able to restore 6% of forest cover. There are clear indications we will be able to attain the 10% tree cover in the next three years.

- In 2010, Kenya launched the National Climate Change Response Strategy which enhanced understanding of the global climate change regime and the impacts of climate change. It was Kenya's first climate change agenda guide as it provided a basis for strengthening and focusing nationwide action towards climate change adaptation and mitigation

- The development of the National Climate Change Action Plan in 2013 marks another landmark stride by the Government towards addressing climate change vulnerability. The Action Plan takes adaptation and mitigation efforts to the next stage of implementation and equips the country to take decisive action in responding to the challenges of climate change.

Kenya is also addressing land degradation through other land based adaption to climate change such as:

(i)Improving soil health:Soil health is a function of the soils capacity to provide the basic services for supporting plant growth and contributing to the regulation of nutrient, water, carbon and gaseous cycles. Soil health is widely linked to soil biodiversity.Boosting and managing healthy soils increase productivity on-farm which serve to moderate the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity.

(ii) Catchment or watershed management which optimizes and diversifies land use according to terrain which enhances vegetation cover, rainwater capture and infiltration, and ensures safe discharge of excess runoff water.

(iii) Management of degraded soils through practices such as reduced tillage, improved soil cover and rotations that replenish soil organic matter and nutrients that contribute to increasing crop and livestock yields and community resilience to the potentially adverse effects of climate change. In grazing systems, soil organic matter can be increased through controlled grazing, which reduces vegetation degradation and restores grassland diversity and productivity. Reducing burning to the absolute minimum also increases SOM, enhancing moisture holding capacity and contributing to climate change mitigation.

(iv) Water management:Climate change affects directly or indirectly all the elements of the water cycle. An increase in temperature results in an increase in evaporation and evapotranspiration. While there are large uncertainties on the impact of climate change on precipitation, models converge in predicting more variability in rainfall patterns, with increased occurrence of extreme events like intense precipitation or longer periods of dry weather. These two factors contribute to disruption of the water cycle which affects the soil water holding capacity, leading to longer periods of water deficit and more frequent floods. Such changes will affect rain-fed farming, and through increased variations in river runoff and groundwater recharge will also affect irrigated agriculture, as well as livestock feeding and watering. Water management options that reduces sensitivity and exposure to these hazards, or increases the capacity to respond or react will have a positive impact on resilience. Such options include improvements in soil moisture storage, reduction of the erosive capacity of runoff and all options that help store water, either in ponds, small reservoirs or in the ground. (v) Livelihood diversification: Smallholders are highly dependent on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods which are being placed in jeopardy as increasing weather variability and climate change are affecting yields. Through diversification, on farm or non-farm enterprise can be integrated into small farms to increase incomes and enhance livelihoods.

- Current programmes being run by the Ministry include 3 main programmes namely Turkana Rehabilitation programme (TRP), Garissa Rehabilitation programme (GRP) and Centre for Integrated Training and Research in ASALs Development (CETRAD).

- Climate Change Adaptation Technologies: Wide range of small-scale and appropriate technologies is available internationally and locally. Many of these technologies consider local climate and environmental conditions. FEATURE

- For instance, rainwater harvesting can be done using rainwater tanks, in field furrows, ridges, planting pits, mulching, cover crops, micro irrigation, grey water use water management and erosion control are important.

- Rainwater harvesting "Irrigation" means irrigation and drainage using rainwater and includes agricultural water harvesting and storage or any "human actions taken to improve availability of rainwater for agricultural production of crops, pasture, livestock, aquaculture, and desired forest trees".

- Rainwater is mostly stored in the soil profile through soil conservation technologies like intercropping, ash, composting, maturing, mulching, planting pits, crop rotation, fallows, and conservation tillage.

- Indigenous technologies often invoke elements of the above or further adaptations. Often context specific, small scale and simple application - easy for households to scale out based on resources and demands.

For more information, Contact Author: Gibson M. Kiragu, Deputy Director, Water Storage and Land Reclamation at Email: gibson.kiragu@gmail.com