TAPPING THE POTENTIAL OF MARGINAL LANDS: PRESSING ISSUES IN KENYA’S ASALs
Kenya, ASALS occupy 89% of the country’s land and house up to 14 million people and approximately 70% of the national livestock. These areas evidently have not been fully merged with the rest of the country’s development programmes, leaving their potential unexploited for the benefit of the communities residing within them. This has left them in abject poverty and underdevelopment- a contrast of the country’s national goal to achieve its Vision 2030 by the year 2030.The government has had many policies over the years that seek to put arid lands communities’ interests at heart but that has not been realised to the maximum. Fifty years after independence and the situation still seems the same. Population in these areas exhibit the highest illiteracy levels in the country, poverty as well as community clashes from time to time mainly due to resources. There has been a trend of underdevelopment in these regions due to unjust historical decisions made by past governments that only focused on the biologically productive areas of the country.
With policy work still making progress, implementation is still a major setback for communities thriving in the ASALs. The existing policies have identified that these areas have been marginalized long enough and that they need to be utilised in order to benefit their communities but there still lacks the political goodwill for this to become a reality.
Kenya has had a long past of ecological injustices to its communities who live in the arid and semi-arid lands. Past governments have not proven to be concerned with the development of these communities and the lands that have remained in abject poverty for decades. This has been recently coupled with recent attacks from the Islamic Militia group Al-Shabaab. Never ending conflicts are normal majorly because of scarcity of natural resources. This has immensely crippled the possibility of any kind of investment to kick off. Though the constitution provides for social inclusion, it is an undisputed fact that communities in Kenya’s
ASALs are still marginalized. They deserve empowerment in order to resolve the conflicts experienced in their areas. Alternative sources of sources of income can help reduce the poverty levels because the main source of livelihood for these communities is Pastoralism.
The government is yet to be committed to helping and empowering these communities and the ASALs as well which have a lot of potential that could benefit to the economic development of northern Kenya and the country in general. The Ministry of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands was established in 2008 to spearhead policy and institutional reforms in addressing development challenges facing ASALS. This was so because of the Economic Strategy Paper of 2003 which effectively marked the turn of events for attention to ASALs by having a comprehensive ASALs’ coverage into national policy agenda since independence.
On the hand, the arid and semi-arid lands of Kenya have the unimaginable potential to massively contribute to the country’s economy. Implementation of the existing policies through the right legal and institutional mechanisms put in place will go a long way in putting the marginalized land to use. Climate Resilience should be the primary focus for these communities as they are most susceptible to the effects of climate change. The persistent famine and food insecurity crises in the region have been as a result of poor and traditional farming methods that have not been able to withstand the harsh climatic conditions. Farmers need to be trained on better farming techniques that will help them improve on their yields thereby reducing the risks of food insecurity and minimizing a foreign food aid donation that aggravates their dependence on donor aid rather than self-development.
Kenya’s drylands need to be explored with a view to helping their communities and improving the state of the country’s economy as it its envisioned in its Vision 2030 document of Kenya being a middle class economy country by the year 2030. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 also constitutes a fundamental shift in the narrative of ASALs and their place in the overall framework of the country. But the shift in the narrative about the ASALs is even more specific in Article 56 that provides affirmative action to redress historical marginalization effectively through the strategies put forth by MNKOAL. Arid and semi-arid lands are the sole source of livelihoods for the inhabitants in these areas and therefore the government needs to be doing more than just developing policies with little or no implementation or even political goodwill because of the lack of knowhow of the majority of the people living in ASALs