Synopsis top ↑
During the thirty years since the achievement of independence in many
African countries, Kenya has been prominent as an apparent exception
to the widespread political instability, social disturbance,
environmental degradation, famine and desertification which have
afflicted so many parts of the continent.
To a large extent this has been achieved because of the high productivity of fertile soils in the humid highlands which form some 25 per cent of the country. Until very recently this has been sufficient to sustain nearly 80 per cent of the Kenyan population, which still has an annual growth rate near 4 per cent, amongst the highest in the world. Land use pressure in the highlands has become intense leading to subdivision of land into non-viable units, and expansion onto steeply sloping lands of lower fertility and high erosion hazard. The highlands cannot sustain significantly higher population, so accommodation of future population growth must depend on significantly increased utilization of the 75 per cent of the country which is arid or semi-arid.
Past attempts to change land use and sustain increased population in Kenyan drylands have not been very successful and have resulted in serious land degradation, particularly in districts immediately adjacent to the densely populated highlands, such as Machakos, Baringo, Kajaido and Laikipia. Physical and ecological processes in drylands differ fundamentally from these in more humid regions. The productive capacity of drylands can be effectively utilised to accommodate increased population without severe environmental degradation only if land use is based on detailed understanding of environmental processes and constraints. The papers collected in this volume result from research carried out in Baringo District of Kenya to provide basic information essential for land reclamation and development of environmentally and socially appropriate land use practices. Baringo has long been regarded as one of the most severely degraded in Kenya. It was chosen for research because degradation poses an immediate threat to the welfare of the population, and because the district exemplifies within a small area many of the environmental problems which have afflicted the Kenyan drylands and, indeed, most dryland regions in sub-Saharan Africa. Baringo is unusual, however, because there is already a considerable history of scientific research and there is also a strong political will to find appropriate solutions. Past attempts to reverse the cycle of environmental deterioration in Baringo have not been very successful, yet most of the ingredients necessary for implementation of environmentally sustainable land use management now appear to be present. With careful and innovative use of the information now available, Baringo could become a model for effective land management in many dryland regions in Africa.