Road to COP15 Montreal: Kenya’s local communities have had limited benefits from their natural resources; here is why

Many communities are vulnerable to manipulation, rendering the whole principle of fair and equitable sharing of benefits impractical

By Maina Waruru
Published: Friday 25 November 2022
Many communities are vulnerable to manipulation, rendering the whole principle of fair and equitable sharing of benefits impractical. Representative photo: iStock.

Kenya's communities involved in conservation hope for enhanced participation in formulating benefit-sharing agreements for genetic resources, as the world prepares to assemble at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Montreal, Canada, from December 7-19, 2022.

They have good reason to desire such a change as the country has not been able to enjoy benefits from biological resources so far.

Communities involved in conservation have seen little in terms of financial benefits despite the country priding itself on issuing a maximum number of Internationally Recognised Certificates of Compliance with the CBD.

Also read: Mexican indigenous groups yet to benefit under Nagoya Protocol; here is why

Most community-based conservation initiatives are linked to the protection of forests, considering them as catchments that guarantee adequate water supply, besides secondary ecosystem benefits.

Other groups are involved in wildlife conservation, with a focus on benefiting from ecotourism, a complex field where large, more and better organised ‘conservancies’, seem to gain more than the community groups.

Part of the reason for limited benefits from biodiversity protection is ignorance, lack of capacity and low capacity to negotiate or participate in crafting pacts with various parties, be they governmental or private, experts and groups’ leaders say.

“Unless local communities understand their rights and sit at the negotiations table and negotiate for benefit sharing, they will continue missing out,” said environmental activist Violet Matiru, who leads the Millennium Community Development Initiative (MCDI). The MCDI is a local organisation that works with communities on critical environmental and livelihood challenges.

Also read: Legal, controlled trade of wild species can have many benefits: CITES report

Benefit sharing, as stipulated in the CBD, is a preserve of commercial entities and powerful interests, she said. A good example of this are the private wildlife conservancies established in the north of the country, she added.

Many communities are vulnerable to manipulation, rendering the whole principle of fair and equitable sharing of benefits impractical. This calls for capacity building at the community level, even as other interventions are made.

One of the things that could help entrench real benefit sharing is the enactment of the Natural Resources (Benefits Sharing) Bill 2020, which has been pending before the Senate over the last four years.

Also read: Road to COP15 Montreal: Namibia’s unique scheme ensures implementation of Nagoya Protocol

 The bill is meant to establish “a system of benefit sharing in natural resources exploitation between exploiters, the national government, county governments and local communities for connected purposes.”

It will be applied where resources including sunlight, water, forests, biodiversity and genetic resources, wildlife, industrial fishing and wind are concerned.

It further empowers the country’s Commission for Revenue Allocation the powers to implement the Act and manage and administer benefit sharing among all entities concerned.

However, the law is not without criticism.

Some of the people who have shared their views on the proposed law are the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association. The association represents 160 conservancies across Kenya and proposed amendments to the bill.

They observed that the bill, for example, allocates only a paltry 12.8 per cent of benefits from natural resources for community projects. It “disproportionately allocates 68 per cent to the National government”.

They further object to the fact it proposes the allocation of 19.2 per cent of the money to projects within the larger County. The local communities who incur the “larger costs of living with wildlife and who are currently not being compensated for losses will replace wildlife with other land uses.”

The association says this contravenes Article 69 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Kenya, which demands equitable benefit sharing of benefits accrued from natural resources separation.

Also read: Road to COP15 Montreal: Cameroon hopes to benefit from its rich biodiversity

“While the objective of the bill is to establish a system of benefit sharing in exploitation and use of natural resources, the bill has the unintended consequence, the association summarised.

It adversely affects the existing benefit-sharing arrangement, largely managed by the local communities, further driving wildlife conservation in community and private land beyond the tipping point, it added.

One unique case that explains how communities fail is that of the Kakamega Natural Forest Catchment Conservation Organisation (KANFCCO). This conservation group works to save Kakamega Forest, a tropical rainforest in Western Kenya with a major focus on the Mondia whitei, locally known as Mokombero.

Mondia whitei’s roots are used to treat multiple diseases, including sexual disorders. In 2021, the group signed a deal with a French company for the supply of 100 tonnes of root per year.

The deal is yet to be executed since the company has been reluctant to sign all the pacts required before local farmers can start the export of the roots or its locally made products, said KANFCCO Secretary James Ligale.

“We signed the Prior and Informed Consent agreement as stipulated by the Nagoya Protocol, but the company reneged in signing the other statutory pacts of Mutual Material Transfer Agreement and the Material Transfer Agreement,” Ligale told Down To Earth.

The two documents are used in the context of transferring any kind of biological material between different entities. They are also part of guidelines published by the various Kenya government agencies, including National Council for Science Technology and Innovation.

Ligale said they had made plans for planting 45,000 seedlings by local farmers. The popular root was also endemic to neighbouring Uganda and Cameroon. But the Kenyan cultivar was the most preferred owing to its richness in active ingredients for various uses.

For this reason, it was being widely pirated outside the country, he claimed, even as supply struggled to meet local demand.

Like the other groups, he wants the Natural Resources (Benefits Sharing) Bill 2020 to be expedited.

“We are now trying to educate the local community not to just share traditional knowledge with researchers without first knowing what the information will be used for and what the benefit locals could get from sharing the information,” he added.

Out of poverty, locals had shared critical information with unscrupulous people after being paid peanuts, he alleged. Mostly “people publish papers, get PhDs and other honours,” without even bothering to mention the local contributors in their journal papers, he added.

Further to the proposed law, Kenya has drafted the Kenya national biodiversity strategy and action plan 2019-2030 (NBSAP 2019-2030).

The updated NBSAP is expected to assist the country with the ability to “formulate and manage sectoral and cross-sectoral programmes to meet the objectives of the CBD, through a cost effective approach within the context of national sustainable development efforts.”

The document acknowledges that Kenya’s biodiversity is under threat and is likely to lose unique species, some of which are endemic to the country.

“While the Kenya government recognises the use of ecosystems approach as the best methods for conserving biodiversity, their main challenge is in the enforcement and compliance, and limited resources for implementation of the legislative, regulatory, policy frameworks”.

 This is the last of a four-part series

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