4 June 2014

Kenya's Climate Change Legislation Takes Shape to Save Struggling Farmers

Nairobi — Daniel Njau, a small-scale farmer from Nyeri County, central Kenya, is torn. He just may have to give up his six-hectare tea plantation in favour of farming climate-resilient food crops.

"Tea is very sensitive to climate change. Any drastic weather changes spell doom for the cash crop. In recent years, I have made more losses than gains," he told IPS.

But statistics from the Ministry of Agriculture show that Njau is only one of an estimated 500,000 small-scale tea farmers facing uncertainty when it comes to their livelihoods.

United Nations scientists have also warned that as maize-growing areas become warmer, production of maize - the country's main staple crop - will reduce by a fifth. Yields of other staple foods, including beans, will shrink by 68 percent.

At least 300,000 maize farmers are affected, says the Ministry of Agriculture.

For sometime now, experts have blamed the low adaptive capacity on the lack of a national policy and law on climate change in this East African nation.

When it comes to a climate change policy, Kenya's legal framework is sectoral and fragmented, with each sector containing its own legislation. A 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill was rejected by Kenya's former president Mwai Kibaki in 2013.

But Kenya's National Assembly deputy speaker Joyce Laboso told IPS that while the 2012 bill was rejected because of a lack of public involvement in its discussion, "the new Climate Change Bill 2014 has garnered significant political goodwill."

The 2014 bill is expected to provide a legal and institutional framework for climate change mitigation and adaption efforts.

Once it becomes law, the bill will also advise national and county governments on regional and international conventions, and treaties and agreements on climate change to which Kenya is a party or should be a party to. The bill will also facilitate their implementation.

John Kioli, the brains behind the Climate Change Authority Bill 2012 and chairperson of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group, says that the 2012 bill "has now been resurrected in the form of the Climate Change Bill 2014."

According to the deputy speaker Laboso the 2014 bill was introduced in parliament in January "and it has already gone through the first reading and is now at the committee level awaiting its second reading."

Kioli pointed out that "allocation of funding for climate change is a major challenge."

He explained that had the 2012 Climate Change Authority Bill been enacted, it would have established an independent climate change authority, with legal powers to self-regulate, and a climate change trust fund to finance adaptation projects.

The new 2014 bill will establish a climate change fund to facilitate climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.

Government estimates show that the country's five-year National Climate Change Action Plan will require a substantial investment of about 12.76 billion dollars.

This is equivalent to the current 2013 to 2014 national budget. The action plan is a blueprint on how to operationalise Kenya's National Climate Change Response Strategy (NCCRS).

Although Kioli said that in as far as legislation was concerned the country is heading in the right direction. He pointed out that challenges abound particularly when it comes to "the lack of understanding on the difference between environment and climate change."

Kioli said that this was evident from the fact that some quarters have been calling for the revising of the 1999 Environment, Management and Coordination Act to serve as a solution to climate change.

"We carried out research on the effects of climate change on various sectors, including agriculture, and concluded that there were significant legislative gaps," Kioli pointed out.

Kioli said that the country's first tangible commitment to combating climate change was in the December 2009 promulgation of the NCCRS -- a plan that would ensure robust measures were put in place to combat climate change.

Climate change experts say that though significant, NCCRS is just a plan of action. It is neither a national policy nor law.

Although a policy is not enacted by the national assembly and therefore not legally binding, it is an important framework implemented through an act. And the National Climate Change Action Plan highlighted the need to have a policy and law specifically on climate change.

Meanwhile, Laboso said that the Environment and Natural Resources Committee together with the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources have been meeting various stakeholders, including senators and members of the county assembly, to iron out any contentious issues and to make relevant amendments to the Climate Change Bill 2014.

"The amendments will be tabled in parliament in a report together with the bill for discussion once parliament resumes from recess this month [June]. The pace is good since both the national policy on climate change and the 2014 bill are been developed concurrently," Laboso said.

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