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County governments: key to ensuring sustainable development paths

 

When Kenya adopted its new constitution in 2010, much of the responsibility for managing natural resources moved from the centralised national government to newly established county governments, through a process called devolution.

The new county forest bill will help to protect coastal forests in Kwale Copyright: Cath LawsonThe new county forest bill will help to protect coastal forests in Kwale Copyright: Elias Kimaru / WWF

Across the country, the passing of the new constitution resulted in the formation of 47 county governments and it is intended that devolvement of natural resource management, among other functions, to these bodies creates space for more democratic natural resource governance. The decision to devolve was based on the premise that local communities and authorities are best placed to govern the use of natural resources within their county as they are the ones with the greatest understanding of it and most directly affected by it.

Fundamentally this change in Kenyan governance is seen as a very positive step, and it has enabled us to better support communities to have a voice in natural resource management issues, but it has also brought about some new challenges. For example, because the counties governance system is very new (having only been in existence for two years) there is a need to build capacity to ensure that county governments can carry out their role as mandated.

WWF is playing a key role in strengthening the capacity of county governments to manage natural resources in a number of priority locations within Kenya. In each case, these engagements are intended to ensure development decisions made at the local level take a sustainable path – taking into consideration economic growth, environmental concerns and the social wellbeing of the local people.

Coastal forests support a huge diversity of wildlife Copyright: Cath LawsonCoastal forests support a huge diversity of wildlife Copyright: Cath Lawson / WWF

In Kwale, we’ve supported development of a County Forest Conservation and Management Bill which will effectively guide the county government in the management of forest sectors within the county. We mobilised a wide variety of stakeholders, including the private sector, communities, government agencies and technical experts, to ensure that the finalised bill takes account of their needs and knowledge.

The bill is important because it plays a vital role in reducing degradation of forest ecosystems at the county level, increasing benefits to the community from the forest sector, and promoting the use of sustainable energy sources (in my earlier blog on this topic). The bill also sets out mechanisms by which incentives can be provided to farmers to establish forests on private land – this is particularly important as it will lead to increased biodiversity on farms, and create biological connectivity between fragmented forests patches.

Ultimately, by working with the county government and local community in this way, we’re helping to establish a bill that will ensure sustainable forests management practices are entrenched in the county development plan, thereby contributing to building a future in which Kenyans live in harmony with nature.

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