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June 24, 2011
Editor’s Note: In an interview with Kenyan-Somali educationist, veterinarian, agriculturalist, and environmentalist Al-Haji Muhumed Bulle, WardheerNews has the pleasure to share with its readers the environmental disasters that have become the hallmarks of the vast Somali-inhabited North Eastern Province of Kenya. For over three decades, Al-Haji Bulle has been involved in the preservation of this sparsely populated yet overused region. Mr. Bulle is a graduate student of Antioch University’s School of Environmental Management in Keene, New England. The interview uncovers the extent of environmental degradation in northeastern Kenya and the plight of its inhabitants.
WDN: Welcome to WardheerNews and please give us a brief background information of yourself.
Muhumed Bulle (MB): I am a Kenyan born in Garissa. I have my training background in Veterinary, Agriculture, Education and also environment. I have worked in all this fields with government ministries as well as national and international organizations. Currently, I am pursuing a master of science in environment (sustainable development and climate change concentration), at Antioch University, New Hampshire, USA.
WDN: How would you describe the climate and the land of the Somali-inhabited region from the agricultural and forestry perspective?
MB: The land in question is no doubt denuded. This is due to many factors, including but not limited to the following: Population explosion (both humans and livestock), excess release of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, due to charcoal burning and overgrazing and ecosystem destruction. Most of the causes of these challenges are man-induced. Most of the suitable grazing lands are now trading centers leading to extinction of most wildlife species and ecosystem destruction. Also, influx of refugees has exacerbated the situation further. Below is a picture of Dadaab refugee camp and degraded land.
WDN: How has atmospheric pollution and changes in land use affected your area of influence?
MB: When land use changed from pastoral to sedentary the land carrying capacity was greatly reduced. The land that could support one animal unit per acre cannot support the same any more. Production and release of CO2 and damping of waste has lead to sporadic outbreaks of diseases that were otherwise unknown in the area like typhoid, cancer, and blood pressure. During the rainy season, malaria outbreaks are common due to excessive floods and lack of land cover (deforestation and land degradation).
WDN: One of the major environmental devastation in East Africa particularly Somalis is tree felling, and the burning of trees for charcoal consumption. Most urban households as well as rural dwellers use charcoal for everyday cooking. Could you tell us the extent of these issues?
MB: In a scale of 1 to 10, it is 7 and above. This is because the environment has been abused successively over the years. Over 80% of environmental degradation is manmade.
WDN: Deforestation exacerbates soil erosion and reduces rainfall availability. How serious is soil degradation in the Somali inhabited region?
MB: Deforestation and overgrazing of land has led to soils being exposed to wind erosion, runoff erosion and fertility loss. This has lead to low carrying capacity of the land and development of sand dunes. The issue is serious and requires an urgent attention.
WDN: Has the Kenyan government put in place alternative methods of cooking food or in other words is there any attempt to curtail the issues of tree felling and deforestation in the region?
MB: As you are aware the system of government in the country has failed everybody including the leaders themselves. That is why Kenya is being reborn now with the help of the international community. And now there is hope more than any other time before. So far there are no practical measures in place.
WDN: Due to the rise of fuel ( gas), there are reports indicating the pressure of wood fuel trade increasing, thus the major tree species used for wood fuel consumption the Acacia bussei is facing extinction, what can you tell us about the state of the acacia tree in North eastern Kenya?
MB: The Acacia species is all endangered particularly the Acacia tortilis.
WDN: How about overgrazing?
MB: Kenya has the highest population growth rate in the world and still remains unchecked. There is little land left for animals to graze. Very soon there will be no livestock left in the country and nomads will be forced by circumstance to abandon nomadic lifestyle.
WDN: Are there any reforestation projects and farmers educational programs such as agricultural extension services taking place in the region?
MB: There are good intensions in place that is always frustrated by bad governance.
WDN: Are you aware of any subsidies provided by the Kenya Government to farmers in the region?
MB: Yes, but to a small extent. Pastoralists are being encouraged to settle down and learn agro-pastoralism.
WDN: Are there water wars in areas dominated by Kenya-Somalis and what are the ramifications you have so far experienced during your career?
MB: In pastoral society, water and grazing rights wars are always there.
WDN: Which part of the Somali-inhabited region has been adversely affected by environmental degradation and what has the Kenya Government done to overcome such human made disasters?
MB: The most affected are the Lagdera/fafi region of Garissa District. As you are aware our brothers from Somalia destroyed their country, they are not all to blame though and because we were sharing the fruits when the country was there, we had to share the problems with them too and that is why we have the refugee camps in our midst. Now because of the high population of refugees, environmental degradation is highest here.
WDN: What are the main public policy challenges faced by the authorities in water stewardship and agricultural resources?
MB: Corruption and therefore lack of implementation of planned projects.
WDN: Education is critical to increasing the awareness of the locals on tree felling and other environmental issues, yet Kenyan-Somalis who are increasing in number as indicated by the recent census have no educational centers such as agricultural colleges. Why has the Kenya Government not established a college or university to serve Kenya-Somalis?
MB: These challenges are not limited to Somalis; they are members of the wider society called Kenyans. There is an agricultural training centre in Garissa, there is also the first Islamic University in Garissa. The same ones can be expanded to meet the educational needs of the residents. The local communities also have a wealth of indigenous knowledge on conservation which can be borrowed and enhanced once challenges on governance are addressed. Kenyans have high hopes on the county governments that are shaping up.
WDN: Thanks for sharing your time with our esteemed readers.
MB: Thank you and you are always welcome.