Land and Resources, Environmental Issues
With one of the highest population growth rates in the world, Kenya has an increasing need for fuelwood and agricultural land. Only about 7 percent (1999) of the land is arable, although some of the most productive farming in Africa takes place in the Kenya highlands. Soil erosion and desertification occur in some areas. Deforestation is a major problem, but about 10 million trees have been planted since 1980 with the help of private groups and tree nursery programs. Increased use of pesticides and fertilizers has led to significant water pollution—only about 42 percent (2000) of the rural population has access to safe drinking water.
In recent years, one of the country's most serious environmental hazards has been the threat to Lake Victoria posed by the water hyacinth. This large ornamental water plant has multiplied rapidly since being introduced in the 1980s. It threatens fish and other water life in the lake by depriving them of oxygen.
Kenya is perhaps best known for its game parks, which attract large numbers of tourists and much revenue. Conservation of wildlife within reserves has thus received high priority. Currently, nearly 12 percent (1992) of the total land is classified as parks, game reserves, and other managed areas, although only 6.2 percent (1997) is strictly protected. There are 107 (2001) threatened species in Kenya. Threatened habitats include the slopes of Mount Kenya and coastal forests. Efforts are underway to restore the endangered African elephant and black rhino populations, and an aggressive campaign has been waged against poachers. Five biosphere reserves have been recognized under the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Man and the Biosphere Program.
Kenya has ratified international agreements concerning biodiversity, climate change, endangered species, marine dumping, marine life conservation, ozone layer protection, ship pollution, and wetlands.