Whilst Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands (Asal) are still prone to climatic shocks, have inadequate infrastructure and rank low on the human development index, they undoubtedly have great economic and development potential.
From the lessons learnt in past development efforts in Asal, it is now evident that by fast-tracking and enhancing the consolidation and exploitation of development opportunities available in the region, we can help to unlock enormous untapped potential for national economic growth.
Asal not only offer abundant natural resources, they are also strategically located for regional trade and have other significant geo-social advantages.
The government has taken bold measures to give special attention to the region based on its unique needs.
Just last year, the State Department for Development of the Asal was established under the Ministry of Devolution to coordinate overall planning and development of policies and programmes as part of a continuous review of government development planning policy to accommodate diversity in development planning.
This paradigm shift has seen deliberate effort by the government and its partners to invest in the foundations for development to bring the region to the same threshold as the rest of the country.
The European Union (EU) has been a key partner to Kenya’s efforts to address is challenges, especially in the Asal.
It supports the Ministry of Devolution and Asal mainly in the areas of food security and resilience to climatic shocks.
This is aligned with the government’s Vision 2030 development strategy and the Big Four Agenda.
Over the years, the EU has provided resources through a combination of programmes within sectors in the Asal.
In the past decade, it has provided more than Sh33 billion to strengthen the agriculture sector, food security, infrastructure (roads and water) and resilience to climatic shocks.
This support is informed by the fact that smallholder farmers and pastoralists are the backbone of many of Kenya’s local economies and communities, with about 75 per cent of the population deriving all or part of their livelihoods from agriculture.
Concurrently, the EU is the market for 87 per cent of Kenya’s agricultural exports.
Risks are rarely confined within national borders, which makes regional collaboration an essential part of resilience building.
The EU Trust Fund for Africa therefore supports a cross-border programme between Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.
The Building Opportunities for Resilience in the Horn of Africa (Boresha) and the Regional Approaches for Sustainable Conflict Management and Integration (Ramsi) projects, financed under the Trust Fund to the tune of €14 million (about Sh1.5 billion) and €3 million (about Sh330 million), respectively, seek to prevent and mitigate the impact of conflicts through equitable and sustainable management of cross-border rangeland and other shared natural resources.
The EU also supports devolution, through the Instruments for Devolution Advice and Support (Ideas)’, a Sh3.3 billion bilateral programme strengthening national institutional capacities in the management of devolution, fiscal decentralisation and capacity development in the counties.
Drought is one of the biggest threats to the well-being of communities living in the Asal.
The EU therefore collaborates with the government to strengthen resilience to drought and climate change under the government’s Ending Drought Emergencies strategy.
The EU has, since 2007, invested more than Sh8 billion towards this for drought management under different projects implemented by the National Drought Management Authority.
Through our concerted efforts, Kenya is now better placed to manage drought. Proof of this can be found in the government’s management of the 2016/18 drought.
Though severer than the 2010/11 drought, its detrimental effects were mitigated more successfully and were therefore comparatively lower.
The EU’s support has also aided in the improvement of the drought early warning system, mainstreaming of response and preparedness into development planning, investment in strategic preparedness projects, and establishment of a financing mechanism for drought response.
As stakeholders congregate at this year’s Asal Conference in Kajiado, we lend our collective voice to the rallying call to continue support to these areas under the theme “Consolidating Asal development for posterity”.
It is only by taking stock of our progress that we can plan ahead, rethink the design of projects and ensure that the lessons learnt are adequately taken into account to maintain the significant progress and momentum in developing the Asal.
Mr Wamalwa is the Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Asals, and Mr Mordue is Head of the European Union Delegation to Kenya.