IGAD ministers endorse Regional Biodiversity Policy and resolve to manage transboundary natural resources

Last Friday 3rd June 2016, ministers in charge of environment, or their representatives from IGAD Member States reviewed and endorsed the IGAD Regional Biodiversity Policy in Nairobi.

On opening the ministerial meeting, Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities of Kenya, noted that when compared with the rest of the world, the IGAD region that covers the Horn of Africa, is one of the richest in biodiversity with approximately 5,000 species of plants of which half are endemic. About 40% of animal species in the region are also endemic.

Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities of Kenya

Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary (Minister) for Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development Authorities of Kenya

“Our region is truly endowed with a wealth of natural capital, providing a wide range of goods and services, which form the basis of the region’s social and economic development” Prof Wakhungu pointed out.

These goods and services include food, water, medicine and energy, as well as critical ecosystems services such as water catchment areas, pollination, and climate moderation. The Kenyan minister however stressed that the regions’ rich biodiversity and the services it provides are under threat from a myriad of environmental challenges, including climate change, unsustainable land management and accelerated development of infrastructure that can fragment habitats. She added that weak governance contributes to loss of biodiversity, even when the policies, institutions and laws are good on paper.

Ministers in charge of environment, or their representatives, attended from all IGAD Member States

Ministers in charge of environment, or their representatives, attended from all IGAD Member States

“New models for ownership and management of protected areas are also needed to ensure that the costs and benefits of conservation are shared more evenly with local communities.” These challenges, she said, are exacerbated by the fact that more than 76% of the region’s land mass is classified as Arid and Semi-Arid Lands - characterised by unreliable rainfall distribution of less than 700 mm per year and persistent droughts.

On behalf of the IGAD ministers, Prof Wakhungu expressed confidence that the Regional Biodiversity Policy provides an opportunity to harmonize national legal frameworks with particular emphasis on biodiversity databases and information systems for effective protection and conservation of biodiversity.

Ministers signed the policy put forward by IGAD’s Programme Manager for Environmental Protection, a symbol of their resolution to adopt it.  

Ministers signed the policy put forward by IGAD’s Programme Manager for Environmental Protection, a symbol of their resolution to adopt it.  

Dr Debalkew Berhe, IGAD’s Programme Manager for Environmental Protection presented the content of the policy to the ministers, who endorsed it, and then appended their signatures on a resolution to adopt it.  The resolution commits the IGAD Member States to, among other things:

  • Domesticate the regional policy into the relevant national policy and legal frameworks;
  • Support the establishment, strengthening and operationalization of national biodiversity databases and a regional reference information system;
  • Encourage public-private partnerships to participate in ecosystems and landscape/seascape management;
  • Enhance synergies among institutions, including implementation and reporting on multilateral environmental agreements and conventions;
  • Further enhance synergies and collaboration with the united nations assembly resolutions and other organizations in the region involved in the field of biodiversity conservation and management; and
  • Call upon the international community, development partners, non-state actors and other interested parties to support and assist IGAD Member States in their efforts to manage and maintain the sustainability of natural ecosystems and the livelihoods of the communities in the region.

Prof Wakhungu thanked the European Union for the financial support provided to the development of the policy through the IGAD Biodiversity Management Programme (BMP). She also thanked the IGAD Secretariat for guiding the development of the regional policy.

The policy is the culmination of a two-year long participatory process coordinated by the IGAD BMP. The policy preparation process started back in 2014, with a set of national policy assessments for each Member State, that were then summarized in a synthesis report in 2015. This report was the subject of consultative workshops with the respective BMP National Focal Points, allowing for the intensive participation of approximately 120 biodiversity experts from relevant national institutions from all Member States. The draft policy has also been informed by interviews with many partners with practical experiences from the ground, including the IGAD BMP’s three demonstration sites.

A first draft of the Regional Biodiversity Policy was presented to BMP’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and Programme Steering Committee (PSC) meetings in Addis in May 2015. A second draft was later presented to delegates of the IGAD Member States in Djibouti in October 2015. At this meeting, participants recommended the preparation of a shortened version for submission to policy makers. 

The 5th Meeting of the BMP TAC held in Nairobi last week (31 May – 1 June 2016) and subjected the final draft policy to intensive review. On Thursday 2nd June, PSC Members reached consensus on a text that was presented on Friday to the IGAD ministers with a strong recommendation to adopt it as IGAD’s first Regional Biodiversity Policy.

Last week, BMP partners and National Focal Points were also updated on the progress of the BMP overall, and of the work of its three Implementing Partners who are each testing landscape approaches to biodiversity conservation in three respective demonstration sites – between Djibouti and Ethiopia in the Lower Awash – Lac Abbé Transboundary landscape, between Ethiopia and South Sudan in the Boma-Gambella Transboundary Landscape and between Kenya and Somalia in the Tana-Kipini-Lag Badaana Bush Bushle Transboundary Landscape.

Many of the challenges addressed by the policy are evident on the ground in these three sites, making them field laboratories that have inspired its design and are already testing how to implement the policy in practice, on the ground.