The Sociocultural Dimension of Biodiversity in Kenya

In 1992, Geoffrey Clarfield was the Team Leader for the National Biodiversity Report prepared by the National Museums of Kenya and The Republic of Kenya for The United Nations. The full 54 page report can be downloaded and viewed by clicking here, and is comprised of 7 main sections:

I) Introduction

II) The Nature of Kenyan Society

III) An Evolutionary Taxonomy of Kenyan Society

IV) A Social Taxonomy of Kenya

V) Four Case Studies

VI) The Fourth Wave

VII) Bibliography

VII) Appendices

The Introduction and overview has been posted below:

I) Introduction

1) Defining Biodiversity

`Biological the full manifestation of the nation's environment, ecosystems and species, including all the genes and genetic material comprising the biochemical/chemical structures which form the molecular basis of heredity and speciation (i.e evolution of the species) (UNEP,1991, p.3)

So begins the UNEP document Guidelines for the Preparation of Country Studies On Costs, Benefits and Unmet Needs of Biological Diversity Conservation Within the Framework of the Planned Convention on Biological Diversity, May 1991

2) Biodiversity as a Function of Cultural Diversity

On the same page the authors of the document make the comparison between cultural diversity and biodiversity. `Viewed in the same sense as a country's culture, biological diversity is the country's heritage. It is a heritage as well as an asset, over which the nation state exercises sovereignty and has the right of ownership, management and use.'(UNEP, 1991, p. 3).

It is the goal of this document to persuade the reader that not only is the biological diversity of a country similar to its' cultural diversity but that cultural diversity itself evolved with, supports and maintains biodiversity. A second goal is to suggest some of the policy and institutional directions that are necessary to preserve biological and cultural diversity at minimal cost to the state.

3) The Scope of This Document

a) Redefining the Nature of Kenyan Society

In order to fulfill these goals this document has been divided into four main sections. The first is a redefinition of social classification in Kenya that will show just how it is that cultural diversity both marks and maintains biodiversity. The second is a brief description of social dynamics in Kenya. The third consists of four short case studies with accompanying recommendations as to what kind of steps need be taken to maximize biodiversity in diverse human ecosystems at minimum cost to the state. The fourth will suggest a perspective on development and economy that if followed will allow for a maximization of economic returns while minimalizing environmental degradation and economic underdevelopment.

It will also be stressed that society and the wider natural environment have evolved together. Therefore the human and cultural dimensions of biodiversity go back ultimately to the evolutionary origins of humankind in Kenya's rift valley over two million years ago. In that sense Kenya becomes an experiment in the maintenance of biodiversity since it is for human kind the longest inhabited place on the face of the earth.

In order to better understand present conditions and future possibilities it will be argued that the ecological and social dynamics that are specific to Kenya at the present time started as early as thirty thousand years ago. Then the ancestors of today's hunter gatherer peoples were masters of the land. Much later they began to lose parts of it to incoming pastoralists, horticulturalists, maritime traders and much, much later, settler farmers. Their story and its present relevance will be dealt with in the first case study.

This perspective calls for a modification of the usual classification that many historians and anthropologists have made of the societies that have come to comprise the present day Republic Of Kenya. Such a change of perspective has a bearing on how we understand the components of the present day nation state, as well as its problems and prospects.

b) The Significance of Cultural Practices in the Preservation of Biodiversity

It also means that cultural practices that are often classified as belonging to the realm of `ceremony or belief' need to be considered part of a society's ecological adaptation. A good example is that of the sorio ritual of the Rendille (see appendices). Changes in this `cultural domain' as a result of modernization and development interventions often result in threats to the wider environment. At the same time they open up a wide array of possibilities in natural resource management by widening the options available to the `man on the ground.'

c) Four Case Studies

In order to more clearly see the conservation issues facing different parts of Kenya a general overview of the social and ecological dynamics of the country will be outlined followed by a more focused look at four representative areas. These were chosen to show the reader the different predicaments that face planners working to preserve biodiversity among societies whose social organization and ecological adaptations contrast dramatically, yet who coexist in the same country.

d) Research and Policy Issues

The final sections will deal with the research and policy recommendations that need to be carried out to better understand the sociocultural dimension in the preservation of the full range of Kenya's flora and fauna. The implementation of these recommendations will assist Kenya to more fully exercise sovereignty over its natural resources while at the same time fulfilling its commitments to the international community.

A forum called C.I.R.C.A., and modeled on the concept of `adhocracy' or `flex firm', described in some detail in the Appendices will be suggested as one way of organizing the expertise that will be needed to address these and related issues in the near future.

Click here to view and download the complete National Biodiversity Report.

© 2020 by Geoffrey Clarfield