Kenya’s shrublands are not uniform but rather a mixture of habitats occupying the semi-arid lands dominated by low trees and shrubs, and scattered grasslands. Trees are typically short due to low soil moisture and canopy cover is sufficiently spare that the herb layer is usually far more productive than the canopy layer. The characteristic shrubland appearance is due to predominance of small trees such as Acacias, Commiphora species, Combretum and abundant shrubs. The biodiversity of shrublands is dominated by arid-adapted species of plants and is particularly rich in endemic aloes and euphorbias. The extensive semi-arid lands cover over half the surface area of Kenya and are by far the most extensive of wildlife and pastoral populations. The salient ecological feature of these drylands are the regular seasonal migrations and periodic large-scale movements to evade drought. The pastoral peoples and their livestock have occupied drylands for over 4 000 years and have heavily shaped the structure of plant and animal communities through the impact of livestock, fire, waterholes and shifting settlements. In recent years the shrublands have been subdivided and settled by pastoralists and immigrant dryland farmers. Subdivision, sedentarization, range fragmentation, heavy continuous grazing by livestock, and sand and rock harvesting are among the many threats to the shrubland areas of Kenya. Over the last two decades the charcoal industry has mushroomed and stripped much of the semi-arid lands within commercial distance of large towns and cities of their large- and medium-sized trees, adding to rangeland degradation.
Importance of Shrublands
Shrubland ecosystems cover over half of Kenya and, by area alone, are the most important ecological region in terms of carbon sequestration, water capture and primary productivity. The condition of the rangelands has a large bearing on the countrywide volumes of run-off, erosion, nutrient loss, flooding and carbon emissions arising from bushfires. Though not rich in biodiversity within any single location, the size of the rangelands accounts for a large share of Kenya’s biodiversity. More important, the rangelands—including grasslands and woodlands—support the most abundant wildlife herds on Earth. The majority of protected areas, which form the backbone of Kenya’s US$1.3 billion tourism industry, are located in the rangelands. The rangelands have shaped the nature, productivity and diversity of Kenya’s pastoral economies and cultures. The pastoral regions support over half the national livestock herd. Though many pastoral communities still practice seasonal livestock migrations and subsist on their herds, a growing portion have taken up commercial livestock production and supply a large portion of Kenya’s meat industry. The rangelands hold important cultural values for pastoralists whose dress, settlement structures, social systems, customs and ceremonies have all been moulded to the austere environment. Recently the rangelands have acquired new values in terms of biodiversity, wildlife conservation, tourism, recreation, wilderness and aesthetic appeal.