Natural capital can be defined as ‘elements of nature that directly or indirectly produce value to people, including ecosystems, species, freshwater, land, minerals, the air and oceans’.
The natural capital metaphor was first used by economist E.F. Schumacher in the 1970's. However, over the last 10 years, the natural capital concept has grown in popularity as some parts of government, business and the voluntary sector have tried to accentuate how and why the environment matters to people. In particular, rapid degradation has led policymakers to seek solutions to restore biodiversity stocks, which potentially offers significant new income streams for landowners.
Natural capital is composed of many assets, including peatlands, soils, wetlands, and urban green spaces. However, it also specifically refers to the elements of the natural environment which provide valuable goods and services to people, such as erosion control and crop pollination by insects, which ensures the long-term viability of other natural resources. Woodlands can also be regarded as a natural capital asset, as it provides valuable benefits and ecosystem services such as flood risk reduction and carbon capture.
As a country that is endowed with rich natural capital and biodiversity, Kenya’s unique topography, soils, plants, animals, and people, creates a locally distinct ecosystem that underpins the country’s prosperity. In fact it is among one of the world’s richest biodiversity nations, hosting over 7,000 plant species and many endemic, endangered and threatened animal species. It is this diversity and abundance of wildlife that has fostered a US$1.3 billion tourist industry, attracting 2.25million people in 2018 - a 31.2% increase from the previous year, which is undoubtedly set to rise year on year.
Kenyans depend on ecosystem services for their livelihood and well-being. For example, they depend on wild and cultivated foods, the use of indigenous and native trees for medicinal purposes, and services such as soil erosion control and crop pollination. Although dilapidating rapidly, Kenya’s forests and woodlands also provide timber and fuel woods for urban and rural communities.
Many countries around the world fail to properly account for natural capital, which has meant that natural assets are often over-exploited for short term gains rather than maintained for their long-term benefits. However, the Kenyan Government recognises that the sustainable management and conservation of natural capital and biodiversity is essential for maximising production of natural resources and sustaining economic growth.
What we require at this stage is to assign further value to these natural spaces, so that they can be included in decision-making processes that facilitate Kenya’s transition to a green economy. In doing so, their Natural Capital can be used to deliver vital ecosystem services that benefit society whilst conserving their natural heritage that underpins their entire economy.