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For all of its natural riches, Coastal East Africa has some of the highest rates of poverty on the planet.
Over the past decade, global demand led by Europe and Asia, and particularly China, for the region’s abundant and often undervalued natural resources has resulted in trade that is not only unsustainable but sometimes illegal. As Coastal East African countries usually lack sufficient resources to effectively monitor and control such trade, they are losing their valuable natural assets and also much-needed revenue that could help them tackle poverty. Moreover, it is unfortunately the poorest communities who suffer the most when these resources are degraded or destroyed.

These problems are having a regional knock-on effect. For example, timber production in Tanzania grew by an astounding 1,400 per cent between 1997 and 2005, with most of the raw hardwood being exported to China. Between 2004 and 2005, it is estimated that the country lost US$ 58 million due to illegal trade. As soon as Tanzania took action to halt the free-for-all, trade spiked in neighbouring Mozambique – underscoring why it is so important for the Coastal East African countries to work together to address such common concerns.

Forest conversion for agriculture has also wrecked havoc on the region’s biodiversity. So-called “slash and burn” clearing has destroyed huge tracks of ancient coastal forest and increased human-wildlife conflict.

This situation is being exacerbated by unregulated investment in commercial agriculture throughout the coastal region. Recognizing the importance of food security and potential for development, WWF is calling for a more integrated policy approach to ensure that land and water intensive investments are more sustainable and benefit the host country.

Off the coast, foreign fishing vessels from Asia and Europe exploit the countries’ rich fisheries at the expense of artisanal fishermen. While these foreign fleets are often granted access by the Coastal East African governments, there is little or no capacity to monitor their catch or the impacts that overfishing is having on the local coastal communities and the marine environment.

Permeating all of these challenges is the impact of global climate change, which is increasingly evident in the region. Parts of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique are already suffering from unpredictable rainfall, persistent droughts and extreme weather events. Traditional livelihoods and coping strategies are being severely affected and the situation is expected
to get worse as climate models predict increased temperatures and incidents of floods, drought, cyclones and coastal erosion.

East Africa’s unique and globally significant natural resource base is able to provide the essential goods and services that support biodiversity, as well as economic development and livelihoods of present and future generations.