Through PELIS, farmers enter into an agreement with the Kenya Forestry Service to plant trees as they farm towards increasing forest cover.

Shamba system a critical tool to increase forest cover in Kenya, says forest service

Through PELIS, farmers enter into an agreement with the Kenya Forestry Service to plant trees as they farm towards increasing forest cover.

By Joyce Chimbi |


When Kenya’s Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua recently said citizens should be allowed to cultivate crops on public forest land in the now-popular shamba system, there was an uproar across the country.

Gachagua had to retract his statement days later, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood.

The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) now says the shamba system, officially known as the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS), is a critical tool to help increase forest cover in Kenya.

“Kenyans have become increasingly aware of the benefits of protecting our forests and are suspicious of any activities in and around the forest. But there is nothing suspicious or underhand about PELIS, it is an above board and proven strategy to improve forest cover and its success is well documented,” says James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests, Head Biodiversity at KFS.

Mercelyne Khaluruka, who specialises in Forest Plantation Management at KFS, says PELIS is a “non-residential and subsistence cultivation in forests that promotes food security for forest adjacent communities while establishing forest plantations.”

PELIS is a scheme introduced by KFS after the enactment of the Forest Act, 2005 to help increase forest cover and restore degraded forests across the country.

Explaining how the scheme works, Khaluruka says communities adjacent to a particular forest or people who live at a 10-kilometre radius from the edge of a forest, enter into an agreement with KFS and are allocated plots.

Once allocated, they plant seedlings until the allocated area forms closed canopy while planting food crops on the same piece of land over a period of three years when the trees planted can thrive on their own.

Significant success has been noted in farming of potatoes and beans. On average, one hectare can produce 138 bags of potatoes and 17 bags of beans. Studies are still ongoing to find safe approaches to planting maize alongside trees due to the risk of accidentally chopping down trees while cutting down maize stalks during harvesting.

A case study of Malava Forest in Western Kenya showed that there was tremendous success in the implementation of PELIS. In 2001, the forest cover was estimated at 366.9 hectares and this rose to 481.4 hectares in 2016. The increment was driven by increased areas under plantation.

Eric Nahama, a partnership and linkages officer at KFS, says partnerships between KFS and forest adjacent communities are critical as they have a stake in the management of forest resources.

Within the context of attaining the new government target of 30 per cent forest cover by 2030, Beatrice Mbula, Deputy Chief Conservator of Forests, Forest Advisory and County Liaison at KFS, says PELIS will play a critical role.

She says currently, Kenya’s forest cover stands at 8.3 per cent on 5.3 million hecatres and tree cover is currently at 12.13 per cent on 7.3 million hectares.

An estimated 2.6 million hectares out of an overall 5.3 million hecatres of forest cover are under KFS. The remainder is on areas such as private and community land.

An estimated 10,000 hectares of land are under PELIS and a farmer can make up to Ksh300,000 (about $2,500) per year depending on the food crops. Experts at KFS say there is no doubt that PELIS brings a lot to the table in terms of food and revenue, and contributes to the country’s target of significantly improving forest cover.

Mbula says the Kenyan map is more brown than green. She says this is unfortunate because there are countries that have achieved 95 per cent forest cover and there is no reason why Kenya should be lagging behind.

Data on forest and tree cover was revealed during KFS’s survey conducted in 2021 providing a most recent account on where the country stands on its journey towards attaining the 30 per cent forest cover. It is the first time that Kenya collected data on tree cover.

Forest cover is obtained from wall-to-wall mapping of the country using satellite data, while tree cover is estimated partly using high resolution data and partly from field inventory data of Trees Outside Forest (TOF).

KFS has been producing one billion tree seedlings per year to provide quality and certified seeds for its own use and to meet the demands of Kenyans planting trees outside public forests. KFS has 300 tree nurseries, many more are in the hands of schools and women’s groups.

Today, Mbula says there is a need to increase seed production to 1.5 billion per year if the country is to meet the 30 per cent forest cover by 2030. She says technology is in place through the Smart Technology App to monitor, report and act on changes in forest cover in real time, although this is still in its pilot phase.

Margaret Wanjiru leads an excursion into Karura Forest, one of Kenya's iconic urban 
Agreen spaces with a monthly visitors entry of nearly 16,000.

Race to protect urban green spaces on amid appetite for real estate profits

Margaret Wanjiru leads an excursion into Karura Forest, one of Kenya's iconic urban Agreen spaces with a monthly visitors entry of nearly 16,000.

By Joyce Chimbi |

Conservationists are rushing against the tide in a bid to protect urban green spaces against encroachment.

This is a mid the increasing pressure to turn every open space, especially in towns, into a concrete jungle for short-term profits and economic growth.

Margaret Wanjiru, a County Forest Conservator at the Kenya Forestry Service (KFS) in Nairobi, says that with the rising urban population that has led to urban physical expansion, the role of green spaces as a healthy outlet for city dwellers cannot be overemphasised.

“We have many urban green spaces in Kenya as a whole and within Nairobi in particular. These spaces are very important to our environment and surrounding communities and they remain protected from external influences that could lead to their destruction,” says Ms Wanjiru.

While it is documented that urban green spaces are a source of environmental, social and health benefits, providing inspirations and generating revenue through ecotourism, environmentalists and conservationists remain vigilant against their encroachment.

Wanjiru says urban green spaces are important because they also enable cities to contribute to the larger biodiversity agenda.

In Karura Forest, for instance, one of the green spaces in Nairobi, it is evident that urban biodiversity is under threat and efforts are in place for its protection.

Within the forest and along the cool picnic trails, visibly placed signs warn visitors against carrying any plants, animals or any other material from the forest into the outside world.

“Carrying any material outside the forest would be akin to biodiversity piracy and this is an offence. The forest and everything therein should remain within the protected fenced area,” said James Mwang’ombe Mwamodenyi, Principal Conservator of Forests at KFS.

The Kenya Forest Service is a State Corporation established under the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016.

Its mandate and functions include to enhance development, conservation and management of Kenya’s resource base in all public forests and assist county governments to develop and manage forest resources on community and private lands for equitable benefit of present and future generations.

Karura Forest remains tightly in the grip of KFS. The estimated size of the urban forest is 1,041 hectares, consisting of three parts separated by Limuru and Kiambu roads. It is the largest preserve in Nairobi and remains a shining example of green building and sustainability.

Records by the Kenya Forest Service show that the forest, located just two kilometres from Nairobi’s Central Business District, is a biodiversity hotspot for 200 bird species and iconic mammals such as the colobus monkey.

Within the forest, visitors are treated to wetlands, a majestic waterfall, a variety of indigenous tree species, a water fall, birds, butterflies and wildlife habitats.

Besides its relaxing recreational value, as one of the remaining local indigenous forests, Karura is a critical carbon sink and is considered the lungs of an industrial powerhouse that is Nairobi.

Environmentalists at Kenya Forest Services therefore stress that the forest is instrumental in Kenya’s agenda to bring harmful greenhouse gas emissions to below 1.5 degree Celsius.

In the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to limit global warming under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, Kenya has committed to abate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 32 per cent by 2030.

In all, experts at KFS such as Mwang’ombe says urban areas can successfully reach ecological safety where environmental and ecological factors are prioritised alongside economic benefits. 

Benjamin Karissa holds a mature crab.

Ecotourism: How conservationists earn a living from crabs and mangroves

Benjamin Karissa holds a mature crab.

By Tebby Otieno |

Crab is probably one of the most delectable dishes you will order when you visit the Dabaso Crab Shack Restaurant. Due to the abundance of seafood options, diners from the Coast region frequently travel to Mida Creek in Watamu, Kilifi County.

This mangrove treetop restaurant is one of the initiatives run by the Dabaso Creek Conservation, well-known for its aquaculture. According to Benjamin Karissa, as part of their conservation programme, the crabs are taken young and fattened inside cages.

Karissa says there is high demand for crabs globally that can only be met through farming rather than wild fishing, which may endanger the species in the ocean.

The crab fattening project began in 2004, and has since gained popularity among locals and visitors. Once at the farm, the crabs ordinarily feed on the ecosystem.

Members of the group catch the crabs themselves or hire fishermen to bring them young ones weighing nearly 300g. They then confine them in cages and feed them with fish trash or gastropods daily to fatten them.

“Moulding means they’re growing, and by three months, a 300g crab will weigh 600g, which is the standard market size,” he says, adding that the crab cages are in mangrove areas.

Crab fattening comes with difficulties though. Mr Karissa says the plastics used to mould the crabs in the cage are not very strong and that as the crabs grow larger, they can cut them and escape. Plastic cages, which are deemed more durable, were introduced recently.

Crabs make up 20 per cent of all marine crustaceans caught, farmed and consumed worldwide, totalling 1.5 million tonnes annually. While crabs produce and carry billions of eggs, Karissa says Kenya has yet to establish a hatchery. This is because crabs require specific equipment, ecological parameters and standard conditions to hatch. According to Karissa, the value of crabs will increase significantly if the hatchery problem is solved.

“One kilogramme of fish will cost Sh400, while that of crab from the farm will be Sh1,000, assuming they are two pieces. More value is now coming from the time we take it to the restaurant’s kitchen because a whole crab is sold at Sh1,800 if it is less than 500g and Sh3,000 for a plate if it is a kilogramme,” Karissa says.

Dabaso Creek Conservation began as a mangrove conservation group before it began crab fattening and the entire seafood business initiatives. When they noticed that the mangrove trees were attracting tourists, they decided to combine conservation with enterprise development. As a result, they now operate this mangrove treetop restaurant and a floating restaurant at the sea selling crabs and seafood, as well as continental food.

According to Karissa, this is a win-win situation for the environment and conservationists as it utilies the ecosystem in a more beneficial way and earns them a living.

“We get crab from the wild, feed it with something that we don’t buy because the fish trash comes from the kitchen as waste. The crabs love it,” he says.

Dabaso Creek Conservation is one of the pioneer community groups that have embraced conservation and also developed self and sustainable enterprise based on the Blue Economy. The group has also started engaging youth in the venture as a succession plan.

Women here however still have difficulty in accessing the sea to catch fish or young crabs. “Before I joined this group, one of the Mijikenda cultures did not allow women to enter the sea or any conservation places. Women did not know the meaning of conservation. So we joined men who started this group because there was the question of gender consideration,” Mercy Karissa said.


She told Sayansi there are now 15 women in the Dabaso Creek Conservation group who also participate in planting and protection of mangroves.

“If we did not participate in this conservation activity, our forests would by now be gone. Before we came here mangrove trees were being cut due to their value. Now there is security and when we see someone destroying our trees we report them to our male group members,” she said.

Mercy, 49, and other Mijikenda women in the group are happy to have equal chances as men in the group. The mother of seven has been working here for at least seven years.

“When a visitor finds me at the farm I can tell them the sex of the crab they are looking at. Before I came here I used to sell fish and vegetables to earn a living. The income was little, as fishing also has its challenges,” she says.

Meanwhile a Blue Empowerment Project is working on climate smart modalities to address barriers faced by fisherwomen in the country’s coastal region.

The project aims to achieve this through adoption of climate-smart integrated multi-trophic aquaculture (IMTA) of seaweed and fish for improved livelihoods and resilience. The initiative brings together leading research organisations such as African Centre of Technology Studies (ACTS), Kenya Research and Development Institute and Kenya Marine Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI).

According to Dr Linus Kosambo, a senior research scientist in the food technologies research centre from Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI), the Blue Empowerment Project research will attempt to work with groups to see opportunities for women and the vulnerable, and the empowerment opportunities available.

“Through this new Blue Empowerment project we will look at the the barriers for further development and the opportunities. We’ll also consider technological innovation on how we can improve their technologies for fish and crab farming to ensure they are much more productive and efficient in their production systems,” says Dr Kosambo.

He says Dabaso Creek Conservation group members are self-sustaining and example of how communities can interact with key stakeholders. For instance, he says, the group is partnering with Kenya Wildlife Service, the Forestry Service, and the county government for sustainable conservation and utilisation of the Blue Economy resources.

“We’ll also look at opportunities and business models that can enhance their productivity and profitability. Researchers will start a survey to see what is happening and determine the issues and then design the best intervention pathways to better the lives of this community.

They already own good trajectory in as far as conservation and enterprise development is concerned,” he notes.

Mangrove trees are indigenous and only grow along the shoreline. KFS recognises coastal communities protecting mangroves. Mercelyne Khalumba, in charge of forest plantation management, says such programmes promote ecotourism and encourage conservationists, which earns them income.

“Mangrove trees are important because as they grow they also clean the water as they fix the carbon, also helping in tackling global warming. They grow very fast, which means they are fixing carbon quickly,” she said in an exclusive interview with Sayansi during a science café organized by the Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture at the Kenya Forest Service offices.

A Kenyan science journalist Wanjiru Macharia poses for a photo at a wildlife 
sanctuary. Hunting in South Africa, analysts say, leads to the killing of around 1,000 lions each year.

General population, tourists want trophy hunting banned, survey reveals

A Kenyan science journalist Wanjiru Macharia poses for a photo at a wildlife sanctuary. Hunting in South Africa, analysts say, leads to the killing of around 1,000 lions each year.

By Omboki Monayo|

On August 10, 2022, the world marked World Lion Day. In Kenya, the day went by largely unannounced, as the country’s voters waited for the results of the August 9, 2022 General Election.

Along with South Africa, Kenya is one of the 33 countries that are home to a considerably large population of lions in Africa.

Among African nations, Tanzania is home to an estimated 50 per cent of the lions in the wild, with Kenya estimated to have some 2,489 lions. In total, there are 16,000-30,000 lions living in the wild worldwide. 

Lions are also found in smaller populations spread across Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Congo, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The lion population in South Africa is currently estimated at 2,300. According to the Kevin Richardson Foundation, hunting leads to the killing of around 1,000 lions each year.

In SA, between 8,500 and 10,500 lions languish in captivity at nearly 400 commercial breeding and display sites.

In 2017, about 800 lion skeletons were exported to the Far East for the purpose of making traditional medicine such as bone wine. 

Scientists have predicted that lions will become extinct by 2050 if nothing is done to stop the current decline in population.

The magnificent beasts are already extinct in 26 countries where they once roamed.

Public opinion is, however, turning against the lucrative and commercial activity that has drawn sport hunters to the country for many years.

New research by World Animal Protection shows a growing number of South African citizens and international tourists want to see trophy hunting stopped and replaced with wildlife-friendly activities.

For more than 70 years, the animal welfare charity has been campaigning for a world where animals live free from cruelty and suffering.

It hopes to “give wild animals the right to a wildlife by transforming the broken systems that fuel exploitation and commodification” and also “stop the devastation of natural habitats”. 

World Animal Protection released research into public attitudes towards trophy hunting on World Lion Day.

The survey interviewed 10,900 people from around the world, including South African citizens and international tourists from countries who most frequently visit the country.

Key findings from the research revealed that 84 per cent of international tourists agree that the South African government should prioritise wildlife-friendly tourism over trophy hunting.

Some 74 per cent of international tourists agreed that making trophy hunting a key tourist policy will damage South Africa’s reputation, while 72 per cent indicated they would be put off from visiting the country altogether.

An estimated seven in 10 South African citizens agree their country would be a more attractive tourist destination if they banned trophy hunting.

Nearly three quarters or 74 per cent of South African citizens agree that trophy hunting is unacceptable, particularly when there is poor utilisation of wildlife-friendly tourism alternatives.

Trophy hunting represents less than two per cent of the country’s economy.

It is estimated that the conversion of approximately 21 million hectares of land currently utilised for trophy hunting in South Africa to non-lethal tourism would create more than 190,000 jobs.

This represents over 11 times more than the 17,000 livelihoods that presently depend on trophy hunting.

According to research done in Tanzania by Packer et al. and published in 2011, higher rates of decline in lion and leopard populations have been observed in areas with trophy hunting compared to areas without it.

As the consultation on the draft Conservation and Sustainable Use of South Africa’s Biodiversity White Paper concludes in September, there is an increased chorus of voices agitating against the slaughter of animals in the name of trophy hunting.

Travel companies from around the world have added their support to the joint statement, many headquartered in the countries where most international tourists travelling to South Africa hail from, including the US, UK, Australia and Brazil.

In a signed joint statement made to the South African government, TripAdvisor, and Expedia Group are some of the world’s largest travel companies urging the government to publicly pledge an end to trophy hunting.

The giant tour firms are rooting for a future South African tourism industry that will be more “wildlife friendly”. It is their hope that SA will do away with sport hunting to protect its wildlife population.

Signatories agree that trophy hunting is cruel and unacceptable.

They believe that responsible wildlife-friendly tourism, which is a humane, sustainable and under-utilised alternative, can provide enough income and incentives to communities to conserve the animals without killing for purported sport and entertainment.

Coming just a few weeks after the release of the WAP report, the joint statement from some of the leading global tourist companies is clear that trophy hunting firmly belongs in the environmentally harmful and unsustainable past.

Nick Stewart, who is the Global Head of Campaigns for Wildlife at World Animal Protection, said the report had provided further proof on why a ban on hunting would result in higher tourism income for South Africa.

“Here is yet more evidence that developing wildlife-friendly tourism and the removal of cruel wildlife exploitation like trophy hunting and captive lion breeding, has the potential to enhance South Africa’s international reputation as a global leader and destination for wildlife-friendly experiences,” he said.

“We are now hearing a deafening call for change from tourists and travel companies alike. They are clearly supporting a move to protect South Africa’s iconic wildlife through alternatives that don’t harm and kill animals, such as responsible wildlife tourism. Listening to this call will make South Africa a more attractive destination of choice for responsible travellers as well as tour operators.”

The report revealed universally strong opposition to the bloody sport and a desire to finance the protection of the nation’s iconic wildlife through non-lethal alternatives such as responsible wildlife tourism.

The animal rights charity is asking the public to add their voice to the 60-day public consultation on the white paper and demand a genuine wildlife friendly future for South Africa.

Residents wade through floods caused by the swelling of Lake Nakuru

Not state, not people, ‘can address the real loss and damages

Residents wade through floods caused by the swelling of Lake Nakuru

By Ann Mikia I

The swelling of Lake Nakuru and eventual displacement of people living not too far from its shores was nothing like anyone had seen in decades. But here we were in 2020, reporting cases of lakes merging, homes, hotels and businesses being submerged, and more scary scenes that threatened the ecosystem.

In Mwariki, not too far from Lake Nakuru, Damaris Wairimu, 60, and Anne Wanjiru, 70, had to flee with their entire families to higher ground, as they watched the water body swell and slowly but surely invade their houses, rendering then victims of climate induced displacement.

“I had lived there since the 1970s and never seen anything like that. Our parents worked for the colonialists. Before the white people left, they subdivided the land to their employees. That’s how we got ours,” said Wairimu, adding: “I used to farm and grow vegetables, but since we were displaced, challenges have not ceased. Now I have high blood pressure.”

Wanjiru and several residents of Mwariki were at first reluctant to move. It took the waters to get right inside their homes for them to get the message that something so serious was happening. “We first wondered where we would go, what to carry and what not to. It was until the water levels rose and our beds were submerged that we fled. We lost a lot,” she narrated.

Part of the loss was the two acres on which Wanjiru grew vegetables and spices. It, too, was swallowed. As they escaped, they did not salvage much. It was a true case of everyone for themselves and God for all. “We escaped with the clothes we had on. At my age, what could I do? Everyone was carrying only what they could. Well-wishers on higher ground accommodated us as we figured out what to do,” said Wairimu.

The phenomenon was not peculiar to Rift Valley lakes. Down at the Lake Victoria Basin, there were horror stories. The lake literally invaded people’s homes, and displaced them. Hippos and snakes roamed freely, even to where the displaced found refuge. Livelihoods were lost. No one could fight back.

Henry Mangome, who spent at least Sh7 million USD 56,800 to construct a house in his ancestral home, saw the swelling Lake Victoria turn everything upside down. “My house’s walls cracked. A structural engineer examined it and recommended that it be brought down. He said the swelling of the lake had negatively affected the walls, and also suspected that a movement underground may have interfered with the house’s foundation, hence distabilising the whole structure,” said Mr Mangome.

The lake water has since receded, but many are still counting losses occasioned by its swelling.

“I had spent about Sh7 million USD 56,800 on the house.  I’m still servicing the loan, yet I will have to start from scratch. See what climate change did to me? Now you can imagine how much more poor families living around the lake suffered,” said Mr Mangome.

Overall, populations in Kisumu, Siaya, Migori, Busia, Homa-Bay, Baringo, Tana River, Taita Taveta, Nairobi and Nakuru suffered unprecedented flooding in 2000, for some, worse than had been witnessed in almost a century. Some victims may never recover the loss and damage that ensued.

Dr Emmanuel Okunga, an epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, says of the effects of climate disasters: “When people lose livelihoods, they may not feed well, and cases of malnutrition arise. Gender based violence is prevalent, not forgetting the water borne diseases.”

Mr Januaris Kasanga of Kenya Red Cross Disaster Management Department decried the health risks resulting from contamination of water by submerged toilets during flooding.

“Our response entails giving water purifiers and treatment chemicals for the Water, Sanitation and Health (WASH) programme. In flooding situations, you cannot dig pit latrines; so we also give makeshift toilets. We now focus on localised solutions to local problems. We train community-based disaster responders on early warning and response,” said Mr Kasanga.

Lenencia Nyang’ori, a Red Cross disaster committee members in Busia, says it was not easy to convince possible flood victims to leave to higher ground. “After we get early warning from the Meteorological Department about imminent flooding in Budalangi, we advise residents to move to higher ground.  Some refuse to leave. And because they are given chance to choose where they prefer to be housed, some spouses go to separate places. This in itself poses a new challenge,” says Ms Nyang’ori.

Budalang’i, which had been synonymous with flooding during long rains, was not spared by the backflow of Lake Victoria. Busia Disaster Management Committee chairperson Peter Malomba says: “During the backflow many residents lost property and their houses destroyed.”

Normalcy has returned in many affected parts in Rift Valley, but, according to Red Cross, about 15 households are still supported in tents.

In November, the 27th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP27) in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, closed with a landmark breakthrough; an agreement to provide Loss and Damage funding for countries hit hard by climate disasters that stretch adaptation limits.

But Mr Mangome , who was at the COP27, says even with the breakthrough, it is still tough. “No compensation will be commensurate to the real losses incurred,” he says.

For Busia Deputy Commissioner Grace Ouma, even Government cannot do much. “The government cannot compensate flood victims, but only assists them with the help of other partners by providing just the basic needs.”


Alfred Wanzala (centre) from JKUAT’s directorate of research, production and 
extension with his colleagues at the Nairobi International Trade Fair.

African indigenous vegetables fight to survive climate change impact

Alfred Wanzala (centre) from JKUAT’s directorate of research, production and extension with his colleagues at the Nairobi International Trade Fair.

By Tebby Otieno |

Sylvia Munyoki, 44, walks around the Nairobi International Trade Fair grounds with hopes of getting more indigenous seeds to expand her vegetable kitchen garden.

Her passion for indigenous vegetables began when she grew up in Makueni County. She recalls her parents plucking and cooking indigenous vegetables that grew on their own.

“I like indigenous vegetables so much that I share them with rabbits. These are the vegetables that grow naturally in the forests, and I adore them,” she says.

Munyoki is, however, disturbed that the vegetables are no longer available. She decries the fact that the seeds have gone missing, and was therefore happy to obtain some during the agricultural exhibition.

“I live on a quarter-hectare plot of land and grow a lot of indigenous vegetables. I have a variety of indigenous vegetables in my kitchen garden, that is why you see I have purchased the African vine spinach, African kale, and pumpkins that I am going to plant,” she says.

The difficulty in obtaining indigenous vegetable seeds is not new. A survey carried out by researchers at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) on African Indigenous Vegetables (AIVs) showed that the seeds are disappearing because the vegetables no longer grow on their own.

“We did sampling of seeds from different varieties of vegetables, including African night shade (managu), the spider plant (saga), jute mallow (mrenda), amaranth specifically the ododo one because amaranth has so many lines, nderema, mitoo and pumpkins and our own Ethiopian African kale or kanzira,” says Alfred Wanzala from JKUAT’s directorate of research, production and extension.

The project’s nationwide survey prioritised the Western and Nyanza regions, which have the highest prevalence of AIVs. The various samples collected were taken to the university, where researchers conducted studies with various parameters. The survey included questions about how they grow, which climate they prefer, what they need, and the best conditions for growing AIVs.

The findings led to JKUAT researchers developing some superior seed varieties, which they then forwarded to the Kenya Plant Health Inspectorate Services (KEPHIS), the country’s organisation tasked with quantification and certification.

This resulted in the release and gazettement of nine AIV seed varieties that can be rolled out and distributed to farmers for proper vegetable production.

The studies by JKUAT also discovered that AIVs lack proper production protocols, farmer neglect, and recipes that highlight the key nutrition elements obtained from AIVs, which are all issues that the institution has since resolved.

According to Wanzala, JKUAT is currently running a project in which a team of agricultural experts visits small-scale farmers and trains them on planting protocols through on-site farm demonstrations and the provision of proper planting materials. This, he says, helps farmers to properly prepare land, do proper demarcation, proper spacing, and use proper quantity of seeds, as opposed to traditional methods in which farmers broadcast seeds and end up wasting a lot or underutilising them.

“For proper usage of seeds in a plot measuring 10 by 10 metres you only need 25 grams of most of these vegetables and you will get maximum production. It’s recommended that you do 30 centimetres from one line to another and 20 centimetres from one seed to another,” Wanzala explains.

The research also showed that AIVs are overlooked by stakeholders who believe they belong to poor families, despite the health benefits they have.

Wanzala, however, is pleased that this is changing, with five-star hotels already beginning to include them in the diet. JKUAT is also involving schools in their outreach programme to encourage students to form 4K clubs and plant AIVs.

 “We want people also to be independent because the complaints we have been getting from farmers is that they go to agro-vets, buy seeds but they do not germinate. At JKUAT, we train farmers on a whole package from land preparation, planting, vegetable maintenance, harvesting to recipes,” he says. At the end, the farmers regenerate their own seeds.

The research also shows that nine in every 10 AIVs farmers depend on regenerated seed.

 Wanzala says through proper farming, farmers will harvest enough of the vegetables that they will eat, sell and also get bulk seeds for own consumption and surplus to share with their neighbours.

Mary Abukutsa, a professor of horticulture and researcher at JKUAT, says climate change has an impact on AIVs, while the vegetables can also be used to mitigate climate change impacts.

“When there is drought, we do pre-season agriculture by putting some of the climate-smart technologies in place to ensure that you give enough water to the plant to produce,” says Prof Abukutsa.

The issue of perishability also arises as vegetables grow well during the rainy seasons when farmers would have vegetables in plenty while during dry season they face shortages.

But with the findings, JKUAT has solved the challenge by coming up with the preservation methods.

Through this solution the vegetables are dried using a solar dryer before packaging them to ensure they are in optimal condition that make them fit for consumption even one year after harvesting without being frozen.

Prof Abukutsa encourages farmers to use the rain by planting indigenous vegetables, as some parts of Kenya are already receiving rains following a prolonged drought that resulted in food shortages.

“For example, cabbage takes six months to get ready while AIVs take only a month to be ready. So, even with a little rain, you will still have your harvest. Some of them are also drought resistant,” she says.


Experts say pastoralists are on the edge of climate change adaptability 
due to perennial prolonged droughts

Why humans must review their relationship with nature as climate change wreaks havoc

Experts say pastoralists are on the edge of climate change adaptability due to perennial prolonged droughts

By Joyce Chimbi |

Dry rivers and shallow wells characterise the terrain in the Southeastern parts of Makueni County.

Ravaged by a severe drought where temperatures rose to heights not experienced in the last 40 years, residents fear that serious effects of climate change may have accelerated sooner than expected.

That even bringing down global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius as espoused in the Paris Agreement will no longer be enough is a reality slowly dawning on the people.

“In October, we were feeding our cows that had just calved porridge because we had nothing else to offer and they could not walk for long distances looking for water and pasture,” says Morris Muli from Usungu village in Makueni.

At the height of the drought, from February to October 2022, along the Garissa-Nairobi highway, children waited under the scorching sun for left-over food items and drinks from travellers.

Animal carcasses and goats at the verge of death from lack of water and pasture could also be seen along the highway. Even in the face of looming threat to life from the most prolonged dry spell, pastoralists do not consume dying livestock.

Kenyan government data shows that across Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (ASAL) spanning over 23 counties, the drought killed an estimated 1.5 million livestock.

“Worse still, the country’s place as a biodiversity hotspot is under threat. We have seen a serious decline in wildlife, especially between February and October 2022. One of the big fives was devastatingly ravaged by the drought,” says John Mwangi Gicheha, a biodiversity expert and independent researcher.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) released a worrisome report that an estimated 205 elephants died in just nine months. This, Gicheha says, has heightened fears that the country’s broken relationship with nature is reaching a point of no return.

The country’s first ever National Wildlife Census report finalised in August 2021 pointed to signs of trouble.

 For instance, at least five wildlife species are critically endangered and could disappear in the immediate future. There are just 1,650 Tana River Mangabey, 897 black rhinos, 497 Hirolas, 51 Sable antelopes and 15 Roan antelopes.

These findings are in line with the 2022 Living Planet Index, which analysed approximately 32,000 populations of 5,230 species across the world. The Index was conducted by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), an independent conservation organisation.

It is the most comprehensive report on the state of global vertebrate wildlife populations and it makes a startling revelation, that the world’s wildlife populations have declined by 69 per cent since 1970.

The greatest regional decline in wildlife population is in the Latin America and the Caribbean region whose average population decline is 94 per cent.


Africa comes second with a 66 per cent decline in its wildlife populations over the past 52 years and across the board, the poor and marginalised remain highly vulnerable and most affected by the decline.

By tracking trends in the abundance of mammals, fish, reptiles, birds and amphibians around the world since 1970, a disturbing image emerged; that one million plants and animals are threatened with extinction. Worse still, 1-2.5 per cent of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles and fish have already gone extinct.

Key findings include revelations that monitored freshwater populations are hardest hit as there is an alarming decline of 83 per cent in the last 50 years, more than any other species groups.

Overall, the global abundance of 18 of 31 oceanic sharks and rays declined by 71 per cent since 1970. By 2020, three-quarters of sharks and rays were threatened with an elevated risk of extinction. Kenya is currently home to nine whale sharks, two blue whales and 17 tiger sharks, according to the National Wildlife Census.

The decline in freshwater population is mainly caused by habitat loss and barriers to migration routes, which account for an estimated half the threat to these populations.

Further, only 37 per cent of rivers that are longer than 1,000 kilometres remain free flowing in their natural state.

“The crises that are currently unfolding are the climate change and loss of biodiversity. In Kenya, we are talking about the endangering of mangroves and consequent loss of marine ecosystem, overfishing and the endangering of wild tree species due to overlogging,” says Timothy K Orare, a university lecturer.

A report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) revealed that illegal trade in wild species represents the third largest class of all illegal trade, with estimated annual values of up to US$199 billion (Ksh24 trillion). Timber and fish make up the largest volumes and value of illegal trade in wild species.

Orare says there is an urgent need to redefine “our relationship with nature”.

“Nature does not solely exist for our own benefit as human beings, nature is not an infinite resource. One in five people globally directly rely on wild plants and algae for their food and income. On current trajectory, we are witnessing a collapse of livelihoods and economiesm,” he says.

Orare says people must learn to live as one with nature, or living in accordance with nature.

“We are currently living from nature. Prioritising short-term economic gains and profits but the consequences are unfolding right before our very eyes. Our survival as human beings in closely intertwined with nature,” he says.

Gicheha echoes other biodiversity experts in cautioning against dominating the natural world irresponsibly, taking nature for granted, exploiting of resources wastefully and unsustainably, and distributing these resources unevenly because these actions have life altering consequences.

Silas Otieno works on a part of his land that he has rehabilitated after the damage cause by sand harvesting

Sand harvesters drop trade to mitigate climate change effects

Silas Otieno works on a part of his land that he has rehabilitated after the damage cause by sand harvesting

By John Riaga |

When Silas Otieno, 39, was asked to abandon his daily trade of sand harvesting from River Kibos in Kisumu County, western Kenya, it did not make a lot of sense to him.

He had spent the better part of his life diving into the waters and emerging with buckets full of sand. He would do this alongside his peers from Komonge Village until it was enough to fill one lorry. From these proceeds, he would feed his family and send his children to school.

When the parcel of land riparian to the sand harvesting site was bought and fenced off, Otieno lost his daily income from sand harvesting but got a deal for a monthly salary. He now works as the lead conservationist of the environment that he once took part in destroying.

Unknown to Mr Otieno and his peers, they actively contributed to the devastating effects of climate change that has now got the whole world talking.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), sand mining from rivers and marine ecosystems has led to significant environmental impacts, including river erosion, shrinking deltas, land-use changes, air pollution, salinisation of coastal aquifers and groundwater reserves, threats to freshwater and marine fisheries and biodiversity.

Oblivious of the effects of their actions, many people continue to harvest sand from rivers, not just in Komonge Village but throughout Kenya.

Human activities such as sand mining have been cited by climate change experts as the leading effect on greenhouse gases (GHGs).

Paul Oloo, the Kisumu County Meteorological Director, says human activities had increased the concentration of the GHGs tremendously.

He says the initial ability of the earth to self-regulate the GHGs had been compromised as a result of their concentration levels being interfered with due to issues like accelerated population growth and the large expansion of industries across the earth.

“In its self-regulation mechanism, if for instance the amount of radiation hitting the surface of the earth is 100 units, the same is supposed to be released back into the atmosphere,” Mr Oloo explains.

However, due to the disruption of the concentration levels of the GHGs, a percentage of the radiation is not able to leave the surface of the earth. “This is what increases the temperatures on the earth surface” he says.

With riverbank erosion, air pollution and the threat to biodiversity, it is not difficult to tell that the future of the residents of Komonge village is disturbingly endangered if the wanton sand harvesting is not stopped.

Retired teacher Leonard Ating’a stands at the edge of his farm wondering how his parcel that used to stretch into the river has shrunk in size over the years.

“My parcel used to go beyond where I stand now, but the river, over the years has kept moving farther into my land and that of my neighbours here,” says Ating’a, 81.

Just next to him, there are two huge gaping holes on the farm. They caved in as a result of sand harvesting.

How the harvesters dug out the sand underneath his vegetables farm is beyond his understanding.

Thanks to efforts being made by Otieno on the adjacent parcel being turned into an eco-tourism resort by planting of trees and grass along the hitherto destroyed shores of River Kibos, there is hope for Ating’a and his neighbours.

“I had no idea about climate change and how sand harvesting was encouraging the dire situation. I was only fending for my family.

Now that I know better, I am leading the fight to end sand harvesting here and ensure we restore our natural resources and the ecosystem here,” says Otieno.

In 2009, the Kenyan government issued sand harvesting guidelines that were meant to regulate the industry.

This was as a result of the widespread problems caused by sand harvesters at river banks, wetlands and even road reserves.

The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) Kisumu County Director Tom Togo says there are plans to turn the guidelines into law to make them more effective.

“The guidelines as they are, are not binding legally and those who infringe them cannot be held liable. But if we successfully turn them into law, we shall be able to deal with the issue of wanton sand harvesting effectively,” says Mr Togo.

Oloo says that while it would take time to reverse the effects of climate change, it is important for people to resort to adaptation measures to try and mitigate those effects.

“It is not possible to eliminate climate change; we can only adapt,” he says.

Oloo says 90 per cent of natural disasters around the world are climate change related. Since human activities are the main causes of climate change, it therefore means that human beings must be at the centre of efforts to mitigate it.

An agricultural extension officer in Nigeria. Experts say most African countries are ready to adopt gene editing.

AU: Africa ‘ready’ to adopt gene editing

An agricultural extension officer in Nigeria. Experts say most African countries are ready to adopt gene editing.

By Mekonnen Teshome I

Experts from five project piloting AU member states have said that most African nations have shown readiness for the adoption of Genome Editing (GEd) technology.

The AU member states came together to strategise on the use and adoption of genome editing technology in boosting agricultural productivity.

The experts made their statement in their communiqué released following a three-day genome editing communication strategy development and policy dialogue meeting held in Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria last week.

The meeting was organized by the Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology, and Innovation of the African Union Development Agency-NEPAD (AUDA-NEPAD) in collaboration with the Nigerian National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA).

Participants expressed optimism that some projects in the pipeline in the countries may be ready for commercialisation within the next three to five years.

According to the communiqué, there are growing GEd capabilities in Africa as identified at the forum and most countries involved in the pilot phase as well as other African countries have some level of enabling environment to adopt the technology.

Moreover, the experts agreed that there is a need for accelerated development of experts on genome editing and mainstreaming in the curriculum of various universities in Africa.

They added that there is need for synergy and collaboration among African countries to foster the desired benefits from genome editing adding that such a move will spur industrial development and improved livelihoods.

They also underscored the need for Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) and improved funding made available by the private sector, adding that AU member countries need to proactively develop guidelines to facilitate the adoption of the technology and to develop communication strategy for awareness creation and public education.

In connection with the continental meeting, Press Secretary to the Director-General of Nigerian National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Mrs Toyin Omozuma, indicated the AUDA-NEPAD project has been initiated and driven by member states of Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Ethiopia, Eswantini and Zambia.

“The goal of the Genome Editing (GEd) project is to foster a broader understanding of GEd among different stakeholder groups through communication and advocacy for enhanced uptake of the tool to optimise agriculture in Africa,” she said.

Scientists say that genome-editing technologies including clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats/CRISPR-associated protein (CRISPR/Cas) have become powerful tools for modifying plant genomes and achieve precise genetic modifications by inducing targeted DNA double-strand breaks.

This article first appeared in E-Review Magazine, a publication of the African Seed Trade Association, December 2022 edition.

A climate change negotiator being interviewed by Aimable Twahirwa from
 Rwanda one of the journalists supported by MESHA to attend COP-27.

African negotiators wary on climate financing

A climate change negotiator being interviewed by Aimable Twahirwa from Rwanda one of the journalists supported by MESHA to attend COP-27.

By Agatha Ngotho |

African group of negotiators have expressed disappointment that the Ksh12 trillion (US$100 billion) pledge by developed to developing countries remains unfulfilled.

Alioune Ndoye, President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), underscored the importance of delivering the $100 billion as soon as possible.

This will help build trust and faith in the multilateral process of addressing climate change.

“We urge developed countries to deliver on their commitment to meet the goal and ensure the progression of efforts in the on-going mobilisation of climate finance,” said Ndoye while speaking to the media on the status of the negotiations at COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt.

“We urge developed countries to take the lead in implementing their targets while providing enhanced support to developing countries.”

Collins Nzovu, Minister of Green Economy and Environment from Zambia, which chaired the African Group of Negotiators, said COP27 had been dubbed an implementation COP.

“Africa is worst affected by the climate crisis and yet contributes least to the pollution that causes climate change,” said Nzovu, adding that Africa is plagued by complex overlapping challenges, and many generations of Africans have been left behind and suffer consequences of actions not of their own making.

The systemic problems facing Africa require dedicated and targeted interventions. This will also unleash our continent’s potential to contribute to achieving the 1.5 degrees Celcius global warming.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, Africa will be impacted more than any other continent while it only contributes less than four per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions.


The report indicated that Africa has the lowest historical and current emissions. It estimates that adaptation costs in developing countries will reach $127 billion (Ksh15.5 trillion), and Africa needs up to $86.5 billion (Ksh10.5 trillion) annually by 2030.

The IPCC report further showed that Africa has suffered a 34 per cent decline in food production and loss and damage to agricultural productivity.

The leaders called on all parties to work constructively towards reaching an agreement on a framework to enable achieving and assessing progress towards the Global Goal on Adaptation.

The Loss and Damages Fund

 On November 20, countries made the landmark decision to provide loss and damage funding for countries most impacted by climate change effects. The breakthrough decision on compensation for loss and damage, can be considered as arguably the biggest win from COP27. This included the creation of a dedicated fund to support the nations that are most vulnerable and most impacted by the adverse effects of the climate crisis. They will be supported for losses arising from droughts, floods, rising seas, and other disasters attributed to climate change. There was also a call for new funding arrangements. To flesh this out, a transition committee, made up of representatives of 24 countries, was created to make recommendations on how to operationalize both the new funding arrangements and the new fund, to be discussed at the next COP.

The plethora of funds, at face value, always looks like a very positive step. This is undoubtedly the case, however missed funding targets by developed countries and difficulty in accessing the funds by African countries have remained as key constraints. According to the OECD, between 2016-2019 developed countries have fallen short of the USD 100 billion annual target for climate action in developing countries, yet this target is well below the estimated financing need. Africa has received only about USD 20 billion of this between 2016-2019. The Africa Group of Negotiators on Climate Change, have actually assessed the scale of need as rising to USD 1.3 trillion annually by 2030.