By Odhiambo David | email@example.com
A forum that seeks to bring together a variety of experts dealing with unique animal and plant species has been launched.
By Jasmine Otieno | People Daily
A report by the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and the fisheries department has indicated that the world population of sea turtles is estimated to have declined by 80 per cent over the last 50 years. This decline has been attributed to many factors, among them plastic pollution and illegal fishing.
Omar Hassan, a boat operator at Nyali beach in Mombasa County says such is also the case at the Kenyan Coast, and the menace is affecting both fish and turtles.
He says by-catch (fish or other marine species that are caught unintentionally while fishing), in set gillnets and trawl nets have caused turtles to either drown through entanglement or to be opportunistically harvested by the fishermen.
“Turtles are targeted for their eggs, meat, skin and shells. Sometimes it is intentional, but there are times when it is accidental when turtles alongside fish end up in the trawl and they are not released back to the sea. Sometimes fishermen set up traps for crabs and unluckily a turtle ends up in there. But there are irresponsible fishermen who just target the animals and since they are scarce, their population is endangered. I have seen fishermen in Kilifi County and even Mombasa doing this and I can attest that the turtle population has really declined over the last 20 years,” shares Omar.
He adds that some communities believe turtle oil has a medicinal and spiritual value, making them a target for poachers as well. While he is aware of the effects of overfishing, he shares that not all fishermen have been well sensitised on the importance of the turtles to the marine ecosystem, especially those from rural parts of the coast.
Turtles hold significant economic, ecological and social values to humanity, but due to the high demand for commercialised sea turtle products, they have been classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ marine species by the World Conservation Union and are listed in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, with the loggerhead, leatherback and olive ridley classified as vulnerable, the green as endangered and the hawksbill as critically endangered.
Kenya is home to a variety of turtles and according to a recent KWS report, the population of turtles in Kenya is estimated at 450 individuals along the coastline. They include; the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta), Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea), and leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). The coastal ecosystems, including seagrasses, mangroves, coral reefs, and sand bars in the Kenyan waters have proven to be excellent places for the thriving of turtle populations. However, most of these ecosystems are threatened by pollution, climate change, population growth, and mismanagement of resources.
In a move to sensitise the community on the importance of conserving the turtles, the Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife and Heritage, Wilson Sossion together with Mombasa Senator, Mohammed Faki, led the Mombasa residents to release 147 turtles into the Ocean at Nyali Beach in June. They both called upon locals to end turtle fishing for both conservation of marine ecosystem and the promotion of tourism.
Releasing baby turtles into the oceans gives them a higher chance of survival away from preying birds and other predators. While only about 10 of the released number will survive through to adulthood, the female sea turtles return to where they were hatched to lay eggs if they survive.
In 2005, KWS signed the Indian Ocean South East Asia Marine Turtle Memorandum of Understanding, which establishes a framework through which states of the Indian Ocean and South East Asia region can work together to conserve and replenish depleted sea turtles population.
Speaking at the event, which also marked World Turtles Day, Sossion emphasised the need for harmonised efforts in protection of the marine creatures.
“The Kenyan side is well protected and from the scientific and technical information we are receiving is that the turtles would like to move and stay more on this side. But there is a need to collaborate across and outside Kenya because these are not species restricted to the Kenyan domain. They migrate all the way to South Africa and Indonesia and there is a need for all the nations to work together for the conservation of the turtles,” he said.
KWS, Acting Director General Dr Erastus Kenga emphasised on the importance of sea turtles. “They are part of the wider ecosystem species that are there. On World Turtle Day, we released green turtles, which feed purely on the seagrass, so they are edible, they provide very good oil. They not only confine themselves in Kenya, but the little ones that we released are going to move all the way to Mozambique, South Africa and when they are about 25 years old, they will come and nest in the same places that they have been hatched, so as a country, we are working with our neighbours, Somalia, Tanzania and all the other countries along the Indian Ocean coast to make sure that we are eco-conscious across the borders,” he said.
To curb some of these threats posed to turtles, several actions have been taken to make sustainable changes to the coastal ecosystems.
Dr Mohammed Omar, Principal Research Scientist at Wildlife Research and Training Institute, says one of the efforts underway for conservation of the marine species includes the revival of the Sea Turtle Conservation Strategy at the Coast.
The Sea Turtles Conservation initiative involves incentivising community members and volunteers for every nest reported and each successful hatchling. Together with other stakeholders Sea Turtle Conservation conducts intensive awareness creation to bring the community on board and help them to form community-based Turtle Conservation Groups (TCGs), which also assist in monitoring. “The season we are currently in, since the beginning of April, is one which the turtles normally come to lay their eggs and this will go on untill the end of the year. According to our research, every time a turtle starts to lay eggs, it takes about 60 days for the hatching to begin,” shared Dr Omar.
Close monitoring of the nests is important, especially in protecting the eggs from other predators, such as crabs, ants and birds. Once they emerge, hatchlings make bite-sized meals for birds, crabs and a host of predators in the ocean. Increased human activities, such as the building of hotels along the beach have also been a threat to the turtle nests.
Other efforts by the community, include strategies to prevent the use of unsustainable and illegal fishing gear, locally managed cleanups and waste collections, community-managed marine protected areas, and community-led mangrove replanting and management. This has helped reduce by-catch and also cases of turtles drowning through entanglement. Most of these initiatives though, have not been able to sustain themselves due to a lack of finances.
To address this, Lt General Walter Koipaton, KWS Board of Trustees, emphasised that more efforts need to be put into partnership with the community. “Taking care of these creatures shouldn’t just happen on such a day only, it should be an ongoing exercise. We are also keen as a board of trustees that proceeds from conservation also get to also benefit the community so that we can partner and become one force for good,” said Koipaton.
This article was produced with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation and Media for Environment Science Health and Agriculture (MESHA).
By Clifford Akumu
On the fringe of Naroosura village, several kilometres South of Narok, Patrick Tolo walks in his black sandals made from old tires and a traditional herding stick in his hand on smooth rocks that seem to form a pattern.
Behind him are pastoralists crisscrossing the patched land with their livestock in search of pasture, the goats occasionally munching young fresh acacia leaves. Women can also be seen with jerrycans full of water on their backs and others rolling on the ground.
Mr Tolo is on his way to Enkong’u Enkare water spring (locally known as the eye of water) – a critical fresh water source that sustains the lives and livelihoods of thousands of residents.
Tolo, 51, recalls how the community has been dealing with human-wildlife conflict at the water spring due to prolonged drought. The water level has drastically reduced.
“Many have fallen victims to the wild animals, especially elephants roaming the area in search of food and water. The elephants cleared my sugarcane and banana plantation. I no longer grow them. I have decided to grow fast maturing crops like tomatoes and vegetables,” says Mr Tolo, as he inspects the pipes that he uses to irrigate an adjacent land.
For Sayianka Nkiminis, memories of an encounter with a male buffalo that was destroying his maize are painful. The animal nearly killed him. “The animal charged at me. The only thing I can remember is being airborne, having been lifted by the animal’s horns, before a fall with a thud. One of the horns got lodged between my legs and it nearly mutilated my genitals,” he recalls.
nearby villagers save his life. He lay in a coma at the Narok County Referral Hospital for three days.
“I’m lucky to have made it alive,” Nkiminis says.
-diverse ecosystems on the planet and can only be compared to rainforest and coral reefs. They reduce the likelihood of flooding by soaking up excess water from swollen rivers. They filter pollutants from groundwater before it enters aquifers, and are one of the most effective natural carbon storage systems on the planet.
According to the Ramsar Scientific and Technical Review Panel, wetlands store 35 per cent of the world’s land-based carbon, despite covering just 9 per cent of its surface.
Enkong’u Enkare water catchment has two springs. The cold one diverts to Ntuka Sub-location, supporting four schools and domestic use, while the warm one flows down and becomes the Naroosura river.
Olchoro Ngussur and Olmaisuri Entiapiri wetlands are in Narok South.
WWF programmes Coordinator for Mau-Mara-Loita region Kevin Gichangi says wetlands destruction increases vulnerability to extreme climate change effects, including flooding and drought.
“Enkong’u Enkare is a perennial spring that serves the community and supplies vital habitat and “biological supermarkets” for wildlife,” he says.
few kilometres away, the Embukitaa Hills, the breeding site for elephants, protrude.
r Gichangi says many aquatic species are endangered when wetlands are degraded. “Apart from aquatic species that depend directly on the wetland, it is also a source of water for rivers that sustain wildlife downstream. This spring lies in the Mara Ecosystem that is well known for wildlife,” he says, warning that the rate at which wetlands are being degraded will be detrimental to the country.
90 per cent of the wetlands have been degraded since the 1700s.We are losing wetlands three times faster than we are losing forests” adds Mr Gichangi.
According to the January 2023 National Drought Early Warning bulletin produced by the National Drought Management Authority, Narok County is in the alert drought phase.
The bulletin reveals that the drought situation is critical in 22 of the 23 ASAL counties due to the late onset and poor performance of the much-anticipated October to December 2022 short rains, coupled with previous consecutive failed rainfall seasons.
Preserved by the Ministry of Irrigation in 1982 to provide water for domestic use, Enkong’u Enkare spring remains a critical wetland supporting more than 15,000 people with its more than 29 million cubic metres, as per the records from the Ministry of Water.
Encroachment by humans and wildlife almost risked the water source becoming just another afterthought in a story about restoration. Two years ago the spring was also threatened by siltation and other pollutants flowing into the water pan built to collect the spring’s water. Erratic weather patterns, a perennial drought and sporadic flooding saw the mini dam’s bed filled with harmful waste and silt.
“It was full of silt, which used to fill the whole dam. The dam had also been invaded by water hyacinth,” says Mr Tolo, who grows vegetables, maize and beans nearby.
The WWF Kenya began a rehabilitation project on the dam, removing the silt that had clogged it. It also built several canals to supply directly from the spring to several farms and projects, including Naroosura and Oloiboroing’oni irrigation schemes under the water resource users association.
It also repaired the cattle trough and the communal water points, planting indigenous trees and repairing the fence to keep off wild animals. The farmers grows mainly fast-maturing horticulture crops such as tomatoes, cabbages, onions, beans and maize.
“Were it not for this water, people wouldn’t have lived here because the place is so dry. It had a lot of trees and that is why it is called Naroosura (the green forest),” says James ole Tago, the Naroosura Water Resource Users Association secretary, that ensures the natural resource is protected.
And because of these multi-water uses, the spring needs more protection than any other wetland,” he says.
The WRUA was created to train the community on sustainable farming and come up with water use schedules to avoid water-related conflicts locally.
During dry season, when the water volumes at the spring reduce, Naroosura WRUA advises farmers to farm on small portions of the land to enhance uniform allocation of water in each plot.
water my crops twice in a week, according to the schedule by the Naroosura WRUA. The farmers group has also drawn a timetable on members that are tasked to oversee the process,” says Tolo.
“We are now able to pump water to irrigate crops. I harvest between eight and 10 bags of maize,” he says.
The irrigation project targeted integrated water resource management through sustainable farming practices. It trained the farmers on how to avoid water pollution by not emptying chemicals and farm waste in the river system to keep river Naroosura clean for downstream users not to get water-borne diseases.
“We also trained the farmers on integrated pest management and how to do organic farming,” explains Mr Tago.
told the government to second an expert to the catchment to determine the extent of the water table to avoid further destruction. “We need an expert who understands the extent of the water table so that we can protect it,” says Bishop Simon Shimpai, the Naroosura WRUA chairman.
Forestry and Climate Change CS Soipan Tuya says awareness creation on the impact of wetland restoration among community members is vital. “We hope the local communities can take measures to improve government adaptation and mitigation of climate change. Wetland restoration is one such activity,” the CS said during this year’s World Wetlands Day at Enkong’u Enkare, whose theme was “Wetlands Restoration”.
urrently, Narok County has 14.01 percent forest cover and 20 percent tree cover. It still has 300,000ha available for restoration over the next 10 years to meet the 30 percent tree cover as set out by the President.
oipan said her government will establish a “green army” within Nark County to help increase these numbers and sustain the 15 billion trees agenda until maturity.
arok Governor Patrick ole Ntutu has reiterated that his government will identify and restore the natural springs in Narok to mitigate effects of drought. While climate change poses a serious threat to the existing wetlands, our grazing and animals husbandry nature continue to pose an even bigger challenge to our conversation efforts,” said Mr Ntutu.
Overstocking in the conservancies and outside the Masai Mara Natural Reserve has disrupted the flow of the Mara River and shortened the cycle of high and low peak in the flow of the river from 90 to just 16 days during the rainy season,” he added.
tutu urged the national government to put stringent measures to tame encroachment of riparian lands to conserve and preserve the environment.
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.
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.
In September 2022 when President William Ruto was in New York pleading for more support to tackle climate change, his deputy Rigathi Gachagua made announcements on lifting the ban on the Shamba System (which has been blamed for wanton destruction of the country’s natural forests).
The debate would later take a new twist, with conservationists and communities depending on indigenous forests for livelihood weighing in on the matter, warning that the gains made in increasing forest cover would be lost.
However, it’s not the first time the Shamba System has met heawinds. It was first banned in 1986 but the ban was lifted in 1994 before President Mwai Kibaki banned it again in 2003, citing abuse by Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officials and timber millers.
The Jubilee administration also outlawed the system in January 2021, citing environmental degradation, three years after imposing a moratorium on logging in public and community forests over the same concerns.
Our reporter Clifford Akumu had a chat with Mercelyne Khalumba, forest plantation and management officer, during a biodiversity science cafe organised by MESHA and KFS recently to demystify the misinformation surrounding the Shamba System or simply PELIS.
What exactly is PELIS approach?
It refers to Plantation Establishment and Livelihoods Improvement Scheme. Through the Forest Mangament Act of 2016, the Kenya Forest Services is allowed to collaborate with communities adjacent to forests through Community Forest Associations (CFAs).
Under this scheme, we invite the communities that live around the forests who have registered themselves into CFAs to come and work with Kenya Forest Service in the forest establishment plantation.
So, as we plant the trees, they also raise their food crops in the same unit of land.
Could you tell us about the origin of PELIS?
The PELIS system is not entirely a new concept as it was formerly known as the Shamba System before being re-branded.
PELIS traces its way back to 1902 when farmers were being allowed to cultivate crops within the forest settings. In Kenya, the colonial administration introduced the system in 1910 to provide raw materials for the timber industry and reduce pressure on natural forests. The name changed to Shamba System in the early 1990s.
In 2010 the name further changed to non-residential cultivation. But from 2010 to date the name changed to Plantation Establishment and Livelihoods Improvement Scheme(PELIS). Only five per cent of forests is under forest cultivation (with food crops) the rest of the 95 per cent is indigenous plantation.
How is PELIS conducted?
After signing agreements with the CFAs, our forest station managers work with their officials to designate certain areas as plantation areas.
The CFAs then allocate these plots to the communities, particularly giving preferences to the poor people who have no land before they move to the other groups of people. The rest are normally put through balloting. The size of the plot they receive is normally half an acre where the demand is high, but where it’s low it can go up to between one and two acres.
The Kenya Forest Service (KFS) raises the seedlings in the nurseries, while the communities assist in planting and taking care of the trees until they reach a height where they cannot exist with other crops – roughly after three or four years.
In PELIS, we have the farmer and KFS working in the same unit of land. In this same unit of land people have different interests; the farmer wants food and KFS wants the trees to grow. KFS plant mainly exotic tree species.
How much land in the country is under PELIS?
Currently we have about 10,000 hectares under PELIS. The trees are in year one, two or three. Kenya’s forest cover now stands at 8.83 per cent from 5.99 per cent in 2018 while tree cover is at 12.13 per cent, according to the newly released National Forest Resources Assessment Report 2021.
What are the impacts of PELIS scheme on forest conservation and protection?
When the farmer is taking care and cultivating the trees, the government is saving on the costs while the farmer is getting food and improving their livelihood (as they weed the food crops they also weed the trees, leading to a symbiotic relationship). It also leads to a high survival rate of trees compared to when they are planted in the grassland without any care.
Which type of crops can be grown under the PELIS programme?
Farmers are encouraged to grow low-cover crops such as kales, beans, carrots, Irish potatoes and garden peas. Growing of maize is banned because it slows down the survival of the trees. Studies conducted by KFS has shown how farmers are reaping and changing their livelihoods from the earnings they get from the PELIS programme.
There has been a raging debate about the reintroduction of Shamba System. What is the correct position in this cloud of misinformation?
PELIS is still on. Because of the policy directive from the government, we stopped cutting plantation trees. Farmers have planted crops in the spaces where the trees had been cut. We cannot allow them to go and plant their crops in the plots with indigenous tree species unless we cut them again.
We hope the logging ban will be lifted so that we harvest the trees then there will be space. But we have not stopped.
Where do the mature trees from PELIS programme go to?
When these trees mature, saw millers who are e-registered and pre-qualified bid to purchase them. Once the trees are harvested under the sustainable harvesting plan (contained in the forest plantation management plan), the area is available for cultivation by farmers as they raise another crop of trees.
What about your call to increase forest cover across the country?
I advise people to plant trees in their land. The government’s gazetted forests are limited, even if we fill them we might not reach the target yet. But we now need to go to the rangeland and farmland to plant trees. For example, if your land is small, you can plant along the boundaries or shade trees in your compound.
Between September and April every year, thousands of birds fly through the skies, traversing countries and continents before landing in Mida Creek, a tidal inlet stretching from the Indian Ocean along the Kenyan Coast.
Over 70 aquatic bird species make long journeys from their summer breeding sites in Europe and Eurasia in search of wintering grounds in Mida.
The creek surrounded by thickets of mangrove forest and lined with palms is a paradise for migratory birds that come in search of food and to escape unbearable cold of Northern countries. Migratory birds depend on the creek that offers ideal temporary habitat to roost, and feed for their survival.
The 32 square kilometre creek in Watamu, Kilifi County, has important mangrove forests with a high diversity of crustaceans and fish species, which provide nourishment to the birds. Diverse habitats of mud and sand flats and open shallow waters within the saline expanse of the creek are rich in biodiversity to sustain birds and marine life.
“The mud is like chocolate for birds. There are other places around Africa that birds can use as wintering grounds, but Mida is an exception because of the readily available food,” says Kibwana Ali Bakari, a local bird conservationist.
Some of the migratory bird species that can easily be seen at Mida Creek include mangrove kingfisher, spotted ground thrush, osprey, terek sandpiper, saunder`s tern, robin chats, swallows, bee eaters and shrikes. Mida is also a significant feeding area for greater flamingo, dimorphic egrets, and lesser crested tern.
The presence of migratory birds is an indicator of the condition of migratory sites. Birds stay in places where there is abundant food and minimum distraction.
According to Kibwana, migratory birds also benefit the ecosystem through pest control, pollination of plants, are food sources for other wildlife and source of pride for local communities.
The birds also have a recreational value. They add aesthetic beauty to the environment, bringing in more tourists. Every year, many tourists are drawn to Watamu to visit the pristine beaches and the coastal forest of Arabuko Sokoke.
The tranquility of mangrove forests that surround Mida Creek and the thriving bird life is also an attraction to tourists. Kibwana notes that one bird, the crab plover, is a major attraction to many tourists.
“The striking shorebird, with white and black plumage and a unique straight beak, draws many tourists here,” he says. The bird that migrates from Oman and nests in Somalia feeds on crabs that are readily available at the creek.
Apart from aquatic migrants, there are terrestrial birds that migrate through the adjacent Arabuko Sokoke Forest. Other bird species like secretary ibises, yellow bee storks and three banded plovers, live and breed at the creek.
Mida Creek is recognised as an Important Bird Area and together with Arabuko Sokoke Forest form UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
But as we marked World Migratory Bird Day on October 8, experts warned that migratory bird species are in sharp decline. According to the International Union for Conservation on Nature Red List, one in every eight bird species is threatened, including some migratory bird species such as European Turtle Dove and Atlantic Puffin.
Among the threats facing migratory birds and contributing to their decline is human destruction of habitats. Kahindi Charo Katana, a local bird guide, notes that the threats include human encroachment of wildlife habitats, deforestation, effects of climate change and invasive species.
Along the Indian Ocean, for instance, the growing numbers of Indian house crow, which is an invasive species, has led to a decrease in some smaller indigenous bird species.
“The bird is a scavenger and feeds literally on anything, including the eggs of other bird species, thus threatening their survival,” says Kahindi. The crows are not indigenous to East Africa but were introduced by scientists a century ago to control rubbish. Now, their numbers have exploded, threatening the survival of other bird species.
Destruction of key habitats also threatens the population of migratory birds. Due to years of human encroachment, Arabuko Sokoke Forest is currently the only largest remaining fragment of the East African Coastal Forest that stretches from Mozambique to Somalia. Several migratory terrestrial birds still rely on the forest stretch as a migratory route while heading to Mida in search of food.
Deforestation around the creek had in the past also threatened the bird populations but in recent years the community has put efforts to restore critical mangrove forests, attracting more birds.
By Ruth Keah
Growing up, Juma Mnyika loved watching monkeys jump up and down mangrove trees in his Ganahola village at Kenya’s coastal county of Mombasa.
However, these beautiful sceneries are only memories now for the 42-year-old, since most parts of the mangrove forest have been destroyed.
“The monkeys ran away due to the mangrove forest destruction. Now we only see one monkey in a month which comes into our homestead to look for food,” says Mnyika.
Mangroves are among the most productive marine ecosystems on earth, providing a unique habitat for many animal species. They provide habitats for birds, breeding grounds for many fish species as well as protection against storms, floods and erosion. Mangrove forests also act as important carbon sinks because they have higher amount of biomass compared to terrestrial tropical forest.
Sadly, mangroves are in danger of human destruction and their global distributions have been on the decline. Take the case of Tudor Creek in Mombasa, Kenya which has lost 80 per cent of its mangroves over the past 20 years.
However, Mnyika and his fellow bee farmers are now doing their best to restore and protect the endangered trees.
In a project Asali Mkoko, over 100 farmers along the Tudor creek earn a living by harvesting honey from the beehives and also use the bees as security for the mangrove forest.
“We started planting the mangroves, but noticed that people were still destroying them, so we deiced to install beehives along the Tudor creek to act as 24-hour security,” says Mnyika.
“The beehives have been very effective because when one decides to cut down a mangrove tree, the bees attack him/her; they are boxed shaped with half a foot size.”
He says that since 2010 when the project started, almost 90 per cent of mangrove destruction has stopped, and some of the birds, crabs, prawns and fish that had disappeared are returning.
Mnyika owns 12 beehives. They check on the hives at least once or twice in one and a half months and harvest the honey every four months. One hive produces up to 20kg of honey in a good season and eight kilos in a bad season.
“I have found a livelihood in the mangrove forest. We sell one kilo of honey at Sh1,200,” he says.
A non-governmental organisation Big Ship buys the harvested honey hence providing a ready market.
Agnes Mjeni from Madzombani Village, Mwakirunge in Mombasa County is a former logger. She used to cut down mangroves to use as firewood and charcoal.
“I was among the people who cut down trees and use them as firewood and the mangroves produce very good charcoal for cooking, I didn’t know its benefits and so I used to cut them down,’ she said.
As time went by, they saw the mangrove forest along the Tudor Creek which also covers their area was decreasing. More than 80 percent of mangroves were lost due to indiscriminate logging and even climate change. This loss spark plugged them to form Amani Jipange Peace Group. This has action led to them becoming beneficiaries of the beekeeping farming project with the help of the Big Ship Organisation.
The bees produce honey which they sell to sustain their families. At the same time, the bees protect the mangroves from loggers. Mjeni says the bees are cost effective compared to hiring of guards.
Ever since she started reaping the benefits of the mangrove Mjeni do not allow any person to cut down the trees and that is where as the group they had to find a permanent protector for the mangroves.
Mwinga Gonzi is the chairperson of the 20-member Amani Jipange Peace Group involved in beekeeping.
‘We started the group in 2012 to plant the mangrove to restore the forests but after realising that there was still deforestation, we engaged in beekeeping to protect the forest and also earn a living,’ he said adding that, ‘We came up with bees as a solution because many people fear bee sting and beside it gives us honey which we sell to get money.”
The group has 40 hives. Members look after them two or three times per week. They can harvest between three to five hives every three months. One hive produces up to 10kgs of honey. The mangrove honey popularly known as ‘Asali Mikoko’ sells for between Ksh.800 and Ksh.1000.
However, such community projects are not without challenges. The farmers led by Mnyika find it hard for the bees to find the right flowers to produce honey during the dry season. This reduces their harvest.
“Due to the prolonged dry season, this year I have only harvested honey once, and I only got 10kg,” he says.
Monitored wildlife populations – mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish – have seen a devastating 69 per cent drop on average since 1970, according to World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Living Planet Report (LPR) 2022. The report warns governments, businesses and the public to take transformative action to reverse the destruction of biodiversity.
Around the world, the report indicates that the main drivers of wildlife population decline are habitat degradation and loss, exploitation, introduction of invasive species, pollution, climate change and diseases.
World leaders meet at the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15) this December for a once-in-a-decade opportunity to course-correct for the sake of people and the planet. WWF is advocating for leaders to commit to a ‘Paris-style’ agreement capable of reversing biodiversity loss to secure a nature-positive world by 2030.
“The LPR report makes it clear that delivering a nature-positive future will not be possible without recognising and respecting the rights, governance, and conservation leadership of Indigenous Peoples and local communities around the world,” says Alice Ruhweza, Africa Regional Director, WWF-International.
Evelyn Omondi from Big Ship Organisation, a community empowerment organisation that focuses on implementation of local solutions on restoring and protecting the environment, says they decided to partner with the community and some former loggers to set up a mangrove bee farming project to protect the diminishing Tudor Creek mangrove forest.
“We train them on seedling establishment, bee keeping and monitoring of the beehives, and establish a market for the honey,” she says.
‘The farmers are normally trained for 5 days on how they can do beehive farming. After selling the mangrove seedlings, the money is being used to purchase the beehives for the farmers,” she added.
The different types of mangrove seedlings are often sold to visiting guests who together with the farmers plant them along the Tudor Creek.
‘We decided to bring together the former loggers to change their mindset against logging and teach them the importance of conserving mangroves,’ notes Ms Omondi.
So far, they have engaged more than 200 former loggers in the beekeeping project. The over 500 beehives are set up at various strategic points along the forest.
‘We organise meetings with the local communities and educate them on the benefits of mangrove conservation, after that we make an appeal to those who want to join the farmers, that’s how we recruit members,” she noted, adding that the recruitment and training exercise is normally done twice a year.
The group sells mangrove seedlings at Ksh100 each. From the sales, they buy beehives and give to farmers they have recruited. The farmers then plant the seedlings along the creek.
Their long-term plan is to make sure that each community member in the areas
they cover can get at least 10 beehives.
One beehive costs Kshs. 6,000. They are positioned in a manner that the farmers can access them with ease during both low and high tides. The farmers are the ones who position them without any assistance in a distance of 100 metres away from the neighbouring village.
They mostly place them where the Black mangrove Avicennia germinans type is found. This is because this type of mangrove has flowers which can attract bees.
According to Ms Omondi, the mangrove has many benefits in the ecosystem. There is a symbiotic relationship between the bees, the beekeepers, and the mangrove forest. The bees feed on the mangrove flowers, making highly desirable honey free from commercial additives.
One of the challenges they encounter is that most farmers have inadequate knowledge in bee keeping, hence they spend more time and resources on training them.
Despite the challenges, they have restored 67 hectares of mangroves along the Tudor Creek.
Experts estimate that mangroves in Kenya store between 600 and 1,500 tonnes of carbon per hectare. This means that the 3,371 hectares of mangroves in Mombasa County store an average of 3.94 million tonnes of carbon.
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from the one published on October 31, 2022.
Lake Victoria’s wetland area is battling to find a balance between saving its unique ecosystem and surviving the massive encroachment from human beings.
Of interest is that the wetland in Kisumu County is not gazetted, and remains unprotected despite its vulnerability to encroachers, making it a disaster in waiting, according to environmentalists.
Being an unprotected area, the wetland faces unprecedented threats from economic development, pollution, alteration of its water bodies and conversion to other land uses.
For instance, Dunga wetland is home to 60 bird species and covers 10km South East of Kisumu. Massive infrastructural investments are slowly taking over the wetlands. The wetland is being chocked with raw sewer and solid wastes, even as a few residents fight to preserve it.
“Destruction of the wetland is fast removing a buffer that stops it from being poisoned by sewage and industrial waste in return risk killing the lake,” Kapiyo says.
The scientist says the state of Dunga wetland risks losing its potential for eco-tourism due to its diverse plant and animal species for bird and botany as well as its other aesthetic values.
Tom Togo, the Kisumu County Director, NEMA, observes that the wetlands within the county legally belong to people.
“We have stopped quite a number of development applications within the areas we consider wetland, but it has been a tall order,” says Togo, adding that once areas are protected, it becomes easy to manage them, but wetlands within the country are people’s farmlands.
“It was a grave mistake to issue title deeds for people to privately own pieces of land on wetlands. Now it is hard to stop them from utilising the pieces of land,” Togo said.
He faulted the community living at Dunga wetland for not being supportive of protecting the wetland.
He said unsustainable farming in the wetland has led to papyrus destruction through burning and cutting, killing several other lives.
The proximity of the Dunga swamp to the lakeside city puts strain on it through pollution in form of sewage and solid wastes, yet the country is slow in the implementation of wetlands development and management policy.
This is unlike their counterpart in Migodi wetland sanctuary in the city’s outskirts, the serenity of Kibale National Park between Kamwenge and Fort Portal in western Uganda.
It is protected land and as a result, the wetland has thrived and is home to more than 200 bird species, including the Gray-crowned crane, with varied plant species and it is primates’ favourite feeding ground.
“The community came together to protect the wetland, which was initially threatened by encroachment. And because it’s protected, it now acts as a tourism hub in the region,” said Edward Asalu, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) area Conservation Manager, at Kibale Forest National park.
Shelton Were, an officer at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), noted that there had been close collaboration to protect wildlife with the community at Dunga wetland.
However, he said unsustainable papyrus harvesting by the locals was destroying bird and Sitatunga habitat.
He said poaching of declining species such as the Sitatunga, otter and hippopotamus was also on the increase.
“As the ecosystem comes under greater pressure, human-wildlife conflicts are worsening. Hippos invade farms, destroy crops and even cause human deaths as their grazing range becomes restricted,” says Were.
Michael Nyaguti, chair at Magnam Environmental Network, says one of the threats Lake Victoria is facing is the encroachment of riparian wetlands.
“Currently, we have people who after purchasing land next to the lake stretch and own the entire land into the waters,” Nyaguti said.
Environmental Management and Coordination Act 2006 defines riparian land as being a minimum of 6m and up to a maximum of 30m from the highest watermark.
In addition, there are other nine laws to protect riparian lands, including the Water Act 2002, Agriculture Act, Water Resource Management Act 2007 and the Environment Management and Coordination Regulations of 2006.
However, Nyaguti said a number of ‘big-wigs’ had encroached on the wetlands, destroying vegetation and releasing raw sewer and other substances into the lake.
“This has completely negated the efforts of conservation that has been accomplished around the lake, and now some species face extinction,” he stated.
He challenged law enforcement agencies to ensure that before any development is done around the waterfront, all laws are adhered to for the justice of the environment.
“Most of the vegetation along the shoreline is being destroyed. We have hippos around Lake Victoria. These hippos need grazing and resting ground, which is no longer there,” said Nyaguti.
Patrick Otuo, a researcher and scientist with Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, argued that the destruction and shrinking of Lake Victoria wetland account for dwindling fish stocks as “wetlands are breeding ground for many fish species and if they are not protected then the lake is facing immense danger.
The National Management Environmental Authority(NEMA) has called for the gazettement of wetlands within the county to protect the areas that are currently in grave danger according to experts.
Nema Boss Kisumu county Tom Togo noted that this was a serious challenge and it was very hard to protect the wetlands since there was no single one within the county that has been gazetted.
Togo challenged both the county assembly(incoming) and the county government to ensure that the wetlands are gazetted so that they can become protected areas to make conservation easy.
“Once they become protected areas, it becomes easy to manage them. But when wetlands appear in people’s farms or lands where they have titles sometimes it becomes very hard to stop them from utilizing those people of the land.”
He noted that his office had written to the county government severally on the needs and importance to gazette the wetland within the city or county as a whole.
Some of the wetlands in Kisumu include, Dunga, Ombeyi, Nyando, Kusa, Namthoi, Koguta, Chiga, Kisat amongst others.
Togo further gave an example of Dunga areas, saying the riparian community have not been supported in conserving the area.
He said in most occasions, they have witnessed the burning of the wetlands when they are preparing their farms for planting which is not good.
“If we clear the ‘bedroom’ we won’t have fish so let communities living around the lake take wetland conservation as something that is key in their life and should learn to coexist with this important resource.”
He was speaking in Kisumu during a media science cafe by Media for Environment, Science, Health and Agriculture(Mesha) themed, How management of Riparian Lands Impacts tourism along Lake Victoria.
The function brought houralist from Kisumu and other regions to Dunga swamp, a wetland situated on the shore of Winam Gulf Lake Victoria.
However, Environmentalist Michael Nyanguti said there is a lot of human conflict within the wetlands particularity encroachment around Lake Victoria.
Nyaguti chairman of Magnum Environmental Network encroachments of riparian wetlands of Lake Victoria is a threat to lake Victoria, fishery and biodiversity today.
He said there is a lot of illegal fishing going on in Lake Victoria with many people using illegal gears, even those using the right gears are using illegal fishing methods.
This he said has led to depletion of fish stock in lake Victoria and now they see fishermen moving into the riparian areas targeting fish that is breeding.
“This is a dangerous trend that must be curtailed. We are urging like we always do all stakeholders to come on board to ensure that we can conserve our fisheries which is the source of livelihood for many of us.”
He noted that currently there are people who after buying or purchasing land next to the lake, think they own all that land in the waters.
“They are encroaching into the wetlands and destroying wetlands vegetation, and even releasing raw sewer and other substances into the lake hence negating the effects of conservation that is supposed to happen around the lake.”
He added that they have been always calling upon the enforcement agencies to ensure that before anyone carries out any development on the waterfront, all laws are in place and people don’t go against them.
“We also have human-wildlife conflict as a result of this. Most of the vegetation along the shoreline are being destroyed, we have hippos along lake Victoria who needs restring and strolling ground, and if this vegetation is destroyed by encroaches then we can’t even attract tourist.”
In February this year during the celebration of World wetland day, Kisumu city manager Abala Wanga put on notice wetland grabbers saying their structures will be brought down and activities stopped to conserve such areas.
He said the wetland serves a huge role in society as they act as a fish breeding ground, water purifiers, carbon filters, sources of different materials, water storage and food control.
Abala noted that Dunga faced a lot of challenges including but not limited to water pollution in the city and surrounding slums, encroachments (main problem), over-harvesting papyrus, cattle grazing and overfishing.
“This is the third notice we are going to issue once the county government does approvals on the wetlands and gazette them. Whether you hence a storey building in there we will bring it down to conserve this area.”