Fisherfolk: Experts say that the lives and livelihoods of people across the continent are heavily dependent on the quality of biodiversity

Experts call for biodiversity conservation in fight against climate change

By Joyce Chimbi I


The ecosystem plays a critical role in halting the pace of climate change and its effects, experts have said. In a webinar for science and health journalists held on February 22, the experts unpacked concepts around biodiversity, different types of biodiversity and how they interact, providing clear examples of their interconnectivity and why conservation efforts must be escalated because life on earth depends on their sustainable use.

Dr David Kimiti, Deputy Director, Research and Impact at Grevy’s Zebra Trust, said there is a need to re-evaluate the variety and variability of life on earth at all its levels, “from genes to ecosystems and the evolutionary, ecological and cultural processes that sustain life.” He gave three main types of biodiversity; genetic biodiversity, species biodiversity and ecosystems biodiversity. Dr Kimiti said overexploitation of species and ecosystem biodiversity is making life on earth difficult, having contributed to extreme weather patterns, which have, in turn, led to severe food insecurity such as the ongoing hunger in northern Kenya.

Dr Julius Ecuru, Manager, BioInnovate Africa at International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe), told journalists that while Africa is rich in biodiversity, which is the basis for biomass that is essential to the bio economy, “threats to the biodiversity are imminent”. He said genetic biodiversity preserves life on earth, while species biodiversity defines unique attributes of life and coexistence within and across life forms. Ecosystem biodiversity, on the other hand, ensures ecological balance in habitats to support life, providing essential services such as air and water purification, carbon sinks and wildlife.

Dr Ecuru spoke of unstainable food production and consumption, land use changes, including urbanisation, mining and infrastructure development, pollution by toxic effluents from factories as well as global warning from carbon emissions. He called for conservation of biodiversity at all levels, using science and technology to optimise production and use of biomass, including reclaiming degraded environments. Dr Ecuru also called for provision of alternative livelihoods for communities that are custodians of biomass, especially fuel sources, farm inputs, market value chains and job opportunities. Saliou Niassy from icipe laid bare the looming catastrophe if Africa does not adopt a protective, restorative, conservative and sustainable approach when interacting with the ecosystem biodiversity.

“Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to making human life possible and worth living. Categories of ecosystem services based on their functions include provision of food and medical resources, regulatory services such as bio control, support services such as nutrient cycling and cultural services such as ecotourism,” he explained. Niassy stressed on the importance of circular economy and sustainable access to ecosystem services in Africa. If the continent does not halt ongoing overexploitation of the ecosystem benefits, UNEP research, for instance, predicts that Africa’s forest cover will shrink to “less than 600 million hectares by 2050 due to conversion of forests for agriculture and growing demand for firewood.”

According to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) Africa’s annual food import bill of $35 billion is estimated to rise to $110 billion by 2025. Niassy decried soil degradation across the continent due to a combination of factors, which has further compromised land production potential. “As of 2012, Africa produced more than 125 million tonnes per year of municipal solid waste and this is expected to double by 2025. All these are effects of lack of sustainable and circular approach on access to ecosystem services for better livelihoods, food and nutritional security,” he said.

Research shows that constraints to biodiversity conservation and sustainable access to ecosystem services can be seen in the lack of capacity to adopt sustainable measures to combat climate change, ongoing landscape degradation, invasive and other biotic threats as well as intensive agriculture. Niassy says low awareness on benefits of biodiversity, lack of technology and capacity among stakeholders for monitoring, conservation and sustainable access to biodiversity and ecosystem services are the most pressing issues. It emerged that human activity have extensively utilised biodiversity in its various forms without due regard for future generations. Niassy called for community engagement in conservation efforts to ensure interventions are practical and sustainable.

Overall, experts called for urgent interventions to ensure that human activities do not erode Africa’s position as a biodiversity hotspot, risking the lives and livelihoods of people across the continent.




Institute vouches for protection of sandalwood, a rare hard wood

By Tebby Otieno |
Nick Lenyakopiro grew up knowing East African sandalwood as a medicinal tree used by his parents
and grandparents. He says that once the leaves of this indigenous tree have been boiled, children
with cough-related diseases are then covered using a blanket and allowed to inhale the steam for
some minutes. This is how the healing process using East African sandalwood takes place. “The
culture of Samburu does not allow trees to be cut down. You either pluck the leaves or remove the
tree plank,” says Lenyakopiro. Samburu is a hot and dry region whose residents are mainly
pastoralists. During drought, they also cut the leaves of the sandalwood to feed livestock.
“Sandalwood still exists and locals here do not know any economic value attached to it like selling
them to other people or exporting them,” says Lenyakopiro. What he did not know was that some
people away from his community had known other benefits of this rare tree species. As he would
later find out, officers in Maralal Police Station had arrested those who involved in trading in it. “All
of a sudden cases of sandalwood started coming up. Maybe someone somewhere just stole the idea
that sandalwood is making money somewhere,” he says. Lenyakopiro is a station manager at a local
radio station in Samburu. He says he uses the station to educate their audiences on the need to
protect sandalwood.
“We have actually come out to champion the protection of the sandalwood. We tell our audiences
not to allow foreigners who come to the forest asking for it,” he says. Apart from treating children
and feeding animals, Samburu community also uses East African sandalwood as a preservative and
cleaning ingredient. Douglas Leboiyare, living in Ngari village, says locals use it to clean traditional
gourd used to preserve milk. This ensures milk remains fresh as if it were refrigerated. “Women also
use it when they have given birth and experience swollen, painful breasts. Again, after using it to
clean the gourd, milk can stay there for three days without fermenting,” says the 51-year-old.
Despite the importance of this species of tree to Samburu residents, they are now worried of its
availability in future. This follows the rate at which it is being cut and sold to outsiders.
Leboiyare says stories about availability of its market in the neighbouring countries started in
2010/2011. “Those people started coming to Samburu telling people that the tree pays money. It
seems there are business people from outside Samburu who come here with brokers so the tree is
cut. Only God knows if it will survive,” he says. According to Leboiyare, one big sandalwood tree can
produce one tonne while a small one produces about 200kg. The brokers pay locals Ksh60 per
kilogramme and they cut many trees at ago to fill up a lorry.
It is because of this that residents here formed Naramat Community Forest Association (CFA) in
Kirisia Forest so that they protect this species. Leboiyare is the chairperson. “We are trying to stop
cutting of this tree here in Kirisia Forest by creating awareness among the locals. We also arrest
those we find cutting it but there are still crooks who continue to cut it,” says Leboiyare. Naramat

CFA consists of 140 scouts members who do patrols to make sure there are no intruders accessing
Kirisia Forest. “They normally cut this tree into small pieces. When we find them we arrest and hand
them over to officers for legal action. However, if they manage to escape we destroy the small
pieces of trees they leave behind,” he said. Leboiyare says he has never seen seedlings of East
African sandalwood. What they are doing is protecting the naturally growing species. He, however,
appeals that if there are seedlings, then they be given so that they can plant more of it in the
deforested areas.
“This tree grows where there is high temperature and since the government has not been able to
preserve it, we decided to leave our livestock and protect our forest,” says Leboiyare. In 2007,
President Mwai Kibaki issued a ban on sandalwood tree harvest. The president, vide Gazette Notice
Number 3176 dated the April 4, 2007, declared Osyris lanceolate (East African sandalwood-
Msandali) as a protected tree species for a period of five years. The Gazette notice was to be
executed by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). Dr Willis Okumu, a senior researcher from the Institute
of Security Studies, says prosecution of cases of trading in sandalwood is still supported by the
Gazette Notice Number 3176.
“Sandalwood in Eastern Africa has also been listed in appendix two of the cities of the increased over
exploitation. Despite all the legal framework that we have, it seems that we have not really
succeeded in preventing the exploitation of sandalwood,” said Dr Okumu during a phone interview.
There have been subsequent legal provisions, like the Wildlife Conservation Management Act of
2013, which have listed East African sandalwood as endangered species that people cannot trade in.
Dr Okumu reveals how their recent research in Samburu County, tracing networks enabling East
African sandalwood smuggling and trafficking, found people behind this illegal trade. “We realised
that sandalwood trafficking in Kenya is facilitated by some State actors, hence the lucrative nature of
the product,” said Dr Okumu.
The investigation further found out that there is a lot of bureaucracy and criminal organisations
involved in trafficking of East African sandalwood. East African sandalwood is found in areas where
most locals are pastoralists like in Samburu County. Peter Gachie, a scientist from Kenya Forestry
Research Institute (KEFRI), says most people who are interested in trading in this tree take
advantage of the vulnerability of the locals who are looking for an alternative source of livelihood.
“East African sandalwood is a precious plant that has been overexploited. Its scientific name is Osyris
lanceolate. It is in the family of sandalwood and has its relatives in India and Australia, which we
usually term as the true sandalwoods,” Gachie said. Gachie says that East African sandalwood is used
in cosmetics industry to make oil and also some medicine.
Oil being very valuable has led to this species of tree to be overexploited in other countries. “In
those other countries it has been domesticated so people are cultivating sandalwood, but due to
limitation of the species they have now come to poach our own,” he says. The lucrative value of East
African sandalwood products continues to put the tree in a danger of exploitation and destruction.
KEFRI says communities where the tree is harvested have little knowledge about the value of its
products, the reason they are robbed of their precious resource.



Edible insects can solve African food security challenge, experts advise

By Dareen Keana |
With the frequently rising prices of food items like maize flour, bread, fish, beef, milk and cooking
fat, it is increasingly becoming harder for Kenyans to afford three meals a day. High-protein foods
like chicken and fish are becoming an expensive delicacy for many people. In a bid to find
alternatives, enterprising and innovative individuals are now turning to insects as food.

According to Dr Saliou Niassy, head of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology
(icipe) Technology Transfer Unit in the Environmental Health Theme Team, insect consumption in
Africa is not a new trend. Some of the insects commonly eaten as food include white ants, or
kumbikumbi, popular in the Western Kenya region. icipe, which collaborates with more than 300
partners worldwide, plays a vital role in entomological or insect research in the East and Central
Africa region as well as the globe. Icipe estimates indicate that more than 1,900 edible insect species
are consumed by over two billion people. At least 500 of these species are found and eaten across
Africa. “For instance, one kilogram of termites costs Ksh1,275 ($11) in Kenya. The number of insect
eaters is expected to grow to nine billion by 2050,” says Dr Niassy. Insect foods are higher in protein
content compared to conventional protein foods such as fish, beans and soya. Chicken and pigs
prefer insect-based feed compared to fish or soya meal.
The insect foods are quite affordable, and a stable source of income in sustainable settings. “A kilo of
r.differens or long horned grasshoppers costs around Ksh300 ($2.6),” Dr Niassy says. Dr Niassy says
the time is ripe for the continent to exploit its rich treasure of biodiversity to provide much needed
resources to its people, including food, with a special focus on conservation to maintain sustainable
use. Icipe estimates that Africa’s food import bill is expected to rise to $110 billion by 2050, with its
forest cover shrinking to less than 600 million hectares over the same period due to growing
demand for firewood and conversion of forests to farmland. During the same period, the continent’s
population, which was estimated at 1.3 billion in 2020, is expected to grow to 2.5 billion.
According to the estimates, the populations of more than half of Africa’s 54 nations will double or
grow even more by 2050 as a result of high fertility and improving mortality rates. At least one in
every four people, or 25 per cent of the world’s population will be living in Africa, compared to just
one in 10, or less than 10 per cent who were living here in 1950. This growth rate represents more
than double the current population on the continent, and will present an additional food security
challenge to the region.
Our solution to the expanded population’s demand for food, Dr Niassy says, is a change in the way
we eat by using sustainable and cost effective ecosystem services. The scientist believes food
security challenges can be alleviated by greater investment in the cultivation of insects for use in
African diets. “More than ever, it is vital for us to implement the adoption of a sustainable and
circular approach to ecosystem services for better livelihoods, food and nutritional security. One of
the ways to achieve this goal is switching to cheaper and more nutritious insect foods,” says the
Dr Julius Ecuru, the Manager of BioInnovate Africa, which is an icipe subsidy, describes the firm’s
approach to societal challenges as driven by the need to wisely use the resources provided by
nature. “BioInnovate uses science biodiversity to provide practical, affordable solutions to pressing
societal challenges,” says Dr Ecuru. As part of its work, BioInnovate is currently pursuing the black
soldier fly project that uses bio waste to feed the adult insects. Black fly larvae are used as nutritious
food rich in Omega 3 proteins. BioInnovate is working on the project with partners in Kenya, Ethiopia
and Tanzania. Another ongoing project aims to produce jet fuel using the ‘somaize’ or sorghum and
maize hybrid extracts.
The crop is used as food, while its syrup can be used to produce bioethanol that can be used as
aviation fuel and livestock feed. BioInnovate is collaborating with partners in Uganda, Kenya and
Ethiopia to implement the project. Dr Ecuru says biodiversity conservation and biomass stewardship
are required at the genetic, species and ecosystem levels, including soil and watershed
management. Pursuing the objective with the involvement of local communities in the target areas
will not only conserve the environment, but also create employment.

“Let us provide alternative livelihoods for communities that are biomass custodians, especially fuel
sources, farm inputs and markets, value chains and jobs,” he says. “Using science and technology,
we can optimise production and reclaim degraded environments,” adds the scientist. Dr Ecuru sees
an enduring potential for even more significant and game changing biodiversitybased innovations in
our economy. He also emphasises that further research and multisectoral collaborations are
required to actualise this vision.



Mangrove conservation improves Gazi women’s livelihoods

By Bozo Jenje Bozo |
Hermit crabs are seen hovering beneath the mangrove plantations as one walks on the 450- metre
plastic recycled ecopost boardwalk at the shoreline of Gazi Bay in Kwale County. Carrying empty
snail shells on their backs, the crabs transverse the sandy ground, feeding on leaf littre and green
leaves. The crabs’ survival is of immense value to the mangrove ecosystem and biodiversity, and to
the local artisanal fishermen who harvest them as baits as they fend for their livelihood. On the
coastal shoreline, the evergreen mangrove trees are dominant and one cannot easily figure out that
the area was once degraded from human activities.
Addressing journalists at Gazi Village during the Media for Environment, Science, Health and
Agriculture (MESHA) with support from JRS Biodiversity Foundation, Dr Kipkorir Langat said before
an intervention to stop mangrove destruction, lorries used to ferry tonnes of mangrove logs for lime
and charcoal production. “It is through the efforts of Kemfri and the community to plant propagules,
transplant mangrove saplings and nursery-raised seedlings that the 27 women in Gazi village are
now benefiting from the green economic activities of mangrove conservation,” added Dr Langat who
works as a chief scientist at the Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute. He said the 1994
restoration initiative that started at Gazi led the women to sustainably utilise the mangrove
resources and improve the mangrove ecosystem for their livelihood.
Other than caring for the mangroves, the Gazi Women’s Group also runs a makuti-thatched
restaurant. Mwatime Hamad, a member of the group and a tour guide, says the project located
50km from Mombasa has boosted their income from eco-tourism, recreation, education and
research. “We charge visitors a fee to walk on the on one-metre, raised boardwalk and also provide
Swahili dishes for their lunches and dinner while on tour,” says Hamad. “Local tourists pay Ksh100
(USD 1), international visitors Ksh300 (USD3) and students Ksh50 (USD 0.5) per person. The money
collected supports women in the village and their children in school,” she says.

While touring the mangrove area, tourists also participate in bird watching. Among the diverse bird
species are the fish eagles and white egret birds. Hamad says during peak seasons, they earn about
Ksh30,000 (USD 300) per month, while during low seasons the income goes down to Ksh10,000 (USD
100). In future, the group targets about 350 customers every month to increase its revenue. At the
moment the women have diversified their revenue streams to include hiring of the Banda at
Ksh3,500 (USD 35) for birthday parties and meetings.
Further, Hamad says the project plans to expand to incorporate campsites and floating cottages. Dr
Langat said the mangrove ecosystem supports fisheries and prevents soil erosion. “The benefits of
mangrove include shoreline protection from soil erosion, storage and preservation of substantial
quantities of carbon and biodiversity,” he explained. Dr Langat said the mangrove ecosystem also
contributes to the productivity of the ocean value chain for artisanal fishing.
According to the Kenya Policy Brief, a hectare per year of mangrove provides essential service valued
at Ksh269,448 (USD 2694). On the women’s connection to the mangrove conservation, Kemfri
marine scientist Josphat Nguu said the women can now attest to managing a business without
employing and paying external workers. “From their experience, they have learned that marketing
the conservation project is a key component for growth and success,” he said. Nguu added that for
the prosperity of the group, diversification of their products will increase more income for
sustainability and the maintenance of their infrastructure.