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The East African : February 3rd 2014
IV The EastAfrican MAGAZINE FEBRUARY 1-7,2014 conse≥vation sc≥amble T≥avelling the Tana Delta T RUPI MANGAT finds abundant bi≥dlife, mang≥ove, fishe≥men and ≥ice fa≥me≥s whe≥e the Rive≥ Tana meets the Indian Ocean he view as you sail up the Tana River from Kipini is so scenic you don’t want to blink. There are birds in abundance; I counted about 30 mangrove kingfishers and gave up. I’m mesmerised by the diversity of colour and life in the Tana Delta. At the river’s mouth, the lush forest thrives with all nine species of mangroves found in Kenya. The mangroves need both fresh and salt water to survive, and time between the tides for their aerial roots to breathe. The Pokomo fishermen in their simple dug-out canoes, called waho, spread their nets to catch prawns at the mangrove swamps. Farther up the Tana Delta, the inhabitants’ incomes and livelihoods have to be improved without the land losing its biodiversity.” ‘‘ the river, the freshwater riverine forest opens to make way for the grass plains where the Orma herdsmen graze their cattle. Fish is being dried in the sun or smoked at camps along the causeway. I am accompanying Fleur Ng’weno from Nature Kenya who is teaching bird identification to men from the local communities. In 1999, Ng’weno was awarded a medal by the Royal Society For the Protection of Birds (RSPB) in the UK for her work in bird conservation. “You cannot ask people to protect something without helping them to make a living,” she tells me. “Nature Kenya has several projects in the Tana Delta and this is one of them, to help communities here preserve this important bird area.” The Tana Delta is one of the few In order to conserve places in the world that have a diversity of water birds in their thousands, including rare species and winter migrants enjoying the warm tropical temperatures. It’s also a great tourist destination with its mix of pristine beaches, wildlife community ranches and the cultural safari of the Tana communities — the Pokomo, Orma, Wardei, Watha and Boni. The river branches at Kau, and we turn into a narrow canal with betel nut palms hanging heavy with fruit. Planted by Arabs in centuries past, the trade in betel nut continues in Mombasa. The forest gives way to grass plains and rice fields, with an ancient rice mill still in use since the time of the first Arab settlers. “The Pokomo have farmed rice for centuries, using the river when it floods,” Ng’weno says. The rice is planted when the plains are flooded. As the water reduces, the rice continues to grow. The Pokomo use the bore of the river to keep the rice fields watered. “Seawater is denser than fresh river water. So when the tide comes in, farmers open the gates of the channels to water the fields with the fresh water at the top,” Ng’weno explains. Although traditional farming prac- tices have survived and sustained the ecological balance of the delta, almost all large-scale projects in the past 50 years have failed. “The soil by the river is rich, as it is washed down from fertile upcountry lands. But away from the river bank the soil is dry, sandy and poor in nutrients. It’s not the place for agriculture,” Ng’weno says. Eyeing the land Over the past few decades, the land around the Tana has attracted agribusiness corporates who assume the area is unoccupied because of the sparse population. “In 2008, Nature Kenya got in- volved when 20,000 hectares in the core of the delta were going to be converted into a sugar plantation by Mumias Sugar Company and Tana and Athi River Development Authority (Tarda),” says Francis Kagema, Nature Kenya’s conservation programme co-ordinator at the Coast. The 20,000 hectares is inhabited by 25,000 people in 32 villages. Thousands of hectares are already under rice crop by Tarda. Clearing the core of the Delta’s rich plains for mono-culture will eventually destroy its ecological integrity, water flow as well as displace the people. After studying the environmental impact assessment, Nature Kenya raised these issues during a public hearing by the National Environment Management Authority. The assessment showed little indication of how the project would maintain natural resources. In the same year, Nature Kenya and its partners conducted a cost-benefit study of the existing livelihoods in the Tana Delta. The study showed a value of Ksh3.7 billion ($44,000) per annum in small-scale fishing, agriculture, pastoralism and tourism, even before taking into consideration ecosystem services that are worth much more. By contrast, the cost-benefit study of the large-scale sugar industry was valued at Ksh1.2 billion ($14,000). Land-use plan “In order to conserve the Tana Delta, the inhabitants’ incomes and livelihoods have to be improved without the land losing its biodiversity,” says Kagema. Nature Kenya has been working with 10 villages since 2011, including those on Tarda land, to expand markets for rice, milk, honey and livestock, as well as tourism projects such as guided boar rides on the delta and establishing community lodges. In 2011, Nature Kenya also spear- Around and about the Tana Delta. Pictures: Rupi Mangat headed a land-use plan for Tana Delta in partnership with the relevant ministries. The plan’s development is still in progress and is supported by the national and the county governments. The governor of Tana River County, Hussein Dado, has seconded two county ministers to the working team. Tana Delta had been in the limelight since the early 1990s when an investor wanted to put up a large prawn farm. Prawn farming is detrimental to the environment activities requiring large tracts of mangrove forests cleared and the sea water swept sterile clean. Other multinationals followed, like G4 and Bedford, taking over group ranches on the fringes of the delta and in its core for oil crops and biofuels. MAT International acquired 140,000 hectares for planting sugarcane. Fortunately, MAT International’s licence was cancelled by then minister for lands James Orengo. The land-use plan will have several implications; an important one is that owners have to use the land according to the plan’s recommendations. However, danger looms from a pro- posed canal from Mwingi to Lamu, to provide water under the Lamu Port Southern Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) Corridor project. Tana’s water already has a low flow. “The Delta can only exist if it receives enough water,” says Kagema. Eye to the Future We stop for lunch at the Ndera Conservancy in Kitere village, which was set up under the guidance of the Northern Rangelands Trust that pioneered community wildlife conservancies in Laikipia. “No one should be afraid of coming to the Delta,” says Omar Boch, referring to last year’s bloody clashes in the area. The conservancy includes 12 villages — a mix of the farming Pokomo and the pastoral Wardei. Sitting by Lake Lemu in Ndera conservancy in the late afternoon, I sight darters that were last seen in Lake Naivasha in the late 1990s (they became locally extinct due to fishing with nylon nets). The lone Pokomo fisherman sitting silently in his dugout canoe points to a trio of giraffes drinking water on the other side of the lake that opens to Ishaqbini. “If each location can have its man- agement plan,” says Omar Ngama Salim, “then there will be no more clashes.” Under the international programme BirdLife International, the Tana Delta is considered an important high priority bird area. In 2012, it was declared a Ramsar site. The listing means the country must adhere to the “wise use” of the delta for the good of the people and the environment.
January 27th 2014
February 10th 2014