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The East African : Aug 11th 2014
IV The EastAfrican MAGAZINE AUGUST 9-15,2014 envi≥onment Yala Swamp: To conse≥ve o≥ develop? A view of the swamp. Picture: Rupi Mangat farmland managed by Dominion Farms. A tour of the farm shows fields of rice and sugarcane and plantations where acres of papyrus have been cleared. Standing on the shores of lake Kanyaboli, a swamp lake, which was until recently famous for indigenous species of fish that are now extinct in Lake Victoria, the locals tell of no fish in the swamp lake. Poverty and little law enforcement have contributed to over-fishing in the lake and poaching of the Sitatunga, now a rare antelope but once abundant in the swamp. Jane Wambugu, a Kenya Wildlife This is Kenya’s la≥gest f≥eshwate≥ swamp and the second la≥gest in Af≥ica. It is ≥ecognised fo≥ being the filte≥ fo≥ Af≥ica’s la≥gest f≥eshwate≥ lake, Victo≥ia, w≥ites RUPI MANGAT beneficial to humans, such as through carbon storage, provision of clean water and recreation in natural spaces, it’s useful to know how such sites provide a range of services, to different groups of people, in their natural state as compared with when they have been altered through human development. It was for this reason that W recently Nature Kenya organised a workshop in Siaya town, western Kenya, to discuss the state of the 175 square kilometre (175,000 ha) Yala Swamp in Siaya. This is Kenya’s largest freshwater swamp and is crucial to Lake Victoria’s survival. As Kenya’s largest papyrus wetland that filters the water of rivers that flow into Lake Victoria, Yala’s ecosystem services are worth a lot of money – but the big question is how to measure this natural capital. “Biodiversity is the basis of ecosystems,” stated Dr Rob Field, a scientist from the UKbased Royal Protection of Birds (RSPB) in his presentation. The theme of the workshop was Balancing development and conservation in Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland. Dr Field, an expert in ecosys- tem services, was taking participants through the Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site-based ith increasing interest in whether natural ecosystems are Assessments (TESSA) designed to measure ecosystem services. He is one of the developers of TESSA. “Ecosystem services can be measured as clean water, soil formation, crops, regulating climate, tourism and much more. It is natural capital. We usually put a value on those things we can easily measure or sell,” said Dr Field. It is, however, more difficult to put a value on ecosystem services like papyrus filtering water clean – a service essential for life on earth. TESSA has been developed by a team of experts from many different scientific disciplines ranging from earth sciences to social sciences; ecology to hydrology among others. It’s designed to be easily used by communities and inform those in policy and planning. “You don’t want to wait until a site is changed to find out that development is a bad idea,” continues Field. “The whole of human soci- ety is dependent on the top 15 centimetres (six inches) of soil and unless we want to be very hungry, we need to look after it,” said Dr Field. “In the context of Yala Swamp, we know that it can never return to its original state. Can we find a compromise to protect it in future? Yes, but first we have to account for the many services it provides for each situation,” he said, “and bring in all or at least as many stakeholders as possible.” Parts of Yala Swamp are pristine, with glades of endless papyrus rustling in the breeze. Papyrus was harvested by ancient Egyptians from the banks of River Nile over 5,000 years ago to make papyrus paper to record their history. Most of those in attend- ance concurred that there is a business case for Yala Swamp, balancing development and conservation. “Yala Swamp is a key resource for the government,” said Dr Paul Muoria of Nature Kenya. The organisation has launched a three-year programme to “secure the future of Yala Swamp, recognising both development and conservation needs and to provide similar models for other Kenyan deltas,” said Dr Muoria. “Our key partners are the National Treasury, the county government, Kenya Wildlife Service, Dominion Farms and site support groups linking with the community,” he said. Site support groups from different parts of Kenya are trained fact file Wetlands cover six per cent of the world’s surface while providing a range of environmental services, including water filtration and storage, erosion control, a buffer against flooding, nutrient recycling, biodiversity maintenance, carbon storage and a nursery for fisheries among several other benefits. Up to 60 per cent of global wetlands have been destroyed in the past 100 years as people search for land to settle on, farm and establish other types of investments. Yala Swamp is a Ramsar site, a wetland of international importance. Kenya as a signatory of the Ramsar Convention is obligated to the wise-use of the wetland. It is also an Important Bird Area for its large flocks of birds and endemic species. by Nature Kenya in biodiversity conservation and bird monitoring. Dominion Farms is a private organisation from the United States. “Our objective is to develop an evidence-based business case for the sustainable management of Yala Swamp, restore and protect wildlife habitats in and upstream of the delta, improve the livelihoods of the local communities in a sustainable way, encourage ecotourism and ensure that lessons learned here have a major influence on wetland management not only in Kenya but East Africa.” It makes sense for Lake Victoria is not only shared by the three East African countries but it is also the source of the Nile, Africa’s longest river, which drains into the Mediterranean sea. “The business case for Yala Swamp is to show the value of conserving it,” stated Muoria. At the turn of the century, Do- minion Farms reclaimed part of the swamp for farming. A satellite image shows three quarters of the swamp is now Service scientist specialising in wetlands, sees TESSA a good tool for gathering information on the value of biodiversity and how people can use the various resources from the ecosystem. “It will give us a focus on what policy changes and decisions we need to make as managers to harmonise development and conservation. It’s a test of co-operation and goodwill from all players involved in the assessment. It has the potential for being transparent because it will be based on scientific evidence from data collected by the community on the site. In three years, it will be exciting to see what will come out of the assessment.” Pauline Atieno of ActionAid, a human rights organisation, is of the opinion that if Yala Swamp is to survive and serve future generations, the local community and Dominion Farms have to work together in addressing all environmental issues touching on swamp farming and agree on a way forward. “Otherwise,” she said “there is no hope.” Dominion Farms Ltd signed a 25-year lease agreement with Siaya County Council in 2005 to grow rice and bananas and carry out fish farming on 11,500ha (115 square kilometers) in the swamp. The project is ongoing and has already taken up 2,300 ha. The second phase is expected to take up 4,600ha of the swamp. KWS reports show that a buffer zone of 6,000 ha will be left. The swamp is facing many chal- lenges such pollution of water from anti-pest farm chemicals, general degradation and loss of grazing land occasioned by increased farming and diversion of water. Faith Lelei, who is in charge of data management at Dominion Farms believes it’s possible to have a balanced outcome if all players are transparent. “It all depends on the stakeholders,” she said. The company has set land aside for a bird sanctuary and a sitatunga sanctuary. With more than three-quarters of the swamp under Dominion Farms, it will be a success story if Yala remains Lake Victoria’s principle water purification system, endemic species of wildlife return, the communities’ poverty diminishes, ecotourism thrives and the national economy boosted positively.
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