A future for Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland – Yala Swamp

Yala Swamp is one of Kenya’s important ecosystems. The wetland lies on the north-eastern shore of Lake Victoria, cutting across Siaya and Busia counties. The swamp is Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland, and an internationally recognized Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). Yala Swamp is home to the nationally threatened Sitatunga antelope and other large mammals, numerous wetland birds (including the vulnerable Papyrus Yellow Warbler), and is a refuge for cichlid fish endemic to Lake Victoria that have become extinct in the main lake. In addition, the swamp provides numerous essential ecosystem services and vital resources such as water, food, medicine and wood for over 250,000 people who live around it. The wetland, however, faces many threats, including increasing human population, over-exploitation of its natural resources by the competing local communities, habitat degradation and biodiversity loss.

During the years 2014-2018, Nature Kenya successfully implemented a project titled “Balancing development and conservation in Kenya’s largest freshwater wetland”. The Darwin Initiative, MacArthur Foundation and USAID-PREPARED jointly funded this project. The main outcome of this project was that key steps were taken to safeguard the future of Yala Swamp, putting into consideration development and conservation needs. Nature Kenya worked in collaboration with the Siaya and Busia county governments, local communities and the national government to develop a Land Use Plan (LUP) for Yala Swamp, informed by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA), and borrowing lessons learnt from the award-winning Tana Delta land use planning process.

The Yala Swamp LUP seeks to balance the various interests in the wetland. It involves addressing the needs of communities, their settlements and livelihoods, equity and fairness in land resource allocation (for both investors and communities), while protecting the wetland’s unique biodiversity through embracing strong conservation ethics. This approach is supported by evidence that conservation of significant areas of the swamp is critically important for the sustenance of ecosystem services that support the economy, biodiversity and livelihoods. The endorsement of the Yala Swamp LUP by the Siaya County Governor H.E. Cornel Rasanga and his Busia counterpart H.E. Sospeter Ojaamong’ in July 2019 marked a milestone in development towards the implementation of the wetland’s land use planning process. Both the Siaya and Busia county assemblies have also expressed commitment towards the adoption of the Yala Swamp LUP.

With funding from the Darwin Initiative, Nature Kenya is still working to secure a sustainable future for Yala Swamp. Towards this, a three-year project is currently underway. The project, which started in April 2019, will support the adoption of the Yala Swamp LUP as a county government policy, formalize the creation of Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) through gazettement, and develop a management plan to be implemented by a multi-stakeholder committee.

Community livelihoods are also set to be enhanced through empowering households to establish nature-based enterprises (making of papyrus and palm leaf products, fish farming, bee-keeping, chicken rearing, vegetable gardening and eco-tourism), setting up producers’ cooperatives and opening a ‘market hub’ in Siaya town.  Management of Community Conservation Areas will be sustainably financed, in part through contributions from the cooperatives. Project lessons and experiences will be widely shared through meetings, conferences and awareness events. The project will directly benefit over 635 households and indirectly benefit 250,000 people and ensure continued provision of vital ecosystem services. The project will also advance the listing of Yala Swamp as a Ramsar (wetland of international importance) site in addition to furthering the objectives of international biodiversity conventions ratified by Kenya such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) and a number of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The project’s implementation partners at the community level include the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG) who are community conservation champions and local beneficiaries. Their role involves supporting CCA management through proceeds derived from livelihood enterprises. Other partners are the Yala Planning Advisory Committee (YPAC), whose role is to promote integration of the LUP/SEA into county plans and budgets, and represent communities on the multi-stakeholder CCA Management Committee; and Lower Nyandera and Muweri Water Resource Use Associations (WRUAs), whose role is to champion implementation of the water-sharing regime recommended by the SEA/LUP. Other local partners include Beach Management Units (BMUs) and Community Forest Associations (CFAs).

Major restoration initiative for Tana River Delta

Project sets out to restore degraded forest landscapes and reverse biodiversity loss for increased and improved ecosystem services at the delta.

Conservation of the Tana River Delta has been enhanced following the initiation of a new forest landscape restoration project. ‘The Restoration Initiative (TRI) Tana Delta’ funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) seeks to restore degraded forest landscapes in Tana River and Lamu counties. Nature Kenya is the project’s implementing partner.

TRI Tana Delta will implement some elements of the delta’s land use plan which provides for land and water allocation. The Tana Delta land use plan was facilitated by Nature Kenya with support from the Department of International Development (UK) and the Ecosystem Alliance.

TRI Tana Delta will enable local communities, civil society and national and county governments come up with policy and institutional frameworks to implement restorative land use initiatives. The project will build on lessons and experiences of income-generating activities to develop a business case to promote green value chains through private sector engagement. Lessons and experiences will be scaled up at a subset of other sites in Kenya including counties with similar issues like Siaya and Busia counties that share the Yala Swamp.

The Restoration Initiative is a programme to help countries restore degraded landscapes at scale.

Tana River Delta is a vast patchwork of palm savanna, seasonally flooded grassland, forest fragments, acacia woodland, lakes, marine wetlands and the river itself. It is one of the most important wetlands in Africa and a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Kenya. The wetland system provides intangible ecosystem services such as regulating the hydrological cycle, moderating climate, protecting soil from erosion, stabilizing the shoreline and reducing the impact of storm surges.

Among the project’s target is to see 95,000 ha of indigenous community conservation areas (CCAs) in the Tana Delta being managed for multiple-use for the benefit of important biodiversity. A CCA is a type of conservancy based on traditional, cultural, and multiple land use under customary management by a community. Also targeted are 130,000 ha of land for sustainable livestock, fish and crop management, and 10,000 ha of degraded landscapes for restoration. The project seeks to have operational livestock, crop and fish farming, ecotourism, beekeeping and other nature-based business cooperatives encouraging their membership to incorporate biodiversity conservation, sustainable land management and restoration in their production processes.

A wide range of stakeholders, including national and county governments’ ministries and departments, community-based organizations, non-government organizations and private investors, will be involved in the implementation process. Each stakeholder is expected to provide specific contributions to the implementation of project activities.

It’s a hopeful time for deltas! In the west of Kenya, the Siaya and Busia county governors have endorsed the Yala Swamp land use plan. The Yala Swamp land use plan seeks to guide present and future development in the swamp without compromising its ecological integrity.

World Land Trust raises funds to purchase 810 acres in Dakatcha Woodland!

In June 2019, World Land Trust (WLT) launched an appeal to help purchase and protect 810 acres of one of Kenya’s threatened coastal forests: Dakatcha Woodland. Within a matter of weeks, the appeal had reached its target, giving the small wonders of the forest hope for a safe place to call home.

Nature Kenya alerted World Land Trust to the plight of one of the world’s rarest birds, Clarke’s Weaver, whose survival hangs in the balance. Its only known nesting site was discovered as recently as 2013, deep in the Brachystegia forest of Dakatcha, near Malindi on Kenya’s north coast. Less than 2,000 pairs of Clarke’s Weavers are thought to exist.

Illegal activities such as logging of indigenous trees and charcoal production have destroyed large tracts of forest vegetation in Dakatcha. Uncontrolled pineapple farming and outside investor and land speculation have also put immense pressure on this vulnerable habitat.

Most of Dakatcha Woodland is not protected. Land purchase is considered to be one of the few viable options of preventing the extinction of the Clarke’s Weaver and other threatened species such as the Golden-rumped Sengi (elephant-shrew) and Sokoke Pipit.

While it cannot be claimed that Clarke’s Weaver and the other globally threatened species that live in the forest have been saved from extinction, 810 acres will at least be protected for the wildlife that has chosen to live there.

World Land Trust is grateful to African Bird Club for supporting the appeal by making a generous donation as part of their 25th anniversary celebrations. The Trust hopes to continue supporting Nature Kenya to purchase more land in Dakatcha in the near future.

We at Nature Kenya say ‘asante sana’ to WLT for their generous support towards saving threatened species and conserving key habitats.

Link: World Land Trust/www.worldlandtrust.org