Promoting climate resilience in Taita

Communities across Kenya are not only feeling the presence of climate variability and change but also its impacts. Climate change has resulted in prolonged drought, and high incidence of pests and diseases, affecting livestock and crop production negatively. This year the ‘long rains’ were late and short while the ‘short rains’ were long and heavy. Through the ‘People Partner with Nature’ program, Nature Kenya has been supporting initiatives aimed at helping communities in Taita and Kilifi counties adapt to climate change through participatory forest and natural resource management.

 

In Taita Hills, community members are employing various adaptation strategies to counter the effects of climate change. Climate-smart agriculture is one such approach. It refers to agricultural practices geared at sustainably increasing productivity, building resilience to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-smart agriculture includes the integration of tree planting with crop and livestock production as a package. Six self-help groups affiliated to Dawida Biodiversity Conservation Group (DaBiCo), the Taita Hills forests’ site support group, have embraced this approach.  The groups are Ndiwenyi Community Unit, Ngangao Farmers Group, Mwavunyu Chakiloli, Iyale Angamiza, Wuchichi Self Help Group and Mghange Dawida Mazingira.

 

The groups have established kitchen gardens on which they grow high-value crops. These include vegetables like cabbages, tomatoes, capsicum, courgette, black nightshade – locally known as managu – and onions. Vegetables are preferred because they are fast-growing and yield good returns. One benefit of the kitchen garden model is that it utilizes space efficiently, maximizing productivity.

The communities use hybrid seeds, organic manure and drip irrigation technologies to further enhance crop production. Planting of fruit and fodder trees is another practice being promoted under the climate-smart agriculture approach. The trees planted on farms also provide building materials and fuel wood. Other practices include application of soil and water conservation techniques and use of crop residue as livestock feed.  These practices improve soil moisture and organic matter retention and mitigate the risk of erosion.

The Taita Hills comprise two main mountain massifs, Mbololo and Dawida, rising from the dryland below. The forests that remain on the hilltops are extensively fragmented. Taita Hills forests are part of the Eastern Arc mountains, one of 34 global biodiversity hotspots, and are ranked as one of Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Two Critically Endangered birds are only found in these forest remnants: Taita Thrush and Taita Apalis. Severe fragmentation, isolation and decline in quality and extent of indigenous forest cover in Taita Hills pose major threats which affect the breeding success and survival of the two bird species. Helping the community to conserve the forests is therefore vitally important.

The ‘People Partner with Nature’ program is supporting communities living adjacent to the Taita Hills forests to engage in income-generating activities, such as butterfly farming, beekeeping, eco-tourism, climate-smart agriculture, among others, that reduce pressure on the environment. The program is being implemented in partnership with DOF (BirdLife in Denmark) with financial support from DANIDA/CISU. The overall objective of the program is to ‘reduce the destruction of forested KBAs and contribute to the realization of best participatory forest management practices for the benefit of all.’ This program is also running in Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi county.

Lake Ol’ Bolossat now protected!

An aerial view of Lake Ol Bolossat. PHOTO: A. WAMITI
An aerial view of Lake Ol Bolossat. PHOTO: A. WAMITI

Lake Ol’ Bolossat, an Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, is now formally a protected area. This follows the recent gazettement of the lake as a Wetland Protected Area. The immediate former Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources, Prof. Judi Wakhungu, made the announcement during this year’s World Wetlands Day on the shores of the lake in Nyandarua County.

The Wildlife Conservation and Management (Protected Wetlands) Regulations of 2015 give the Cabinet Secretary powers to declare a wetland, through a notice in the Kenya Gazette, an important habitat or ecosystem for wildlife conservation upon the recommendation of the Kenya Wildlife Service in consultation with the National Land Commission. The gazette notice will make it clear whether Lake Ol’ Bolossat will be managed as a fully or partially protected wetland or will be subject to conservation by the local community.
Following the declaration, National Lands Commission chairman Mohammed Swazuri, who was also in attendance, said all title deeds for the land stood dissolved. Swazuri noted that according to Sections 10, 11 and 12 of Lands Act 2012, the issuance of a gazette notice means the title deed of the land in question and any others prior to the notice ceases.

Lake Ol’ Bolossat is the only lake in central Kenya. The lake forms the headwaters for the Ewaso Nyiro River, which supports the livelihoods of communities, livestock and wildlife in the dry Laikipia, Samburu, Isiolo and Garissa Counties. Despite its small size (43.3km2) the freshwater lake is known for its rich biodiversity that include hippos and over 300 bird species (both residents and migrants). The lake lies within the central tourism circuit, and supplies Nyahururu town with water. The Ewaso Nyiro River supports the thriving wildlife tourism in Buffalo Springs, Shaba National Reserve, and Lorian swamp in Wajir, where the river goes underground, to re-emerge in Somalia where it joins the Jubba River.

Over the years, Lake Ol’ Bolossat has been experiencing massive shrinking as a result of human activity. In the last one decade, the lake’s  water surface area has gone from about 10,000 hectares to 3,000 hectares, escalating human-wildlife conflict as wild animals, particularly hippos, lose their habitat. As an unprotected wetland, the lake has been battling numerous challenges and threats including water abstraction, overgrazing, human encroachment, deforestation of catchment areas and siltation.

It is hoped that the gazettement will provide the crucial legal framework to guide the conservation of the lake. Nature Kenya has been actively engaged in advocacy and awareness creation activities to help the lake attain legal protection and conservation.