Climate-smart Agriculture boosting resilience in Tana Delta

Green greets your eyes as you step into Kimanzi Ndavi’s farm in Shaurimoyo, Kipini, Tana River Delta. Unlike neighbouring farms, the sesame crop in his piece of land appears unaffected by the drought ravaging many parts of the delta. In a few weeks, Ndavi will be harvesting his crop.

“Simsim (sesame) is not affected so much by drought,” he says.

Ndavi is one of the 104 farmers from the Tana Delta who received sesame seeds from Nature Kenya. Five acres of his land are currently under sesame cultivation, and things are looking promising. Sesame, notes Ndavi, yields a better income compared to maize.

“A bag of simsim can fetch up to Ksh. 10,000. If you compare it with maize, simsim is more profitable. That is why I decided to venture into its farming,” he adds.

Ndavi expects to harvest at least three tonnes of the crop out of the five acres.

Nature Kenya is promoting cultivation of oilseed crops such as sesame and sunflower in the Tana Delta under a climate-smart agriculture initiative. Climate-smart agriculture uses farming practices that improve farm productivity and profitability and enable farmers to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. This approach addresses the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change.

Under the climate-smart agriculture initiative, farmers receive improved crop seeds, training in crop husbandry and extension services. Crops identified for this initiative include green grams, cowpeas and maize. Sesame and sunflower have also been picked as high-value crops suitable for the Tana Delta landscape. The selected seed varieties for these crops are drought-resistant and fast maturing.

The climate-smart agriculture initiative is a component of the Community Resilience Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management (REBUILD) project funded by the European Union.

Nzilani Esther, a farmer from Mapunga, Kisiwani area, is another beneficiary of the project.

“Apart from receiving improved crop seeds, we have also been taught how to time the rains and sow correctly,” says Nzilani, who has planted two acres of green grams.

According to Boniface Musyoka, an agronomist working for Nature Kenya in Tana Delta, 1,570 farmers drawn from Kipini, Garsen and Tarasaa areas are actively engaged in climate-smart agriculture.

“A majority of the farmers we have engaged in our in climate-smart agriculture initiative are women. The initiative seeks to build climate change resilience among communities in the Tana Delta,” says Boniface.

Nature Kenya is also working closely with the Tana Delta Farmers’ Cooperative in the climate-smart agriculture initiative. The cooperative manages the Ngao Farmers’ Field School. This facility offers climate-smart agriculture, greenhouse technology and conservation agriculture training to farmers.

Guardians of Lake Bogoria

Lake Bogoria may be on the bucket list for many travellers in search of flamingoes, and now it has an active group of Friends.

Friends of Nature Bogoria is a community-based organisation that started in 1996 and was officially registered in 2003. It has grown to become one of the vibrant Nature Kenya Site Support Groups (SSGs) in the Rift Valley, with research and monitoring activities keeping track of the health of the Bogoria ecosystem.

“In 1996, we realised there were a lot of changes within the Bogoria ecosystem. We realised that Greater Kudus were becoming rare, yet this is their area of concentration within the county. We also realised there was need to monitor waterfowls,” notes Patrick Kurere, the group’s coordinator and manager.

Friends of Nature Bogoria has participated in the annual waterfowl counts since 2002 and maintains a waterfowl database that tracks trends in Lake Bogoria. The group is also actively engaged in monitoring the Greater Kudu, its distribution and threats to its survival.

Their vibrant activities have enabled them to attract funding to expand their research and monitoring activities within the ecosystem, which is a Ramsar site (a wetland of international importance), a World Heritage Site and an Important Bird Area – which now becomes a Key Biodiversity Area.

“Through funding from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and Darwin Initiative, we have been able to conduct a kudu census and develop a kudu program. This program details the population and distribution of greater kudus within the catchment area,” Mr Kurere said.

Lake Bogoria National Reserve warden James Kimaru, who doubles as the coordinator of the group, says that they have expanded their programs to target schools, as well as training community tour guides.

As part of raising awareness on the conservation of the Greater Kudu, group members have been advocating the use of wooden carvings as an alternative to kudu horns used in traditional ceremonies.

“We are now trying to let the community know that they can carve replica horns out of wood instead of using kudu horns for ceremonies,” says Raphael Kimosop.

The SSG oversees three community conservancies covering 10,000 hectares – Kiborgoch, Tuine and Irong – which are critical distribution sites of the Greater Kudus.

The group plans to expand their kudu research programme to incorporate tagging of at least three kudus. This will offer additional information on their breeding habits and sites within community-owned land.

Friends of Nature Bogoria were among the stakeholders that developed the Lake Bogoria Management plan. The SSG is also part of a team engaged in mapping sites for the Baringo County Geopark. The Geopark is the first of its kind in Kenya.

Other activities that the Friends are engaged in include bee-keeping, selling artefacts and souvenirs and offering professional tour guiding services.

“In the group, we make sure that everyone is active at doing something useful to the environment. While some have been doing value-addition to aloe products, others have been engaging in bee-keeping and even planting of hay,” says Kimosop.

Three more African raptors now listed Endangered

Africa once again risks losing more of its birds of prey, including some iconic ones. Martial Eagles, Secretarybirds and Bateleurs are the latest African raptors uplisted to Endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

The three recently joined the alarming growing list of threatened African raptors, which includes seven vulture species. Poisoning, either primary or secondary, is a common cause of the rapid decline of the raptor populations, as is the case with vultures. Other drivers linked to the decrease in numbers include electrocution and collision with power lines, habitat degradation and nest disturbance.

Martial eagles top the list as the largest eagles in Africa. These mighty eagles can weigh up to 6.5 kg and prey mostly on other birds, reptiles and even mammals. Martial eagles have incredible eyesight and are capable of spotting prey up to 6 km away! The current estimate of remaining Martial eagles remains unknown.


Easily identifiable by their conspicuously long legs and dramatic black crests of feathers on the back of their heads, Secretarybirds are endemic to Africa’s savannas, grasslands, and shrub lands. Unlike other birds of prey, Secretarybirds hunt on the ground instead of from the air. Their diet consists of small rodents, amphibians, and reptiles. BirdLife International puts the current population of Secretarybirds at between 6,700 to 67,000 individuals. Human induced threats and prolonged droughts top the list of threats facing this species whose adults do not have a natural predator.


Bateleurs are mid-sized eagles native to Africa and small parts of Arabia. These colourful raptors have bushy heads and very short tails. These, together with their white underwing coverts, make them unmistakable in flight. No data is available for the Bateleur’s population.


 Another raptor uplisted to the Endangered category is the Saker Falcon, the strongest and fastest falcon species on earth.

The Yala Bird Ambassadors

Meet the birdman Ayiro Lwala 

As you walk through the compound in the morning, the sweet singing of birds fills the air. White-browed Sparrow Weavers, White-browed Robin Chats, and African Thrush are just a few of the birds that congregate at the scattered makeshift birdfeeders. Welcome to Ayiro Lwala’s homestead in the small village of Kanyibok, in Siaya County. 

“People are curious to know why I feed birds that eventually fly away. That’s my cue to initiate a conversation on the importance of protecting birds and their habitats,” says Ayiro, a passionate naturalist. 

Ayiro’s deep-rooted love for birds developed when he was a boy. He recalls adoring the White-browed Robin Chat for its singing. “People who sang so well were referred to as Hundhwe (the local name for Robin Chats) back then. I was mesmerized by its singing and the sound of singing birds remains my inspiration,” he says. 

Ayiro’s fondness of birds blossomed and now he has placed ‘feeding corners’ around his homestead to attract birds. He is often spotted either in the company of other birders or undertaking waterfowl counts at the mouth of River Yala. Fellow villagers have nicknamed him the birdman. 

It is no wonder then that Ayiro was the first member of the community to be contacted by Walter Tende, a fisherman from Usalu village when he rescued an injured Osprey with a Finnish tag. Through Ayiro’s efforts the Osprey was evacuated to Nairobi for treatment, making news locally and internationally. Unfortunately, the Osprey died, but Ayiro’s efforts did not go unnoticed. Kenya Birds of Prey Trust called Ayiro to offer him a training opportunity on the handling and caring for birds of prey. 

“The Osprey incident generated a lot of public interest. We took advantage of this to sensitise the community on the importance of conserving birds and their habitats. Some community members are even willing to dedicate part of their land for conservation, and this is very encouraging,” he says. 

Ayiro is also the Chairman of the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG). Armed with just basic skills and tons of enthusiasm, members of this group are spurring birding interest in villages within the Yala Swamp Important Bird Area (IBA). The group regularly holds bird walks, carries out biodiversity surveys, conducts school outreach, and shares bird information and photos on their social media platforms. They are also in the process of developing a bird checklist for Yala Swamp that will feature local bird names.

Meet David Marenya, an artist and a nature lover 

David is another member of the group. He combines talent, skill and passion to transform waste into unique artworks. Art pieces featuring birds form a large part of his collection. But why birds? 

“Our ancestors considered birds sacred. Birds were seen as diviners, predictors of seasons. They could forecast imminent disasters. In Lake Victoria, they helped fishermen and sailors in navigation. All through the ages, birds have played a significant role in human lives. Their ability to interact with humans in many ways adds to their appeal,” he explains. 

David has done art pieces featuring the Long-crested Eagle, Great Blue Turaco, Pied Kingfisher, Papyrus Gonolek, and other birds found in Yala. The pieces are exhibited at local, regional, national and international forums. Through his art, David occasionally attracts visitors to Yala to see the birds portrayed in his pieces.   

Meet Patrick Kung’abi, an aspiring bird guide 

Patrick was mentored by YESSG and has an outstanding ability to quickly spot and identify birds while giving tidbits of information about their natural history. 

“The relationship between birds and humans was well manifested in our traditional festivals. For instance, it was common for the turkey-sized Southern Ground Hornbill to grace cultural occasions, having been drawn to the rhythmic drum beats. The bird would easily mingle with the dancing crowds. This close interaction with birds is part of our cultural heritage and we are striving to preserve it through bird watching,” says Patrick. 

Patrick can name birds in his native Bunyala dialect and is using his knowledge to help translate the bird checklists from English into the local Bunyala language. 

Meet Boniface Kesa and Edwin Onyango, members of the YESSG team who run school and mentorship programmes in Bunyala, Busia county. They organise bird walks for schools, inspiring school children to take up bird watching as a hobby, something they love to do. 

“Helping children look through a pair of binoculars opens up a new world of birds to them,” acknowledges Boniface. 

“Sharing my interest in conservation through birding encourages the community and school children, in particular, to appreciate birds,” notes Edwin. 

“Children enjoy listening to stories of birds of prey and waterbirds, which they can easily identify. Quite often you will see them interrupting stories to dramatise the birds’ actions,” adds Boniface. 

The YESSG team is working with six primary schools and the popularity of the school bird watching programme, is on the rise. “During the holidays children come knocking on my door on Saturday mornings asking to go out birding,” says Edwin. 

Yala’s Indigenous and Community Conserved Area

Yala Swamp, including lakes Kanyaboli, Namboyo, and Sare, is one of the most extensive freshwater wetlands in the country. It is one of the few shelters of the nationally threatened sitatunga antelope and Lake Kanyaboli provides a safe haven for critically endangered haplochromine cichlids fish species. The swamp provides critical stopover habitat for thousands of migratory birds, including Barn Swallows and Yellow Wagtails. 

Some 8,404ha in the heart of Yala Swamp have been designated as an Indigenous and Community Conserved Area (ICCA). This is helping protect critical habitat for wildlife, including migratory birds. 

Within the ICCA, local community conservation champions, the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG) has worked hard to restore 66.7 ha of degraded wetland by planting papyrus. This is in keeping with the ICCA management committee guidelines for promoting the natural regeneration of papyrus in degraded and riparian areas. 

YESSG has also planted 69,622 indigenous trees in the lower Yala River riparian zone and trained 90 crop-farming households in climate-smart farming techniques. These farmers are increasingly adopting agroforestry practices that keep trees in place even as they plant crops. 

These measures are improving the swamp for birds. For the first time in five years a Giant Kingfisher was recorded in January 2020, in the lower stretches of the swamp (Bunyala- Sitome village) and in February 2020 along the fringes of Lake Sare in Usalu village. It was sighted again in February 2021, both at the manmade Lake Bob next to Bungu village and along Dhogoye causeway. 

Other waterfowl species which were previously uncommon or rarely seen, but are now frequently recorded include Lesser Moorhen, Water Thick-knee, Common Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Collared Pratincole, Abdim’s Stork, Black-crowned Night Heron, Black-headed Heron, and African Darter. The Endangered Grey Crowned Crane now inhabits the previously flooded rice paddies where Dominion Farms used to operate. Papyrus endemics — Papyrus Gonolek, White-winged Swamp Warbler and Carruthers’s Cisticola can be spotted with ease even along Kombo dyke at Lake Kanyaboli. 

“The planting of papyrus will maintain and even increase the kind of habitat needed by papyrus endemics and migratory birds,” states Moses Nyawasa, the Project Extension Officer. “It also means that the prospects for people living around Yala Swamp, an area which could potentially attract ecotourism, will improve,” he adds. 

This article by Emily Mateche appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine.