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.

Martial eagle PHOTO BY LORENZO BARELLI

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.

Secretarybird PHOTO BY LORENZO BARELLI

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.

Bateleur PHOTO BY LORENZO BARELLI

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

Role of culture in the sustainable management of Mijikenda Kaya forests

Kaya forests (Ma–Kaya) are found in coastal Kenya, along a strip that is approximately 50 km wide x 300 km long. They are residual areas of once extensive, lowland forest that are relatively small in size, ranging from 10 to 400 ha. There are currently 42 Kaya forests found in the counties of Kwale, Mombasa and Kilifi that are regarded as sacred by the Mijikenda community.

 All Kaya forests bear a rich history or tradition of settlement. The word Kaya means home in most Mijikenda dialects. All ‘true’ Kaya forests once contained hidden fortified villages where the Mijikenda took refuge from their enemies when they first migrated to the region. These citadels are thought of as the resting places of their ancestors and still bear marks of human activity, particularly clearings and paths that have cultural and historical significance.

Some communities still bury their dead and perform various other traditional rituals and ceremonies in Kaya forests. For example, at the beginning of the Mijikenda year, before the rainy season, Kaya elders go to the shrines in these forests to pray for rainfall and to pray over their crop seeds.

There are a number of cultural beliefs and practices of the Mijikenda that have helped conserve Kaya forests:

  • Kaya shrines are only accessible to bonafide Kaya elders. Trespassers risk inviting the wrath of ancestral spirits, thereby deterring would-be poachers, illegal grazing and firewood collection.
  • Local community members are afraid of damaging any part of Kaya forests for fear of being summoned, grilled and reprimanded by the elders. The elders are looked upon with trepidation for being able to curse or expel a defiant individual from the clan.
  • Mijikenda communities also hold mentoring sessions (known as dhome) for young men and women in Kaya forests. Here, life skills are taught to youth transitioning from childhood to adulthood and these include teachings on the wise-use and management of natural resources.
  • For curing diseases, local communities are still very dependent on medicinal herbs, havested in Kaya forests.
  • Income-generating activities like cultural dancing and tours are also incentives for the conservation of Kaya forests.
  • Big trees mark the boundaries of Kaya forests, and felling them is prohibited. There’s a belief that bad luck will befall anyone who dares to cut down such a tree.

Kaya forests continue to be conserved by communities, and they play an increasingly important role in the protection of coastal birds, such as, Fischer’s Turaco, Southern Banded Snake Eagle, African Golden Oriole, Plain-backed and Uluguru Violet-backed Sunbirds, Sokoke Pipit, and Spotted Ground Thrush.

Examples of Kaya forests: Kaya Chonyi Forest Reserve and Kaya Jibana Forest Reserve in Kilifi County, Kaya Kwale and Kaya Bombo in Kwale, and Kaya Shonda in Mombasa County.

This article by Gibson Kitsao Mwatete appears in the current issue of Kenya Birding magazine. 

Wings beating the odds of gravity

Not all birds fly, but the majority do. Flight is the most defining and distinct locomotory feature in birds, which places birds in a fascinating world of their own. Varying from species to species, each exhibits a different flight style and wing shape.

For instance, hovering is achieved by beating the wings more or less horizontally, balancing the forward thrust by a wind gust as seen in Pied Kingfishers and Augur Buzzards. Seabirds like gulls and albatrosses employ gliding. Pelicans and cranes fly in V-shaped formations, cormorants in a single file, while vultures, storks and large birds of prey use thermals to soar in the sky.

But how do they beat all the odds to do this? Different forces act on a bird’s body enable it to fly up and remain airborne. These forces include gravity, lift, drag and thrust.

Gravity keeps us on the ground. It is the force that pushes down on the bird and is the first force that a bird in flight interacts with during take-off. To overcome it, birds create lift and thrust by flapping their wings, making air flow over and under them.

Birds have evolved over the years to adapt to flight. For starters, they have thin, hollow bones. They have no teeth, so no heavy jaws. Birds have light but strong feathers. They lay eggs rather than give birth to live young. Birds have rapid and efficient digestion. Their overlapping feathers give them a perfect streamlined body shape needed for flight.

These beautiful creatures have managed to conquer the gap of distances and explore the aerial spaces with ease, having confidence in their wings and feathers. Amazing!