Rare plant in Kilifi is under threat from limestone mining

Coastal Kenya holds many secrets. Among them is the rocky outcrop of Cha Simba in Kilifi County, which shelters some of the world’s most iconic and rarest plants.

Hidden below the trees that cling to the rock outcrops is one of Africa’s most famous plants, the African violet, generally known as Saintpaulia. The plants at Cha Simba are now specifically classified as Streptocarpus ionanthus subspecies rupicola. This subspecies is found in the wild only in Kenya, nowhere else in the world.

“African violets are popular house plants. But only three populations of this subspecies are known in the wild, only in Kilifi, and all of them are in danger of extinction,” notes Dr Cornelius Kyalo, a botanist who has studied the genetics and ecology of the African violet at Cha Simba.

Thirty other plant species clinging to Cha Simba rocky outcrop are classified as threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

And now extinction is a real prospect! A mining company, Mashujaa Q&M PLC, is planning to mine the Cha Simba rock outcrop for limestone. The company and its Environmental and Social Impact Assessment submitted to National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) are apparently unaware of the unique natural heritage threatened by their project.

Every extinction is tragic. An African violet and the other Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable plants do not need to be sacrificed for a little cement.

“It is critical that Kenya is seen to meet its obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity,” says Paul Matiku, Director of Nature Kenya. “Under this convention, it is Kenya’s obligation to protect all globally threatened species that occur in Kenya. The proposed limestone mining will wipe out this subspecies.”

Nature Kenya is appealing to the Ministry of Petroleum and Mining, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, the Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, the National Environment Management Authority and the County Government of Kilifi to stop this move to extinction!

Nature Kenya is also urging the government to place Cha Simba rock outcrop under official protection and requesting mining companies to avoid Coastal limestone outcrops with unique plant species.

Promoting climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp

Agriculture is the source of livelihood for thousands of communities in Kenya, and food for us all. Unfortunately, climate change effects such as reduced or unpredictable rainfall and prolonged drought spells have had devastating effects on crop production. Many rural communities bear the brunt of these negative impacts, often being left vulnerable with little or no food.

To help communities better cope with current and future climate variability, Nature Kenya is promoting the adoptionof climate-smart agriculture in Yala Swamp. Under the AfriEvolve Project, local communities are being facilitated to acquire necessary skills and inputs to be more resilient to climate change effects on farming.

Through the project, supported by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and NABU (BirdLife partner in Germany), 150 farmers have been identified and supported to sustainably grow high-value climate-resilient vegetables and cereals under rain-fed agriculture. The vegetable and cereal types grown are fast maturing, require little rainfall and produce better yields than current crops. These farmers have received seeds and on-site technical support.

The project is also supporting agroforestry. Four community-based tree nursery groups were supported with equipment and seeds to produce tree seedlings for shade, fodder, firewood and fruit. Over 100,000 tree seedlings have been produced. Out of this, 51,000 tree seedlings are ready for planting to restore degraded riparian areas along River Yala and to establish woodlots. Twelve other community tree nurseries have been identified for agroforestry support. Kenya Forest Service (KFS) provides technical support for tree seedlings production.

Fish and poultry farming and beekeeping are the other nature-based enterprises promoted by Nature Kenya in Yala under this project. Three community-run fish ponds have been stocked with 3,000 tilapia fingerlings, with 30 fish farmers being trained on the basics of climate-smart fish production, formulation of quality feeds, packaging, storage and marketing technologies.

A poultry unit has been established and stocked with 200 improved indigenous chicken chicks, feeds and related equipment. Establishment of a second unit is underway. Communities have also been supplied with 100 modern beehives, honey harvesting gear and a processing unit.

The project lays emphasis on the transfer of knowledge and skills. Groups of crop farmers, fish farmers, poultry farmers and beekeepers have undergone training as ‘trainer of trainers’ (ToTs). Some of the things they have learned include bookeeping, value addition, packaging and marketing.

Yala Swamp is one of Kenya’s important ecosystems. The swamp is the largest inland freshwater wetland complex in the country, sheltering a great variety of birds, fish and mammals, including some threatened ones. Yala Swamp provides useful environmental services like filtering out harmful pollutants from water flowing into Lake Victoria. The swamp is also a source of livelihoods for many communities.

Conserving the Hinde’s Babbler in Mumoni and Mutitu

Local communities living near important natural habitats play a crucial role in conserving the unique wildlife found in these areas. Many wild animals in Kenya, including birds, live outside protected areas, in the community or privately owned land. By monitoring the state of birds and their habitats, these communities contribute immensely to tending to nature.

Birds are good indicators of the health of our environment. They are widespread, easy to spot and are considered important in cultures of various communities.

Hinde’s Babbler is a rare bird found only in Kenya. This bird is threatened and occurs in fragmented populations within a 1,900km2 range in Meru, Embu, Nyeri, Muranga, Kiambu, Nairobi, Machakos and Kitui counties. Hinde’s Babblers live in groups, occupying a specific territory in thickets and woodlands in semi-arid areas and moist, fertile land cleared for farming but with fragments of shrub thickets. In eastern Kitui, Hinde’s Babblers live in Mumoni and Mutitu Hills Forest Reserves and surrounding valleys dominated by Lantana camara and indigenous thickets.

Communities in these two sites are undertaking several initiatives to conserve the Hinde’s Babbler and its habitat. Working closely with Nature Kenya and the National Museums of Kenya, members of the Mumoni and Mutitu Site Support Groups (SSGs) have mapped areas where the birds live. Constant monitoring of these areas is ongoing to observe any changes or disturbunces. In addition, the two SSGs are conducting public awareness sessions within their localities. These sessions seek to sensitize local communities on the importance of conserving the Hinde’s Babbler’s natural habitat.

Knowledge of the bird amongst the local communities is steadily increasing in Mumoni and Mutitu. This is exemplified by the communities’ willingness to maintain and restore suitable habitats for the birds. The SSGs are also actively engaged in forest restoration activities.

Saving Biodiversity: the world is trying to increase ambition

The world is trying to increase its ambition for safeguarding biodiversity. It is known that US$ 700 billion is needed annually. It is claimed that harmful subsidies worth US$ 500, especially in agriculture, need to be removed through sustainable pathways. If subsidies are removed, then US$ 200 billion annually is what will be required to finance the conservation of biodiversity.

If the world cannot be managed sustainably, more than US$ 700 billion must become available to deal with unsustainable production, including trade. Consumption patterns in developed countries are responsible for 50% of the threats to biodiversity in developing countries – mainly due to trade involving conversion of biodiversity habitats into commodities exported to wealthy recipient countries. 

International negotiations are not easy. Every government agrees that there is a problem and urgent solutions are needed. However, when governments meet and negotiations start, each party maintains a stance that makes it difficult to converge to an agreement. 

Nature Kenya Director Paul Matiku is a member of the Africa Group of Negotiators. As part of the Kenya Delegation to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) preparation meetings – Subsidiary Body on Implementation (SBI), Subsidiary Body on Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) and Open-ended Working Group on Implementation – between 14th to 29th March 2022, Dr Matiku developed the Africa position on Resource Mobilization. 

The Africa position calls for all countries to set aside 1% of their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to raise the US$ 700 billion including US% 500 billion for removal of harmful subsidies. The position for Kenya and Africa also calls for equity by requesting the developed countries to contribute US$ 100 billion annually to developing countries as grants to help to protect biodiversity. Kenya also requests parties to agree to 1% of retail being contributed to biodiversity funds. 

The CBD preparatory meetings in Geneva ended on 29th March 2022 without agreement. There has been a great deal of negotiations but the documents, in particular the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, is full of brackets. As a result, the Open-ended Working Group on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework has proposed to hold yet another meeting in Nairobi from 21st to 26th June 2022 to further promote consensus on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. 

Unfortunately, biodiversity conservation is no longer about vision and passion, but financing. The Convention on Biological Diversity’s 15th Conference of Parties (CoP) is to be held in Kunming, China in August 2022, subject to Covid. Will the world agree on an ambitious plan that is financed sufficiently to bend the curve and slow the loss of biodiversity? Please look at the international section of Nature Net each month for any updates.

Nature Kenya urges all governments of the world to ensure biodiversity action is transformative. Business as usual will not bend the curve.

Monitoring the Abbott’s Starling in Mt. Kenya

 Kenya is home to 46 globally threatened bird species. These birds live and breed in various sites scattered across the country; or spend time in Kenya during their migrations. Monitoring of threatened bird species is a critical conservation action Nature Kenya is undertaking with the assistance of local community volunteers referred to as site support groups (SSGs). 

The Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt. KEBIO) is the SSG for Mt. Kenya Important Bird Area (IBA), now considered a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). This SSG is actively engaged in numerous activities to conserve the site’s unique habitats and species. 

Abbott’s Starlings are among the threatened bird species that call Mt. Kenya home. This rare blue-black and creamy white bird only lives in some tropical moist montane forests in Kenya and Tanzania, with its population on a decline. In 2021, the Abbott’s Starling was uplisted to Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to BirdLife International, between 1,000 – 2,500 individuals are remaining. Forest loss and degradation are listed as the major threats to the bird’s survival. 

Last year, Mt. KEBIO conducted monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling in Castle forest on the southern slopes of Mt. Kenya. The objective was to establish the status of the bird’s estimated population and the condition of its habitat in the forest block. A monitoring team, comprising of members of Mt. KEBIO and Castle Community Forest Association (CFA), Nature Kenya and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) officers, and birders and guides from Castle Forest Lodge, undertook the exercise on four separate days in August, September and December 2021. 

Interactions with local bird guides proved helpful. The guides provided invaluable insights into the Abbott’s Starling’s behaviour patterns. From their observations, Abbott’s and Waller’s starlings are commonly spotted together in Castle forest. The two species prefer nesting in cleavages of dead trees. According to the local bird guides, the best times to see the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest are 7:00 to 10:00 in the mornings and 3:00 to 5:00 in the evenings. 

Other birds observed during the monitoring exercise included African Green Pigeon, White-headed Wood Hoopoe, Silvery-cheeked Hornbill, Grey-backed Camaroptera, Kikuyu (Montane) White-eye, and Mountain Wagtail, among others. 

Famous for its breathtaking landscapes, the Mt. Kenya ecosystem is also a significant contributor to Kenya’s economy. Its forest catchment is a source of water for domestic use, agriculture, hydropower generation and industrial use. Deforestation remains the greatest threat facing the Mt. Kenya forest. 

 Established in 1999, Mt. KEBIO has been championing the conservation of biodiversity in the Mt. Kenya ecosystem. The group is undertaking several conservation activities such as forest habitat restoration, biodiversity monitoring and environmental education and awareness creation. Mt. KEBIO plans to make monitoring of the Abbott’s Starling at Castle forest a regular activity.