October Global Big Birding Day Update

The eBird October Big Day in Kenya has been a big success. Kenya has placed 6th globally with a total of 816 species reported on the day, from 258 checklists submitted. We were beaten by five South American countries, four of which posted day totals of more than 1000 species. To give you all an idea of the capacity of citizen science to monitor bird populations, some 7097 species were reported across the globe on the 17th October, from more than 78000 (!!!!) checklists submitted. More information on Kenya’s effort, including a full species list for the day, can be found at the link below.


A big thank you to all those who submitted lists for this event, thus highlighting the incredible birdlife on offer in Kenya. Outstanding efforts include:

Site high list – Ole Sanoe Henry (205 species – Soysambu)

Coastal birders – almost a cleanup; a very good contribution

Most remote list – Sibiloi NP and Ileret (Ambrose Ajiko)

Thanks to Pete Steward for pulling everyone together and to the eBird review team (including James Bradley, Stratton Hatfield and Tyler Davis) for going through and checking the data.

Birders, make sure to sign up for the next eBird big day in May 2021!

Meanwhile, enjoy the Global Bird Weekend and Global Big Day video by Washington Wachira


Rice growing boosts forest restoration in the Tana River Delta

Until recently, Ozi was considered a major community grown rice-producing area in the Tana River Delta. Seawater intrusion, however, forced communities to abandon rice growing in the area. At the time, the rice variety cultivated could not survive in brackish waters. Communities sought alternative livelihood activities, some of which were not good for the mangrove forest found in the area.

“The abandonment of rice growing in Ozi hurt the surrounding environment, particularly the mangrove and Ozi forests. Harvesting of mangrove poles was one of the alternative livelihood activities people got involved in. Communities also started clearing vegetation for farming further into the natural forest, and this was not good for the environment,” says Serah Munguti, then Policy and Advocacy Manager at Nature Kenya.

Since 2019, Nature Kenya, with support from EU Rebuild/CISP, has embarked on a new initiative aimed at reducing degradation at the Ozi forest and adjacent areas through the revival of rice growing.

Correlation between food insecurity and habitat loss

The aim of this initiative, Serah, points out, was to improve on food security as well as safeguarding the Ozi forest’s unique biodiversity.

It all started when Nature Kenya supported 126 households in Ozi village, representing 936 individuals (470 males, 466 females), with 2,571 kg of certified ITA 310 (NIBAM 110) rice seed. This seed variety was recommended for the area by experts from the Ministry of Agriculture.

ITA 310, according to Infonet- Biovision (https://www.infonet-biovision.org/PlantHealth/Crops/ Rice), is a long-grained rice variety that matures in 110-120 days. This variety is suited for growing in irrigated lowlands and is tolerant to rice blast and the Rice Yellow Mottle Virus (RYMV). ITA 310 is grown for subsistence and commercial use. It has a grain yield of 3-5 tonnes per hectare (t/ha).

Out of the supported households, 91 harvested 867Kg of paddy rice per acre, translating to 79 tonnes of unprocessed rice. The harvested paddy rice, working with a conversion rate of 65%, yielded 51 tonnes of milled rice valued at Ksh 3,076,983 at farm gate and Ksh 3,589,814 at market prices. This translated to an average income of Ksh. 33,813 and Ksh. 39,448 per household at farm gate and market prices respectively. These results of the rice harvest constituted a 33.83% and 61.56% increase in annual household incomes for male and female-headed households respectively at farm gate prices. At market prices, the annual household incomes increase by 39.53% and 72% for beneficiary male and female-headed households respectively.

Demand for the new seed variety has also increased as more farmers request for it. Nature Kenya, once again, has supplied 4.2 tons of the rice seed to the farmers this year, targeting 247 farmers.

Said Nyara, a rice farmer in Ozi, is upbeat about this initiative. Nyara, who has a three-acre farm, harvested 30 bags of 50kgs last season.

‘The rice variety is good. It is resistant to salt and yields a better harvest,” says Nyara, adding that it also fetches better prices in the market.

Mwanaharusi Bakari, another rice farmer from Ozi is excited to be growing the rice this year.

‘It’s my first time growing this rice variety, and I’m happy about it. I saw other farmers having a good harvest last season. This has inspired me,” she says.

Mwanaharusi intends to put two out of her three acres under rice cultivation.

Environmentally, the revival of rice growing has somehow also contributed to an increase in mangrove forest cover.

“Boosting household incomes through rice growing is one way of reducing over-reliance on forest products for livelihoods at the Tana River Delta. Nature Kenya is working with different communities spread across the delta to promote sustainable use of natural resources,” says Serah.

The Tana River Delta Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is designated as a wetland of international importance (Ramsar site) and is one of the most important wetlands in Africa. In 2011, Nature Kenya led a collaborative effort of various stakeholders in the development of a Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP) that was guided by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The process was concluded in 2015. The land-use plan has since been approved and adopted as a policy by the Lamu County government.

The land-use plan is now in its implementation phase. Nature Kenya has also been promoting the Indigenous Community Conservation Areas (ICCAs) approach. Community Conservation Areas are biodiversity-rich areas partially or largely managed by local communities.

Bird and human mutualism: The Greater Honeyguide and honey-hunters

Greater Honeyguides know where bees’ nests are located and like to eat beeswax; humans know how to subdue the bees using fire, and open the nest using axes. By working together, the two species can locate the bee nest, overcome the bees’ defences and gain access to the nest, thus providing beeswax for the honeyguides and honey for the humans.

This specialised relationship is a rare example of animal-human cooperation – mutualism – that has evolved through natural selection. Pioneering research was done in Kenya by Dr Hussein Isack in the 1980s, who first demonstrated scientifically how the mutualism functions. Now we have the opportunity to take part in a citizen science study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge in the UK and the University of Cape Town in South Africa are working in close cooperation with rural honey-hunting communities in Africa to study the foraging partnership between the Greater Honeyguide and the human honey-hunters whom it guides to bees’ nests. They want to understand the ecology, evolution and conservation implications of the honeyguide-human relationship, as a window into the origin and maintenance of mutually beneficial interactions between species (mutualisms).

If you have seen or heard a Greater Honeyguide anywhere in Africa, and whether or not it guided you, please tell them about it! Visit the citizen science project at <Honeyguiding.me> for more information and to submit a sighting.

“The honeyguide-human relationship is currently dwindling throughout Africa, and before it fades away, we need to understand this ancient part of our own species’ evolutionary history in those few places where it still thrives. This is relevant to conservation, because mutualisms can have wide reach in shaping ecological communities,” reads an excerpt from the Honeyguide Research Project.

Partnerships to restore Mt. Kenya forest

March 21 is the International Day of Forests – this year’s theme being ‘Forests and Biodiversity’. This day is marked to raise awareness of the importance of all types of forests. Nature Kenya and forest-adjacent communities are striving to restore the forest landscape on the iconic Mount Kenya and other parts of Kenya.

Enhancing the capacity of communities to engage various stakeholders in forest conservation is key to ensuring the sustainability of forest landscape restoration initiatives. Eleven Community Forest Associations (CFAs) in Mt. Kenya, working closely with Nature Kenya, are among the recipients of Ksh32 million funding from Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project to boost restoration of the Mt. Kenya forest.

The 11 CFAs are Gatere, Murinduko and Irangi from Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Embu counties respectively; Ruthumbi and Mweru from Meru county; Chuka and Kiera Hills from Tharaka Nithi county; and Cheche, Naromoru, Ragati and Hombe from Nyeri county.

The funding to the CFAs marks a milestone for the participatory forest management approach in Mt. Kenya, where community groups are now directly engaging public and private entities to finance their conservation activities. This follows a series of training programs undertaken by Nature Kenya to build the capacity of the CFAs. The groups have been trained on governance, advocacy, writing of business plans and funding proposals, among other subjects.

“The main aim of the training is to help the CFAs diversify their financial resource base to complement their forest restoration efforts,” says Charles Kiama, Nature Kenya’s Conservation Officer.

The funds will go towards supporting various sustainable livelihood projects like establishment of tree nurseries, eco-tourism and fish farming. These activities are aimed at improving livelihoods, creating employment and reducing poverty levels among forest adjacent communities through conservation, management and sustainable utilization of the forest resource.

Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project, or Upper Tana Project as it is widely known, supports communities to sustainably manage natural resources. Besides providing funding, part of their mandate is to improve the incomes and the living standards of the target groups through interventions that are beneficial to the management of the natural resources. Last year, 22 CFAs from the Mt. Kenya block received their first Ksh20 million grant from the Upper Tana Project.

Nature Kenya, with funding from World Land Trust and The Darwin Initiative, is partnering with CFAs and other stakeholders to restore degraded sections of the Mt. Kenya forest. About 650,000 trees have been planted since 2017 covering close to 650 hectares of degraded forest area. Last year, 421,800 trees were planted during the heavy rains of October and November. The work of nurturing tree seedlings to maturity was done by members of 22 CFAs. Kiama says that they hope to capitalize on the long rains from March to May to double these numbers. To achieve this, Nature Kenya is partnering with five county governments – Meru, Nyeri, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Kirinyaga  – and like-minded locally based community organizations, among them CFAs and Site Support Groups.

A business case has been developed for Mt. Kenya forest. The business case seeks to enhance the wellbeing of forest-adjacent communities by providing an incentive to conserve, manage and restore the Mt. Kenya ecosystem.  The communities (water ‘sellers’) engage in protection and rehabilitation of the watershed, with financial support from downstream water users (‘the buyers’).  Kenya Breweries Limited adopted the business case in 2017 and has since facilitated the planting and nurturing of 100,000 seedlings in Mt Kenya.

“Our main target is large-scale water buyers and consumers of resources from Mt Kenya. We are supporting CFAs to partner with the stakeholders who are willing to engage in forest restoration activities,” says Kiama.

Mt. Kenya forest is an irreplaceable biodiversity hotspot with unique flora and fauna of conservation importance, which underpins its Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status and government protection. The forest is a cornerstone of Kenya’s economy through provision of varied socio-economic and ecosystem services: Mt. Kenya forest is a major carbon sink and a major water tower.


Counting gains of participatory forest management

For many years the government has experimented with various community-based forest conservation approaches. None of these approaches has stood the test of time like the participatory forest management (PFM) model.

Participatory Forest Management deliberately involves forest-adjacent communities and other stakeholders in the management of forests within a structure that contributes to the communities’ livelihoods. PFM has contributed to increased conservation awareness leading to better conservation of forests. It has also inculcated a sense of ownership among forest-adjacent communities who actively engage in forest conservation activities.

Communities living adjacent to forests are first required to register with the Registrar of Societies as Community Forest Associations (CFAs). The CFAs then enter into a collaborative management agreement with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) after presenting a Participatory Forest Management Plan. Once  permission is granted by KFS to participate in the conservation and management of forest resources, CFAs are allowed to utilize certain forest resources through livelihood activities like butterfly farming, poultry farming, bee keeping, Aloe farming and sale of herbal medicine.

Participatory Forest Management was first piloted in Kenya in 1997 at Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, East Africa’s largest and most intact coastal forest. The pilot area covered three villages: Dida, Kahingoni and Kafidsoni, located in the south-western part of the forest. These villages represented a small percentage of the entire forest adjacent communities which comprise of 52 villages.

The main aim of PFM is to engage communities in the management of forests by sharing with them benefits accrued from forest resources. For starters, unusual activities hardly go unnoticed in this iconic forest. The community members are vigilant and promptly relay information on any illegal activity to the concerned authorities. Also, trained community scouts conduct regular patrols within the forest. The scouts also undertake de-snaring exercises.

Site monitoring is another activity conducted by volunteers from the community. This includes biodiversity and common bird monitoring. Data collected from these citizen science-led initiatives is used to determine the status, threats and responses at the site. The communities also engage in forest restoration activities, that not only serve to protect the environment but also improve the livelihoods of people who are dependent on the forest.

On the livelihood front, nature-based enterprises such as butterfly farming and beekeeping are being promoted to reduce pressure on the forest for sustenance. Agro-forestry is also being adopted as a livelihood option with ecological as well as economic values. Community groups have established tree nursery and donated tens of thousands of seedlings for planting in the forest while also planting some in their individual farms.

Much as there is good news to write home about, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest still faces a myriad of threats ranging from illegal harvesting of forest products such as building poles to the poaching of wild animals. This is happening despite massive investment in awareness creation against such practices, promotion of alternative livelihoods and improved forest governance. High demand for illegally sourced forest products and perceived limited access to PFM gains are some of the reasons behind the destructive activities.

As we continue to celebrate the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest PFM milestones, there is a need to critically review the extent of its reach and benefits to the target population. As much as it has been demonstrated that communities derive ecosystem benefits from the forest, these benefits may not be obvious to all, or may not be deemed sufficient. Since Arabuko-Sokoke is a conservation forest, communities do not have the opportunity to grow crops around tree plantations, which is available under the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS).

PFM in Arabuko-Sokoke could be more successful if more households were included. Forest adjacent communities also need to be encouraged to tap into unexploited opportunities, such as the presence of wildlife in the forest, to position Arabuko-Sokoke as a tourist attraction. This will broaden revenue streams for the communities as they engage in ecotourism ventures.