Thursday, June 5, 2014

Support efforts in Kenya's Lower Tana Delta



My name is Ali Wachu from Lower Tana Delta Conservation Trust (LTDCT), a community initiated conservation project funded by European Union through CDTF/BCP to manage, protect and conserve the area’s natural resources as a way of uplifting the living standards of the local people. 

The LTDCT covers an area of approximately 50,000ha with a population of about 11,000 people comprising of Farmers, Pastoralists and Fishermen. The Trust area is a unique ecosystem endowed with a variety of habitat types that include riverine forests, grasslands, woodlands, bush lands, lakes, mangroves and coastal waters (with coral and sea grass beds) among others. 

This unique diversity of habitat types is reciprocated by the existence of high diversity of flora and fauna and their life supporting systems thereby making the area to be one of Kenya’s high biodiversity hotspots. 

The high diversity has resulted from a long history of river dynamics and associated revolutionary processes driven by environmental factors like water salinity, soil deposition/erosion, topography and coastal influence that necessitate the formation of river channels, cut-off levees, meanders, ox-bow lakes and the ever changing micro-topography. 

The unique interaction between and amongst flora and fauna in a dynamic and continuously changing marine and fresh water ecosystems makes it a special area for evolution of high biological diversity. The habitats and ecosystems in this area are of high quality because an estimated 80% of the complex estuarine/deltaic system is intact and functional.

 The area is a crucial breeding ground for many animal species such as the Nile crocodile, the green turtle, birds, shrimp and crabs. It is also an important ecosystem that acts as a staging, resting and nesting ground for resident and migratory water birds. The flood plains also form a crucial dispersal zone for wildlife and livestock during the dry season. The area has been assigned Eco-regional importance under the East African Marine Eco-region (EAME) because of its being a system of diverse wetlands composed of fresh, brackish, saline and marine waters with associated flora and fauna. It is home to the highest concentration of Heritiera littolis mangrove species within the region.
The Tana Delta (which the conservancy is part of) is recognized as an Important Bird Area (IBA) in addition to its importance as a habitat for both migratory and resident birds.

 Over two hundred and seventy (270) species of birds have been recorded in the delta with some being endemic and/or threatened. Twenty-two (22) internationally important populations of water birds have been recorded in the Tana Delta (Bennun and Njoroge, 1999). Over two hundred and eighty (280) plant species and thirty-five (35) different mammalian species have been recorded in the area. The Delta has also been declared as a Ramsar Site and more so the communities of the conservancy are in the process of establishing a Community Forest Association (CFA). The benefits of the project to the community include the following:-

1.The conservancy has employed 60 people as Community Rangers, Tour Guides, Lodge attendants (the Trust are 20% shareholders of the lodge within the conservancy named Delta Dunes Lodge), watchmen, coxswains and drivers.
2. The conservancy has also assisted several community projects such as renovation of Nduru Primary School, payment of 30% community contribution for the construction of Shirikisho Primary School water tank, assistance in the preparation of the Bills of Quantities for Semikaro Dispensary, construction of fish ponds and purchase of water pump for Darga galgi fish farmers CBO. Delta Dunes Lodge which is within the conservancy also did the following for the benefit of the Trust and the people; construction of Chole Nursery School at Darga Galgi, provision of school learning materials and payment of salary for the nursery school teacher, supply of school learning materials to all primary schools in the conservancy among others.
3. Provision of school bursaries to needy students from the conservancy area.
4. The lodge also provides annual scholarships to bright students from the conservancy area.

The project has provided a ready market for the local arts and artifacts. Despite the above benefits the conservancy is facing the following challenges:-
1.      Illegal land acquisition/sale within the conservancy.
 In 1992 a private shrimp aquaculture development company illegally acquired 10,000 hectares of prime conservation land in the area (LR. No.17600 and 17601/2) and the Government of Kenya repossessed it through a Presidential Decree vide Ref. No. OP/9/32a dated 6th October 1993 and formed the Tana Delta Wetlands Steering Committee (TDWSC) to coordinate land use planning for the area and finally develop a management plan to ensure sustainable use of natural resources. The local communities also took initiatives focusing on the formation of Community Based Organisations (CBOs) through technical support from EAWLS and KWS. The resultant CBOs were involved in natural resource conservation, management, utilisation and advocacy within the same area. The TDWSC did not complete their mandate of developing a management plan for the area. Due to this the area conservation CBOs merged to form the Lower Tana Delta Conservation Trust (LTDCT) in order to prepare a management plan and eventually own the land on behalf of the local community. The communities have already prepared a land use and a management plan for the area. All these efforts were being done in order to secure the community land rights/ownership as per the new constitution. On 22/05/2011 as we were in the process of preparing the management plan we were surprised by a gazette notice auctioning the same piece of land (LR 17600 and 17601/2) through the Nation Newspaper. We then liaised with Government agencies and other stakeholders whereby a caveat emptor was issued to stop the auction. A delegation was sent to the then Land Minister Hon. James Orengo and he promised to reply after going through our records which he never did. We also sent a delegation to the then Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga whereby an inter-ministerial committee being chaired by his office came to the Tana Delta to solicit for views for the preparation of a land use and management plan for the entire Delta which a draft land use and a management plan is ready. As we are waiting for this committee to complete their Terms of Reference (ToR), we are again surprised by yet another gazette notice auctioning 1000 acres of land in the conservancy in the Xpat Link Magazine.
2. Siltation of wetlands in the conservation area due to accelerated soil erosion from catchment deforestation, overgrazing and river diversions.
3. Marine water intrusions during high tides of the ocean due to less volume of water flowing downstream with little force to counter tidal waters entering through the estuary due to catchments degradation, damming and prolonged droughts thereby changing the biodiversity of the conservancy and hence reducing wildlife grazing areas.
 4. High concentration of livestock during dry seasons due to the shrinking river and flood plain wetlands leading to resource-use conflicts and tribal animosities
5. Uncontrolled land allocation for development projects whose negative environmental impacts are threatening biodiversity and the livelihood of dependent communities.
 6. Increased human wildlife conflicts due to drying up of wetlands, loss of fish breeding grounds, wildlife watering and grazing areas among others.

On behalf of the LTDCT, I wanted to bring the issue of the Lower Tana Delta to your attention, and I am further requesting the assistance of the Mangrove Action Project, in any way possible, and perhaps to petition the Kenyan President Hon. UHURU KENYATTA to:-

1. Nullify of all title deeds within the Lower Tana Delta Conservancy (LTDCT) including LR 17600, LR 17601/1, LR 17601/2 and LR 25200
2. Land adjudication and allocation so that the local community can rightfully own this area through the conservancy
3. Development of a memorandum of understanding between River Tana Water Users from the catchment area all the way to the delta in order to safeguard the interest of the local people downstream.

 Kind Regards,

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