Category Archives: Campaign

Dakatcha Woodlands under threat of ‘eco-(un)friendly’ jatropha biodiesel project

The Dakatcha Woodlands form one of the 61 internationally important sites in Kenya for bird conservation (and therefore by assumption other biodiversity as well) – known as an ‘IBA’ (Important Bird Area).

a view of the Brachystegia woodland in Marafa – a few years ago before it was hit with charcoaling

It is the only other place on the planet that Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandii can be found apart from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 30kms to the south and it also holds several other Threatened species such as Sokoke Pipit and more recently we discovered a population of Sokoke Scops Owls Otus irenae there. We have been working with NatureKenya to have the woodlands protected, to encourage the local community to stop cutting trees for charcoal and timber and instead to use it sustainably.

Endemic Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandii (by Steve Garvie)

NatureKenya has been doing a great work with local groups of young people to encourage them to take up birding and other conservation activities. This is one of the groups with Dominic Mumbu, the NK manager 4th from the left.

This year, however, an even more devastating threat is looming – one that is masquerading as an ‘eco-friendly project’… for bio-diesel. The Malindi County Council has welcomed a proposal by an investor, Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited, to clear large tracts of land for growing Jatropha curcas.  This South American bush has been aggressively promoted in Kenya for the ‘biodiesel’ extracted from the oil in its seeds. It is now being tried in localities that range from rainfall-rich Western Kenya to desert-like Magadi area. Yet little is currently known of the plant’s suitability, its yield under different conditions, and the market capacity. Talking to Ann and Ian Robertson in Malindi – Ian being an experienced farmer and agriculturalist and Ann one of East Africa’s leading botanists – who have planted some jatropha in their garden out of interest, they report that the yield from jatropha is hugely unpredictable, some years it can be good and others it can be dire – and with no apparent reason. As a result it is highly unlikely to be suitable crop to grow on a large commercial scale and much better to be grown by small holders who can exploit the good years and get something out of it and make ends meet on the bad years with the other crops they are growing.

The jatropha / biodiesel issue is going to be one of the hottest debates going in East Africa environmentally in the next few years. A lot of businessmen are likely to jump on the band wagon where they can see big funding coming from the West to fund what some see as effectively covering up the West’s guilt complex for the vast amounts of carbon pollution it is producing – i.e. “give money to developing countries to produce biodiesel so that we can maintain our lifestyles and claim to have reduced carbon emissions – oh, and shame about that priceless forest or wetland that was cleared to grow an alien monoculture, but it’s all for the greater benefit of the planet…”

Anyway – this debate could go on quite a long time here! The point is Dakatcha Woodlands really are under threat of disappearing under an alien monoculture – and thus causing probably at least one species to go extinct.

As A Rocha Kenya we are committed to finding lasting, long-term solutions for conserving such habitats and sites whilst at the same time ensuring that local communities can improve their lifestyles and living standards but reduce their ecological footprint. We have already started working with churches in the Dakatcha Woodlands to introduce them to Conservation Agriculture, a form of farming that hugely improves productivity whilst conserving the soil and in fact improving the soil such that farms become more productive over the years and not less (as they do using the traditional farming methods). This is just one way of seeking to improve the lot of the local communities while teaching them the importance of caring for the environment – God’s creation.

Conservation Agriculture training by Paul Simpson in Marafa, Nov ’08 for church leaders

We’ve employed Gabriel Katana to work alongside the NatureKenya manager in Dakatcha and to also follow up on the Conservation Agriculture workshops we’ve held with church leaders there.

Katana – our right hand man in Dakatcha and doing a great job.
He’s also assisting in bird surveys and done some excellent work on finding how far the Sokoke Scops Owl is found as well as looking out for Clarke’s Weavers and keeping an eye open for where they might breed. The area is quite large however and currently he’s trying to do all this on just a bicycle or sometimes borrowing the piki (motorbike) that the NK manager uses. For him to be really effective we desperately need a piki for him – and then funds to cover its running. Katana’s salary has kindly been covered by a church in the UK, but any assistance towards purchasing a piki would be hugely appreciated.

More to follow…

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More updates on Tana River Delta campaign

Further to the news already posted regarding the Tana River Delta saga and the threat of sugarcane destroying it, the latest news can be found following these links which are sent out by NatureKenya:


July 2008 BirdLife news Tana
gets temporary reprieve

July 2008 Tana gets temporary

July 2008 BBC News Kenya
sued over biofuel project
also on

July 2008 Reuters, Feature-Kenya sugar,
biofuel project stirs controversy

July 2008 Kenya Biofuel Project Causes Dissension

July 2008 Planet Ark, Kenya Sugar, Biofuel Project Stirs


French financiers have now declined to fund the Tana sugar project, citing
concerns by local people, civil society and now the court case.

to NEMA, from different corners of the world, protesting against the sugarcane
project have started trickling in.

BirdLife South Africa has put up a brief on
Tana in their website[IGcms_nodes][IGcms_nodesUID]=0f5d18512ceb5f9ed551b05e9f2da0f0

international has written to the Hon. John Michuki, Minister for Environment and
Mineral Resources, on the sugarcane project. Please find scans of the letter on the TanaRiverDelta website.

Kenya National Human Rights Commission (KNHRC) has joined the campaign against
the Tana sugar project, on matters related to the violation of human rights.

Court case

motions were filed on Thursday 17th July 2007. We expect the
respondents to file their defense this week or early next week.


20th July 2008 the Tana Delta local community, both farmers and
pastoralists converged at the Danisa grounds for a prayer meeting. They prayed
for their land not to be taken away from them.

Take action to save the Tana River Delta

More and more people and organisations are becoming aware of the plight of the Tana River Delta. Here is something that you can join in on and take action. We are also posting on the website other letters which you can copy and paste into an email or print and send to a list of critical people… I’ll let you know as soon as it’s up.

Forwarded from NatureKenya:

To take part in the email alert, please go to


Let the Kenyan government know destroying ecosystems for toxic sugar monocultures is unethical, and ask them to please follow their own environmental laws, and permanently cancel the project.

Kenya has recently approved plans to destroy some 20,000 hectares of the globally important and ecologically sensitive Tana Delta for sugar and biofuel production. Covering 130,000 hectares, these wetlands’ diverse riverine vegetation — forests, swamps, dunes, beaches and ocean — will be forever altered by widespread vast fields of toxic, monoculture sugar cane and biofuel mill. The project threatens 350 species including birds, lions, hippos, nesting turtles, elephants, sharks, reptiles and the Tana red colobus, one of 25 primates facing extinction globally.

Mumias Sugar Company, the nation’s largest sugar company, owns 51 percent of the project, while most of the rest is owned by state-run Tana and Athi River Development Authority. Local people live in an intricate relationship with the delta’s ecosystems, and are generally opposed to the mill. Irrigation would cause severe drainage of the Delta, leaving local farmers without water for their herds during dry seasons. The Kenya Wetlands Forum is calling on the Government to cancel its approval given to the project. “We cannot just start messing around with the wetland because we need biofuel and sugar,” Kenyan Nobel laureate and environmentalist Wangari Maathai has said.

Biofuel production worldwide continues to destroy crucial natural ecosystems required for local and global sustainability. While hailed as a climate change remedy, this destruction of natural habitats for biofuel production almost always releases more carbon than saved. Using food such as sugar for fuel has raised food prices, leading to riots globally, including in Kenya. Let the Kenyan government know destroying ecosystems for toxic monocultures is unethical, ask them to please follow their own environmental laws, and respectfully request the project be permanently

Tana River Local Community fighting for their land & to conserve biodiversity

Just before I came back South Africa I met with Maulidi Diwayu in Malindi. He’d been calling me frequently to try and set up a meeting before he headed back into the Tana River Delta where he’s from in order to discuss the huge challenge of the sugarcane project threatening to destroy the delta.

Diwayu in Malindi - Chairman of TADECO Diwayu in Malindi en route to the Delta

Diwayu is from Garsen which is the main (though small) town for the delta situated just upstream of where the river starts to thread into numerous channels and over flow its banks more regularly – the nature of a delta. He is chairman of TADECO (the Tana River Conservation Organisation) which is a local, community-based NGO set up in 1997 to try and conserve the biodiversity of the Delta in conjunction with the livelihoods of the local communities living in and around the delta.

TADECO’s main objective currently is to fight the sugar cane project being forced on them by the Tana River Development Authority (TARDA) and Mumias Sugar Co. as the project has been deemed hugely detrimental to the local community as well as clearly so for the environment. Diwayu actually used to be an employee of TARDA – part of their monitoring and evaluation team but in 1998 he pointed out to TARDA the inadequacies of the rice scheme they were trying to introduce (as his job was supposed to do) where basically the only beneficiaries of the project were going to be the government and not the local farmers. He presented a paper at a workshop titled “Community participation as a tool for sustainable development” where he talked of the importance of including local community members directly in decision-making and developing concepts and plans for development of an area. TARDA misunderstood him, took his presentation to be subversive and sacked him at the workshop!!

This led to him setting up TADECO to try and bring a voice to the people and to conserve the rich biodiversity of the delta. TADECO is effectively an ‘umbrella organisation’ for the whole delta. It’s members are therefore a number of smaller CBOs (Community Based Orgs) which may include youth groups, women groups, church groups, farmer groups etc..

The main activities of TADECO are to:

  • – raise community awareness about the issues facing the delta
  • – educate the community about the importance of the delta
  • – carry out advocacy campaigns against projects / activities that are destructive to the delta’s environment
  • – solicit funding for the member groups to undertake eco-friendly activities
  • – organise and facilitate community training programmes

With the sugar project seriously threatening the delta, Diwayu is on a mission now to do all that he can through TADECO to sensitise the people about the project and its effects. He was at the public hearings that TARDA had back in May and was part of the team who pointed out very clearly the inadequacies of the project. Despite the loud resistance to the project by the communities living in the delta together with the conservationists pointing out the huge importance of the delta for its biodiversity, the government has gone ahead and issued a license to the sugar project. TADECO has therefore taken the issue to the High Court with the help of those conservation bodies involved in protecting the delta.

Simultaneously the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) are putting forward the Delta as a proposed RAMSAR site which will greatly assist in preventing destructive activities happening there. Meetings have been going on this month with stakeholders and experts regarding the RAMSAR issue and hopefully it won’t be long before it is accepted. Diwayu has been keenly involved in all these discussions and has travelled to Nairobi to take part in the meetings as a key community member.

Diwayu, therefore is extremely active and a key player in the fight to conserve this threatened wetland. When I talked to him, he gave me a proposal that he had written for TADECO that was seeking for funds to do the awareness raising and education of the delta communities. For this he plans to travel from village to village (see what one of them looks like below) to sensitize the people on what the effect of the sugar project will be. He plans to hold 48 public ‘barazas’ (meetings) in each of the villages.

a village in the Tana River Delta, Kenya

For this he and two others will need to either walk, bike, boat or travel in public transport from one village to the next. The main cost here therefore is transport costs. 10 litres of fuel for a boat costs $14 and they would probably need 20-30 litres per day; sometimes it would be best for them to even hire a vehicle which will cost more like $75 per day. If anyone is keen to support this crucial component of the fight for the delta, please do donate through this blog – make sure you add a reference that it is for Diwayu so we know where to channel it.

NatureKenya and the Wetlands Forum continue to do a very good job at raising the profile of the plight of the Delta and I’ll try and give you updates as often as possible.

Sugar project temporarily halted as taken to court

 It’s a little while since we put anything up about the Tana River Delta sugar fiasco but the Kenya Wetlands Forum together with NatureKenya has been doing a great job on the campaign front. News last week was that a court injunction has been put on the sugarcane project stopping it at least temporarily. This is good news but also means that a long and hard legal battle is now beginning.

There have been some interesting comments and articles put out on the internet about the sugarcane project. In particular Wangari Maathai, the well-known Nobel Peace Laureate, commented about the biofuels project (follow link for full article):

“This country [Kenya] has failed to take environment issues seriously and that is very dangerous for posterity, I am sorry that Kenyans are going to regret, in 20 to 30 years to come, why they let their government interfere with the environment, forests and wetlands,”

It is clear that our government, including the new partners in the government, ODM led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, are as eco-unfriendly as the others which is really worrying. It appears that what they think ‘development’ is, is only producing more $$ through increasing industry, extending high production agriculture and putting in new roads and building new towns – i.e. economic growth. It seems that little or even no thought is given to sustainable development and helping the small farmers on the ground grow into a sustainable agricultural practises that don’t destroy their soils or water sources and certainly environmental concerns seem to sit right at the back of the queue in priorities despite the rest of the world becoming more and more aware of the basic and central importance of taking care of your environment in order to secure the future.

There’s a very good article been written about the sugar project and the misguided conception that ‘economic growth’ is the answer to material poverty. Check it out on this Business Daily Africa link.

Pressure mounting for Tana River Delta

While I’m catching up on things at Mwamba and in Watamu, there is a full scale war building up for the Tana River Delta. We’ve got the website up and running though there are still things we’re working on – thanks to Júlio, our A Rocha webmaster and Sarah who’s volunteering for us on this. Any suggestions for it – let me know…

NatureKenya is spearheading the media campaign but the government and the sugar company, Mumias is coming back with a vengence with it’s fight to have the project go ahead. The latest news from NatureKenya’s updates include:

  • Abdulaziz Abdalla of Pollmans Tours & Safaris has sent our concerns (documents) to Robert Hepworth of CMS/AEWA for action. He will also engage the tourism industry through the Kenya Association of Tour Operators to mobilize action against TISP.
  • NatureKenya and the BirdLife Africa Partnership are putting together an international petition from the BirdLife Africa Partners from 22 countries on the basis of the international significance of this Important Bird Area
  • 26th
    June 2008 Environment News Service,: Sugar for Biofuel to Displace
    Kenya’s Tana Delta Wildlife
  • 27th
    June 2008 Business Daily- NEMA reacted to the KWF press conference See the
    story on
  • 30th
    June – 6th July 2008 page 23, The East African, Tana sugar project not economically

Please do visit the Tana River Delta website and send an email or even better a letter of concern to the people listed to put pressure on the government to stop this from going ahead.

The campaign to save the delta hottens up

I’ve been travelling the past few days but am now in Nairobi and turned up at the East African Wildlife Society offices just before lunch today to get some info for the website only to be met by Peter Odhiambo, the Wetlands Forum Coordinator, crossing the compound to the meeting room. Going with him he seemed to imply I had come for ‘the meeting’… which I had no idea about but which turned out to be the Kenya Wetland Forum monthly meeting – where the Tana River Delta issue was thoroughly discussed and I was able to explain about the website etc. God has his own ways of getting me to meetings I should be at – and on time!

The other thing is that NatureKenya have launched a publicity campaign about the delta issue and kick-started it with a press conference yesterday in town which was attended by almost all the newspapers and TV channels. Some of what was said was excellent but we noticed today that actually there was some major gaps in coverage in particularly the papers – apparently the developer has probably been paying large sums to the papers to write what they want the world to know about the project.

One point of particular interest that came from the press conference was made by Serah who reported on it:

“The media was shocked to learn that a Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) study commissioned by
NatureKenya and RSPB shows that the annual gains from current economic uses
of the delta is Ksh. 3.7 billion ($60 million) and far outweigh the Ksh 1.2 billion ($19 million)

TARDA and Mumias Sugar Company will generate from the project. The KWF called on

the Kenya government to reject NEMA’s
approval of the project EIA and initiate a more

consultative process for the
conservation and (possible) development projects.”

This is an excellent thing that NatureKenya have managed to do as we were sure that the Delta was hugely rich in terms of what it brings the local economy as it is but needed hard facts. The CBA is being put up on the tanariverdelta website for anyone who’s interested to know more. We’re putting a template for a letter on the website that can be copied and pasted into an email or for a hard copy letter to flood the relevant authorities with – I’ll let you know once it’s actually up and then please do take part and write to them.