Category Archives: Communities & conservation

Dakatcha Clarke’s Weaver Search

The past week has seen a team of intrepid bird-watchers and guides scouring the Dakatcha Forest for the endangered and elusive Clarke’s Weaver.  This bird is a great unknown, without any information recorded on its breeding habits, habitat or breeding season, so finding it presented a great challenge!

I was representing A Rocha on the trip, after over-stretched leader Colin was forced to withdraw due to meetings and lack of vehicle (another story entirely!) so I was the highest ranking (and only) A Rocha member present.  The team was led by Fleur Ng’weno, a veteran and well-known birder from Nairobi, accompanied by myself and half a dozen local guides and birdwatchers.

We set off Monday afternoon from Malindi, after stocking up on provisions and gear, to Marafa, at the edge of the Dakatcha Woodland to meet the District Officer and let him know what we were up to, as well as visiting the local Woodland Support Group, volunteers supporting conservation of the forest and wildlife.  We continued on to Adu, a village on the far northern edge of the woodland, home to many of our party.  Near the town, we found an ideal campsite and pitched tents in a hurry to beat the sunset.  After dinner, everyone was eager to turn in early, in anticipation of a pre-dawn start the next day.

The Dakatcha Woodland is a unique area of forest populated mostly by majestic Brachystegia trees and an abundance of grasses and shrubs and is home to many rare birds and animals, and made a stunning place to camp, surrounded by owls, nightjars and frogs.

Tuesday morning, and the 8-strong group was setting off at 5.30am after hot chai and buttered bread, optimistic and excited about discovering the first known breeding site of the Clarke’s Weaver.  However, it was not be, though we did record many bird species, as well as some unidentified flowers and shrubs.  After a morning of walking, we returned to camp for lunch, then repeated the exercise in the afternoon, with a similar result.

The next 3 days looked much the same.  Though we searched different habitats, areas of the forest and farmland, from before dawn till after dark, the Clarke’s Weavers continued to escape us.  On previous surveys, a few birds have been spotted flying overhead, but this month not a single one was seen, a bit disappointing.

However, we did have some exciting finds.  5 new species were added to the list for Dakatcha, including the Spotted Thick-Knee and the Booted Eagle, which felt like a bit of a consolation prize!  The local guides (and myself!) also received some very valuable training from Fleur, and had plenty of time to appreciate the beauty of such a timeless forest.

Of great concern to the area is the highly destructive industry of charcoal.  Charcoal production and use is extremely inefficient, polluting and requires the cutting of ancient and precious trees for burning.  We saw a worrying number of charcoal kilns and timber harvesting sites deep in the woodland, far from any settlement.  Up to 7 lorries filled with charcoal are leaving the area each day, destined for Mombasa and Nairobi, taking invaluable material from the ecosystem and habitats from the wildlife.  If Clarke’s Weaver breeding sites are discovered, it will go a long way to protecting the area, as sanctuaries for the birds can be installed and monitored.

Friday, the final day of the search, and we had moved camp to a site in which a possible Clarke’s Weaver nest has been sighted in the past for one final look.  All week we had avoided the rain, with only a few showers while we had ben driving, but during our last effort, the forest decided to send us off with a drenching.  Half an hour into our walk, we were soaked to the bone, and dashed back to the car trying to shield binoculars and notebooks from the rain with our bodies, to little avail.

So, we left the forest wet, tired and Clarke’s Weaver-less, but still happy to have added new birds to the list, trained guides and witnessed some amazing countryside, and eager to renew the search!

Sam Oldland (A Rocha Kenya volunteer)

Conservation Agriculture workshop for pastors in Dakatcha Woodlands IBA – home to endemic Clarke’s Weaver

Can you support a farmer and cover her/his costs at a Conservation Agriculture workshop? (for only $30 per farmer!). Read on…

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a method of farming that is being taken up more and more widely in Africa with over 120,000 farmers in Zamibia alone having adopted this practice. It has been shown to significantly increase productivity on farms and is often taught in church circles as ‘Farming God’s Way’ (FGW). Why? Well because the basic concept of CA / FGW is to mimic the way that a forest grows (“God’s farm”) and thus produce the rich soils which you find in a forest (any farmer given the choice between a plot that has been farmed for 5 years and one that has just been cleared of forest would choose the newly cleared one since it will be way more fertile). There are cases where under the conventional methods, a farmer was getting 3 bags of maize from his acre and after using CA was getting 15 bags!

How do you do this? There are 3 main principles – NO ploughing (“plowing” for our American readers!),  lots of mulch (dead organic matter covering the soil surface), and rotate your crops. If you think of how “God farms his forest”, then there is no ploughing, there’s plenty of leaf litter etc on the soil surface (“God’s blanket” for the soil) and there is high diversity of trees and plants.

Taking these basic principles and building them on top of biblical teaching on how God cares for his Earth and has given it to us to look after and use wisely, it is a wonderfully effective way of encouraging rural farmers who are also Christians (probably 70% of the population in Dakatcha) to look after their farm and be able to get a good crop out of it.  Being built on biblical teaching means that church members are very quick in accepting the teaching and linking it in to biodiversity conservation – caring for God’s world – such as planting trees etc means that it becomes a very potent tool for conservation.

Conservation Agriculture plot being prepared

A CA plot being prepared near Watamu – careful measurement of where holes are dug is important.

Back in March, A Rocha Kenya ran a one-day workshop for 25 pastors in the Dakatcha Woodlands with Paul Simpson, a pastor and farmer from South Africa, giving the main teaching. This was received very positively and we are about to run a follow-up workshop going to much greater depth and lasting for 3 days for 30 farmers, pastors and church leaders. Dominic Mumbu of NatureKenya is working very closely with us on this and organising it on the ground.

Dakatcha is where we suspect the endemic Clarke’s Weaver to breed (found only in neighbouring Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and here) – a handsom black & yellow weaver found only in Brachystegia woodlands… and yet these woodlands are under serious threat of destruction due to logging and charcoal burning.

Clarke’s Weaver by Steve Garvie

Clarke’s Weaver (by Steve Garvie)

Charcoal kiln in Dakatcha Woodlands Charcoal burning in Dakatcha Woodlands IBA

It’s a very exciting venture – to be teaching people very practical and tangible ways of being able to help themselves out of poverty whilst at the same time conserving what is a particularly special part of the planet. Farming God’s Way gives people the possibility of using their land wisely and maximising what they can get out of it whilst allowing them to preserve the rest of the surrounding habitat.

Church member enjoying her Conservation Agriculture

…a cheerful farmer tilling her CA plot after a previous training at a Gede church

For this workshop to succeed, we need to cover the costs of the workshop participants – at $30 per person (includes all food, accommodation and materials). If you feel able to help support what I believe is an exciting project with huge potential to help both conserve biodiversity and raise the standard of living of poor rural farmers – then thank you and please do!

Meet Jonathan Baya, our Conservation Officer

jonathan.jpg 

My name is Jonathan Baya.  I started working for A Rocha Kenya in 2002 after a long period of 22 years serving the former owner of the field study centre – Barbara Simpson.  I started as a gardener in the years 1982, then she found me as an enthusiastic person, who was very keen in participating on plants sale, flower shows and local community awareness. I was made a member of the Kenya Horticultural Society and was now able to compete with high class artists and florists.  I would bite them down in winning first classes etc in exhibits.  I became a driver in the year 1987 so that I could drive Mrs Simpson’s guests to the Arabuko-Sokoke forest for bird watching.  This made me even more interested in nature and I was called in 1996 to Kakamega District in Western Kenya for a para taxonomy course and to Nairobi for a first aid course.  In 1997 the Arabuko-Sokoke forest was under threat of being invaded by squatters, asking for 3,000 hectares on the Southern part of the forest.  I, together with other guides, went to visit homes every day, telling them the importance of the forest other than farming.  We succeeded and more than 100 people were driven out with Machetes. When Barbara died I was a hopeless person.  I was working as a taxi driver and was earning a lot of money, but to me it meant nothing, as I felt there was something lacking in me – ‘building the broken world.’  A Rocha Kenya was in the directorship of Colin Jackson, whom I had previously spent time camping with in the forest, close to Mida creek.  We had also been with Jeff Davies.  While chatting around the camp fire we had talked about finding a place to establish an office for A Rocha Kenya close to the forest but Colin was a bit vague on land policy.  He never knew the the plans of God for him – that one day A Rocha Kenya would own Barbara’s property for the office.  Me, I did not know that I would join him and continue to work for the community.  I have worked for Assets for the last 7 years now on tree nurseries.   conserving-nature-for-the-future.jpg

In the picture above, the little baby has joined the parents of the Girimacha Primary School tree nursery.  She is very happy but not really understanding what is happening around her – being out on a hot day, building seed beds for a tree nursery.  We want to re-construct the broken environment from our forefathers, for future generations.

Jonathan Baya – A Rocha Kenya Conservation Officer

Assets Students arrive for the first Assets camp 2008

Day 1

Twenty Assets students trickled shyly into Mwamba during the course of the morning of 12th August, unaware of the packed three day programme we had in store for them. Tsofa kicked the camp off with introductions, explanations, camp rules and started the ongoing camp competition, whereby the students were divided into two teams. Throughout the three days there would be different challenges and question times when the teams could win points. The first days activities included a guided walk through the nature trail with Jonathan Baya – who used his skills to explain about the importance of natural life – focusing particularly on trees and Stanley has led a discussion about the realities of why parents want their children to have a good education and the challenges of being in, and staying in, school; school fees; drugs; bad company and love affairs (pregnancy, diseases and early marriage) were all suggestions made. Stanley leads discussionStanley leading a discussion on the Balcony

He left us with some wise words he once heard; ‘Elimu nyingi, kazi kidogo, pesa nyingi’ (The higher the education, the higher the salary and the smaller the labour for it). We played on the beach, had a Bible study and in the evening there was a campfire.

Games on the beach

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Games on the Beach

Day 2

Day two started bright and early at 6.30am with Morning Glory (devotions) before a quick breakfast and then out to the beach at 7.30am to catch glass bottomed boats which took us to the coral reef for snorkeling. Most of the students had never been on a boat before and also could not swim but everyone was brave enough to put on a life jacket and get in the water to look at the beautiful fish and the coral. After Snorkeling, Mohammed the boat owner doubled as the local HIV/AIDS expert and gave a useful and informative talk about this disease. Lots of notes were taken and questions asked by the students who seemed determined to get their facts straight. Stanley then talked about caring for Creation and why we should do it as well as why A Rocha exists. In the afternoon we went to Watamu Turtle Watch to learn more about turtles and why they are endangered. Everyone particularly enjoyed meeting ‘Kisumi’ the resident disabled turtle. The day was all go and we arrived back a bit late for Henry’s talk about Careers, where he focused on having realistic goals and not simply pursuing a particular career because that is what a relative wants for you – wise words. Afterwards there a bit of time for some activities on the beach including soccer, sand sculptures and a beach clean-up. In the evening there was time for a video – ‘The God’s must be crazy.’ If you have not seen it it’s a timeless comedy classic and was enjoyed by everyone (particularly Tsofa who appeared to have watched it several times!).

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 www.tanariverdelta.org 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 http://www.climateark.org/shared/alerts/send.aspx?id=kenya_tana_biofuel

TAKE ACTION

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.

The Community holds a prayer meeting for the Delta’s protection

Last Saturday the local community in the Tana River Delta area where the sugar cane project is proposed to be put that will effectively eradicate the delta got together for a community prayer meeting. The aim of the meeting was to pray and ask God to intervene and to stop the project from going ahead as it will have major negative impacts on peoples lives and the delta ecosystem and really only profit the government ministers and managers in the sugar company and project.

This is an awesome thing to be happening and just shows how much the local community are really concerned for the delta.  I’m stuck in Cape Town writing up data from the bird work I’ve been carrying out over the past 10-15 years so unfortunately wasn’t able to attend it but am trying to get news on how it went and some photos to post here for you to see.

One of the real potentials for the delta as a sustainable alternative to the sugar project is eco-tourism. There has already been a start made on this with some beaut small bandas (cottages) made with EU funding (see pic below). This is something that needs to be explored further – and we need tourists to come and visit too!

Eco-tourism bandas (cottages) run by TRD Community

Urgent appeal to save a highly threatened and critically important wetland

In the last blog I outlined the situation with the Tana River Delta – that of an incredibly rich and diverse wetland for both wetland and its value for the local human communities living there (with c. 30,000 head of cattle dependent on it) that is imminently threatened with destruction through conversion to sugarcane.

The following shots are some images of cattle in the delta – fat and healthy enjoying the lush vegetation and abundant water. You’ll also notice a lot of birds associated with them – egrets (white herons), swallows, Sacred Ibises (the black & white birds with long decurved bills) etc.

Cattle in Tana River Delta with swallows - by Jill Retief

The image above is taken exactly where sugarcane is planned to be put…

Cow with egrets and ibises, Tana River Delta by Jill Retief

These Orma men are spraying their cattle with insecticide against ticks etc. This is potentially damaging for the ecosystem but with proper awareness on good and bad pesticides, this could be significantly reduced

Spraying cattle for ticks - Tana River Delta by Jill Retief

The extremely worrying thing about this is that the government organisation, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) who’s job it is to refuse or grant licences for this sort of project has apparently just this week accepted the EIA for the sugar project and is giving a licence for it to go ahead. This, after all the very clear inadequacies of the EIA being pointed out by many people and the outcry against the project in the delta (again c.f. The Water Hole). The EIA and comments on it are being posted on the website www.tanariverdelta.net along with a lot more info (tho’ the website is still being put together).

Our only option now is to fight it with a major campaign in a bid to put a stop to it – and for this, we need your help…

George Wamukoya, who is playing a significant role in taking a lead in this fight, wrote in an email this week:

“This message may disappoint you or give you the impetus to fight on. This is to inform you that the Director General (of NEMA) has issued the EIA Licence to Mumias/TARDA to proceed and undertake the sugar project. Am further informed that the DG has done so against the advise of the technical staff who were dissatisfied with the response provided by Mumias on the issues raised by TAC and during the public hearing. As a result, he has hidden the file in his office!

Given this new development, it is imperative that we soldier on by proceeding a major campaign to halt the decision. We are proceeding to prepare pleadings but we will definitely require money to cover costs. We are convinced that this is a clear case where we will be granted the orders.

Generally, campaign costs are high, but we have no option if we have to seek justice. I estimate the conservative figure of Kshs. 500,000. We must mobilise these reasources to enable us proceed with the application.”

We are therefore appealing to all readers of this blog who care for special places on our planet – we have only this chance to save the Tana River Delta. Please help us by donating through this blog site towards the costs of the campaign. Ksh 500,000 is approx US$8,100. We are doing all that is possible to raise these funds, but your contribution however large or small will be hugely valued. Please reference any donation through this blog as being for the “Tana River Delta Campaign”. THANK YOU in advance and we’ll update you with progress as things unfold – and for those who pray, I believe it is hugely powerful to ask God to take action here too as he cares for his world more than we can imagine, so do join us in this too.

Just on a general note and to put things in perspective, A Rocha Kenya also has strong links with two other WildlifeDirect blogs – ASSETS which is our main community conservation initiative and a project in its own right, and David Ngala (Friends of Arabuko-Sokoke Forest) who assists with a lot of our research and monitoring work alongside his specific FoASF work. David is also someone I have supported and helped in his work for over 10 years.

This A Rocha Kenya blog will focus on the research & monitoring and environmental education aspect of our work together with life and activities at our field study centre, Mwamba, in Watamu – about which more will be written. It will also deal with the various projects we’re involved with such as the fight to save the Tana River Delta. It’ll be good to share with you what’s going on in our part of the conservation world.

…to finish todays blog I thought I’d show you what sunset at the mouth of the delta can look like. Awesome.
Sunset at the Delta mouth