Category Archives: Tana River Delta

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.

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

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.

Flawed EIA report claimed as “compliant with law” by government

The battle gets hotter and hotter about the proposed sugar project in one Kenya’s most important and largest wetlands -as expected when there’s so much money involved for the developers. NatureKenya continue to do an excellent job with the media campaign and these are some updates:

  • 1st July 2008: Kwendo Opanga, a Kenyan journalist, tried to get the Kenya Wetlands Forum (KWF) to a (KBC) TV debate, with Prof. Mungai who conducted the flawed TISP EIA study. However, KWF declined the invitation and offered to speak in a media panel including NEMA (National Env Management Authority – charged with looking after Kenya’s environment), TARDA (Tana River Development Authority) and Mumias Sugar Company. Needless to say, Prof. Mungai and KBC said the EIA study was conducted in compliance with the law. (you can download the EIA for yourself and comments on it from the website)
  • 1st July 2008, NEMA send out a press release saying due process was followed in the TISP EIA process and that they had approved the ‘non-controversial phase 1 of the project’. In our response we said any biofuels project in the world today is controversial; there is no EIA for a phase I of the project – NEMA approved the entire project EIA; NEMA does not design projects and the proponent should have been asked to design a project for change of user (from rice to sugarcane) and submit an EIA for the so called area for phase I; there is no project design document anywhere in the hands of stakeholders; local community and civil society views have been disregarded.
  • 1st July 2008: in another development, Hon. Fred Gumo, the Minister for Regional Development, addressed a press conference at 10 a.m. on the Tana Delta and the sugarcane project. In the ensuing publicity, Hon Fred Gumo told media that the sugarcane project will go on and it is a government project. The local community should ignore what “lobbyists” are saying about the project and back the government position. That he, as minister for regional development will visit the area next week to reassure the community.

aerial_Mbililo_hippo_pool.jpgAn aerial view of the heart of the delta – pretty much all of the foreground in this photo is planned as part of the sugarcane plantations. The lake to the top right is Mbililo where we counted 400 hippo together this year in January. The plantations would go right up to it.

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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.

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 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

Fighting hard to save a very special threatened wetland

It’s a shame to have to start off this blog with such an urgent and potentially discouraging message, but we have come on line at just the right time to add our voice to the outcry to try and stop what would be probably The most tragic of environmental disasters Kenya will have experienced in recent times… read on.

A Rocha Kenya is based in Watamu on the Kenyan coast about 150km south of one of the top three of Kenya’s richest and most diverse freshwater wetlands – the Tana River Delta. In another WildlifeDirect blog, “The Water Hole”, Samuel Maina has been posting some information already regarding the fight to save this awesome and incredibly special site. We are working together as part of a wider group of conservation organisations fighting a huge sugarcane project (covering an area of over 110,000ha / 270,000 acres – nearly three times the size of Amboseli National Park, x18 the size of Lake Nakuru National Park and almost 1.5 times the area of Shenandoah National Park in the USA!) that would eradicate the delta – and I’m hoping to raise further concern to encourage the Kenya government to save the Delta.

View of Tana River Delta from sand dunes - by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

The Tana River Delta is the most amazing wetland and a visit particularly during the time when the migrant birds are packed in there feasting on the vast resources together with flooding when herons and storks are nesting… it is a mind-blowing experience. Roni has visited the Okavango Delta and even she said that doing our waterfowl count in January was a far more radical birding experience than the Okavango. This year during the counts we were walking across open mud flats and saw recent lion spoor and a waterbuck which had obviously been walking happily along only to scent or see the lion and to change direction and leap off in the opposite way! There are also elephant and buffalo and certainly over 800 hippo in the delta – we saw a pod (herd) of what we estimated at 400 in just one spot!

Hippos in Tana by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

Our waterbird counts for the past two years reached 15,000 water birds of 72 species counted on just one day in January 2007 and a similar number of 71 species again in 2008. Highlights included:

  • 1,600 herons and egrets

Little Egret in the Delta by Cheryl-Samantha Owen

  • a flock of 1,400 African Open-billed Stork,
  • 58 Allen’s Gallinules,
  • a single flock of 3,500 Ruff,
  • 3,200 terns
  • flock of 76 African Skimmers… African Skimmers
  • and the largest recorded number of Pacific Golden Plover for East Africa – 180 birds (normally seen in ones and two!)

…and that was only covering a small proportion (c.15-20% max) of the whole delta on a random day! There is a major heronry in the delta, where herons and storks come to from all over East Africa to breed and it is a highly important breeding site for fish (and therefore extremely important source of income and nitrition for a large human population). Also, as well as the elephant and lion, there are a lot of buffalo and antelope including an endemic race of Topi found only on a few remaining sites of the East African coast. Late last year some Wild Dog were also seen in the Delta.

River deltas are known for being fragile, dynamic and extremely rich and important wetland systems, flooding in times of good rain and later drying out again. Any small amount of playing with the hydrological systems will upset the delicate natural balance and wreak havoc on the ecosystem. To put sugar plantations right into the heart of the Tana Delta will spell the end of the delta. Sugar is widely known as an ecological desert in itself and the effluent and pollution from the processing plants in Africa is highly damaging as will be the impact of the many 1,000s of workers and others who will be attracted to the area and who will need food, water and somwhere to rid their sewage and rubbish.

It will be a regional natural disaster if this development is allowed to go ahead the way it is currently planned. A strong section of the local community living in the delta, represented by the Lower Tana River Delta Conservation Trust, are fighting it hard as can be read in The Water Hold blog. Several conservation organisations have come together to form a lobby group to seek to stop this project from destroying the delta. The next blog will give further updates on what’s happened and how you can assist.