Promoting Sustainable Livelihoods to Conserve the Tana River Delta

The lush, green fields make it difficult to imagine the calamities that Idsowe village within the vast Tana River Delta experiences whenever floods or drought strike.

The Tana River Delta is a land of alternating flood and drought. In the old days, people moved when disaster struck. This is no longer feasible. So today, farmers and pastoralists are adopting ambitious climate-smart agriculture projects geared towards improving livelihoods, resilience to climate change, and conserving the 130,000-hectare Tana River Delta.

Tana River Delta is one of the most important wetland ecosystems in East Africa. The Delta spreads out to cover parts of Tana River and Lamu counties, comprising of flood plains, riverine forests, mangrove systems, savannas, grasslands, lakes and pristine beaches, that form a network of natural and productive areas like Idsowe.

With over 350 species of birds, including globally important large flocks or “congregations”, Tana River Delta is a Key Biodiversity Area and a Ramsar site (wetland of international importance). Tana River Delta is also home to two globally endangered monkeys: the Tana River Red Colobus and the Tana River Crested Mangabey.

When undisturbed, the Delta acts like a sponge, absorbing floods, storing water, something that makes it lush and green even during the dry season. Today, with climate change increasing the severity of droughts and floods, and people unable to move elsewhere, Tana Delta is experiencing challenges. This is the reason why ambitious initiatives like chilli farming, bee-keeping, fish ponds and mainstreaming of climate-smart agriculture in production systems are taking root under the REBUILD project.

The project seeks to contribute towards increased resilience of communities in arid and semi-arid land (ASAL) areas of Kenya to drought and other effects of climate change. This is done through enhancing food and nutrition security of vulnerable households, especially for women and children, generating sustainable livelihoods and protecting productive assets in Tana River County. Funded by the European Union (EU), the REBUILD project is implemented by CISP in collaboration with Nature Kenya, the National Drought Management Authority, GROOTS and Procasur.

“Part of solving the problems the Delta residents are facing is mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture. Farmers can choose crops that withstand the changing climate to boost their production. Livestock farmers can choose the right breeds to boost productivity while minimizing the negative impact on the environment,” says Nature Kenya Executive Director Dr Paul Matiku.

“For the first time, our group comprising of 133 members tried out chilli farming after Nature Kenya provided us with the seeds,” says Milcah Amaro, the chairperson of Harakisa group. “Thirty-five active members planted chilli in quarter-acre plots on their farms in July 2019. By December that year, the crop was ready for the market. In a good month, one can make between Ksh 12,000 to 15,000,”.

Despite frequent floods that have been ravaging the delta and flooding farms, Harakisa Group members continue to prepare parcels of land away from the previous fields for chilli farming.

“Previously, we used to farm crops like maize, but the production kept dwindling. Coupled with frequent floods and droughts, it became difficult to cope until chilli farming came along. This has since reduced dependency on forest products, especially trees, where some people had resorted to cutting trees and burning charcoal to earn a living,” says Dorcas Helbon, a chilli farmer.

Ismael Komoro from Handaraku says the introduction of the Galla goat breed is a step towards improving productivity for goat farmers. Nature Kenya has distributed 180 male Galla goats.

“Unlike the breed we have, Galla goats are big, meaning a farmer can get more profit by keeping a few goats of this breed,” Komoro says. Having fewer but more productive goats also means less pressure on the Delta, hence less degradation.

Residents on the lower side of the Tana Delta, in Ozi and Mpeketoni villages, are conserving mangroves and dryland forests as they engage in rice and fish farming. The fish farming project is supporting fourteen fish ponds in Ozi.

“Fish farming in Ozi will solve challenges of overfishing within the mangroves, which are fish breeding zones,” says George Odera, Nature Kenya’s Tana Delta project manager. “A lot of fishing has been going on in the mangrove areas as most local fishers cannot access the deep sea due to lack of proper gear. Fish farming in ponds will give a lifeline to these communities while also conserving the critical mangrove forests and breeding zones.”

“Nature Kenya previously supported us with fingerlings to restock our six ponds. The Department of Fisheries stepped in to train us on how to make feeds. Fishing is now manageable for the 50 farmers under this group. In July we harvested 2,400 kilograms of fish which we sold for Ksh. 200 a kilo, translating to Ksh. 480,000,” says Abdallah Hassan Mohammed, the secretary of Moto Fish farmers in Ozi.

For farmers in the Delta, getting certified seeds has been one of their biggest challenges. Nature Kenya has stepped in to distribute certified seeds and incorporated extension officers who visit farmers to enhance mainstreaming of climate-smart agriculture in production systems.

Rice farming within Ozi and Mpeketoni villages received a boost after 247 farmers received 4,720 kilogrammes of rice seed. Farmers expect to boost their production while conserving the critical mangrove and dryland forests.

“Although we are yet to harvest, we can see the difference of the certified seeds distributed by Nature Kenya from the ones we normally plant. They are also fast-maturing,” says Godhana Chalalu Dhadho, a rice seed beneficiary.

Mary Mwende, a beneficiary of climate-smart agriculture training, says the introduction of certified maize seeds in Hurara in Tana Delta has boosted productivity within the area.

“Initially, we thought it was cheaper getting seeds from the old harvest, a situation which resulted in poor production. The latest harvest from the distribution of certified seeds yielded double of what we used to harvest. From the initial three bags we used to harvest from an acre, we currently harvest between 8 to 10 bags,” Mwende says.

Farmer field schools have also been set up, with one being at Minjila near Garsen to enhance mainstreaming of climate-smart agriculture. Farmers can walk in and learn best farming practices to adapt to the changing climate.

Nature Kenya is also implementing another project in Tana River Delta: The Restoration Initiative (TRI) Tana Delta. This project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), aims at restoring degraded forest landscapes in Tana River and Lamu counties.

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