Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative to spur economic growth, promote conservation efforts and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation

The Tana Delta is located in the coastal region of Kenya at the end of Kenya’s longest and largest river, the Tana River. Approximately 90% of the Delta lies in Tana River County and about 10% lies in Lamu County. The Delta is an Important Bird Area, a Ramsar Site, a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA), a Global Biodiversity Hotspot, and part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Hotspot. The Delta provides valuable natural resources such as rich soils, vegetation, and wildlife. The aim of the project is to create an Indigenous and Community Conserved area (95,000ha), within the middle of the Delta which is around 130,000ha and home to 120,000 people. 

Nature Kenya has worked with Tana Delta communities since 2007, firstly mounting a national and international campaign against more than seven land-grabbing projects. Subsequently, Nature Kenya successfully encouraged and facilitated national and county governments to formulate a community-led Land Use Plan (LUP) informed by a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). During the development of the LUP, a lot of data on the Delta was gathered by Nature Kenya and partners. Nature Kenya has conducted numerous surveys in the Delta since 2012, including over 100 villages, consulting men and women, youth, heads of households, and village and area leaders and elders. Their views, aspirations, plight, and suggested solutions informed all the surveys and consultations that culminated to the highly consultative LUP. 

The project, led by RSPB, was designed to demonstrate how the LUP could be implemented in the heart of the Delta, where biodiversity is richest and access to water and land is hotly contested. The Darwin Initiative supported the implementation of the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan, a framework that guides the management of land and natural resources at the Delta. The plan incorporates the adaptation of climate-smart agriculture by farmers and pastoralists which is key in improving livelihoods, building resilience to climate change, and conserving the 130,000ha Delta. The project design was aligned to respond to biodiversity conservation provisions of The Wildlife Conservation and Management Act (that allows for development of wildlife conservancies) and the Forest Conservation and Management law (that provides for community forests) offering a framework for Indigenous Community Conserved Areas (ICCAs). 

Nature Kenya also explored sustainable financing options through the Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative, alongside a plan-vivo approach to generate carbon credits to enhance livelihoods and nature values within the Delta. Although the Darwin project has recently come to an end, the Green Heart Initiative is the future hope for climate smart solutions that generate jobs, improve livelihoods and conserve biodiversity. The Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative’s vision is designed to deliver the preferred strategy set out in the Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (2014). The initiative seeks to transform the lives of people living within and around the Tana River Delta by promoting sustainable economic growth and protection of the environment, creating new jobs and livelihoods, and boosting the regional and national economy. 

“Maintaining spaces for biodiversity alongside development will be beneficial, as these ecosystems will provide a range of benefits to humans. Tana Delta Green Heart Initiative will work towards achieving this,” says Dr Paul Matiku, Executive Director, Nature Kenya. 

A Green Heartland, covering the entire Delta, will be established to include farms where production services in the area will be based on green development principles. In the model, outgrowers will practice environmentally friendly means to boost production of fish, livestock meat, milk, vegetables, rice, fruits, honey, and prawns among others. It will also include conservancies where tourists will enjoy scenery and wildlife and river boat rides as well as industrial estates where private companies, including local entrepreneurs, will set up their manufacturing, processing, collection and packaging bases. Public funds will be made available to assist in the creation of basic infrastructure, including roads, electricity, and water and sanitation facilities. Warehouses for storage will be constructed by private investors. 

The European Union, through the Community Resilience Building in Livelihood and Disaster Risk Management (REBUILD) project, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the Restoration Initiative project, are supporting components to set the foundation and catalyse actions in line with the objectives of the initiative. Nature Kenya, working with the Tana River County government, is scouting for potential investors and partners to ensure that the initiative’s goal is realised. There are plans to develop a follow-on Darwin project to ensure that the dream unearthed by the project 24-013 is made into a reality.

This article by John Kiptum appears in the September 2021 Darwin Initiative newsletter.

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