Category Archives: Biofuels

New Ramsar site for Kenya – Tana River Delta

The wildlife-rich Tana River Delta has been the focus of a lot of controversy over the past five years or so with major (and continuing) threats of sugarcane and Jatropha plantations for biofuels, oil exploration and other developments. Most recently there has been some serious violence linked to land ownership and use issues with many people displaced and a number killed. For many years there has been a plan to have the delta recognised as a Ramsar site which gives it additional high level recognition that it is an internationally important wetland for both biodiversity and as a resource for humans and thus should be conserved – or rather, in the words of the Ramsar Convention, it should be conserved and used wisely “through local and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world”

On 12th October the Tana Delta Ramsar Site was announced as Kenya’s 6th Ramsar site. This comes as a result of a lot of hard work by Kenya Wildlife Service who took the lead in the process with significant support from KenWeb and the Kenya Wetlands Forum amongst others.

The email that was circulated read as follows:

“The Secretariat is very pleased to announce that Kenya has designated the Tana River Delta as a Wetland of International Importance. As summarized by Ramsar’s MS Ako Charlotte Eyong, from the accompanying RIS, the Tana River Delta Ramsar Site (163,600 hectares, 02°27’S  040°17’E), an Important Bird Area (IBA) in Coast Province, is the second most important estuarine and deltaic ecosystem in Eastern Africa, comprising a variety of freshwater, floodplain, estuarine and coastal habitats with extensive and diverse mangrove systems, marine brackish and freshwater intertidal areas, pristine beaches and shallow marine areas, forming productive and functionally interconnected ecosystems.

This diversity in habitats permits diverse hydrological functions and a rich biodiversity including coastal and marine prawns, shrimps, bivalves and fish, five species of threatened marine turtles and IUCN red-listed African elephant (Loxodonta africana), Tana Mangabey (Cercocebus galeritus), Tana River Red Colobus (Procolobus rufomitratus rufomitratus) and White-collared Monkey (Cercopithecus mitis albotorquatus). Over 600 plant species have been identified, including the endangered Cynometra lukei and Gonatopus marattioides.

As one of the only estuarine staging posts on the West Asia – Eastern Africa coastal flyway, it is a critical feeding and wintering ground for several migratory waterbirds such as waders, gulls and terns. The main human activities include fishing, small-scale family-oriented agriculture, mangrove wood exploitation, grazing, water supply, tourism and research (ongoing research on the protection and monitoring of breeding turtles and the conservation of dugongs).

Kenya presently has six Ramsar Sites, covering an area of 265,449 hectares.”

 A map of the new Ramsar site is given below (taken from the Ramsar website):


Dakatcha Woodlands finally safe from Jatropha biofuel threat

It has been a long haul to try and stop the Jatropha biofuel threat of at first 50,000ha of land being cleared for plantations, then 10,000ha and now finally NEMA have officially stopped the project from going ahead and the Clarke’s Weavers and Sokoke Scops Owls and other endangered wildlife as well as the community members who would have had their lifestyles and societies dramatically changed and poverty increased can breathe a sigh of relief. NatureKenya led the fray and often were very much in the hot seat with threats and even attacks being made on them (and A Rocha Kenya was included in some of these too) by the supporters of the project. NatureKenya deserve a lot of thanks for their effort and there is an excellent write-up by Birdlife about this with further details.

In response to this we are keen to get some further work happening with the Dakatcha communities to help them improve their own incomes and ways of living in that special environment without impacting it too negatively. We are looking at building on the initial efforts we’ve had of introducing “Farming God’s Way” or “Conservation Agriculture” to some of the communities which, for those who have taken the training on board and followed it, has made a huge difference in the outputs from their farms. Below is a shot of Elizabeth in her shamba (farm) who’s husband Katana works for us in Dakatcha and who has really got excited about Farming God’s Way. They have carefully followed the simple method of a) no ploughing, b) use plenty of mulch and c) rotate your crops and as a result their maize (corn) in the last short rains was huge and dense as you can see in the photos.


Elizabeth in her shamba showing how high and dense the maize has got – and beans adjacent to the maize.

Their neighbour’s crop which was planted in the traditional way was a very different picture…:

…there is therefore a lot of hope if we can persuade people to take it up. Unfortunately we’ve heard rumours of a response from community members to assistance the Red Cross is offering people in the form of ‘food for work’ – which is a great programme to have and certainly helps those who are really destitute, but what they have not counted on is that people are apparently purposely not planting maize well so that it fails and so that when the Red Cross team pass by that place they see only poor crops and therefore offer bags of maizemeal in return for digging 2’x2’x2′ holes in which to plant 9 seeds… this method may work in kitchen gardens, but it certainly hasn’t worked in Dakatcha. So whilst the Red Cross programme is designed to help people, in the long run it actually hampers growth and keeps people in a state of poverty. this has meant that very few farmers have kept coming to our training sessions and fewer still are actually implementing it. However we are convinced it is the Way to go and will pursue raising funds to support the project in Dakatcha – donations greatly received. A single 2-day training workshop for 20 farmers costs only $12 per person so do join us in this effort to assist the farmers and communities in Dakatcha.

KTN broadcast on Tana River Delta

Following the high-level inter-ministerial government and partners team visit to the delta last month, KTN made a short documentary which nicely outlines some of the key issues that the delta is facing. View it here.

THe interviews of the local community members are all in Kiswahili but you can tell a lot from the body language as to what the sentiments are and what is said is picked up on accurately in the ensuing commentary.

There are also some excellent blog posts about the Tana River Delta issue from the RSPB and BirdLife International which are worth reading:

Saving Special Places

Planning process for delta underway

and the RSPB page on the Tana Delta is also very worthwhile reading.

Colin Jackson

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Great potential from high-level government planning team visit to Tana River Delta

On Thursday and Friday last week the Inter-Ministerial Consultative Team met for an all day meeting that included most of the relevant governmental ministeries: Water & Irrigation, Agriculture, Env & Mineral Resources, Information & Communication, Fisheries, Finance, and Lands together with NEMA, a large delegation from the Office of the Prime Minister, KWS, Kenya Forest Service and then NGO’s including NatureKenya (who catalysed the whole thing) together with RSPB and BirdLife International and some Dutch delta management expert consultants in particular from Deltares (a not-for-profit knowledge institute). It was hugely encouraging to see and hear the positive take from the government regarding developing a national Board to deal with deltas nation-wide starting with the Tana River Delta. An introduction was given to the SEA process (Strategic Environmental Assessment) which would appear to be an excellent approach to major developments in assessing the overarching impact it might have on the environment, economy and local communities.

The full day of meeting was followed by yesterday – a field trip right into the heart of the delta to actually get to see what it looks like and especially to meet some of the community groups and hear their issues. Strict instructions were given on what time we were leaving, 7:30am – and anyone not there then would be left behind – so I got up early & left in a hurry… forgetting hat and sunglasses… and of course got there to end up waiting for over an hour! A good chance to talk with Kristy who is employed by the Delta Dunes Camp to work with the Lower Tana River Delta Conservation Trust that is trying to set up a conservancy that can be used for tourism as well as protect and conserve some of the remaining wildlife – especially the elephant, lion, topi, hippo and birdlife.

We piled into three buses and headed for Garsen on the Tana River where the road for Lamu crosses the river. After a stop to greet and brief the District Commissioner for Tana River District, we headed to the TARDA guest house for tea before being divided into groups for visiting three different sites and community groups.

stopping by the DC’s office

Serah Munguti organising participants

I ended up in the group that went to meet with the Lower Tana Delta Conservancy Trust. This was a very interesting meeting with about 200 community members where the key issues raised were firstly getting the land back that had been grabbed by outsiders – the ranch was put up for auction earlier in the year.

Welcome committee from the ladies at Marafa

Another issue was getting rid of the squatters that the MP had brought onto the southern area of the land in order to get votes (I was told this from two different sources that same day). They are clearing forest and killing the wildlife and basically destroying the area. Another issue was the huge number of cattle being brought in from outside the delta and finishing off the grass and adding massive pressure to the already stretched resources of grass and water. They were also keen that the river be re-routed to it’s original channel that flowed past where they are based – it now flows c.10kms away and they no longer experience the regular flooding that would happen annually.

Peter Odhengo, Office of the PM speaking to LTDC Trust
It was excellent to hear their views and I hope the government ministries heard what was being said and that action will be taken. The other groups had a very different experience, especially the group that went to Dida Waride – where the people had been primed beforehand by those against the planning initiative to condemn and reject the whole process. It’s a little uncertain quite what their problem was though one thing for sure was they wanted TARDA, the sugar-cane project, to give back their land and to hand back the actual title deed – and to have it now, not next week! It’s hugely short-sighted of those behind the stirring as this process is fully intending to ensure the local community benefit suggesting there are personal benefits to gain from those doing it… Anyone out there who prays… we need to pray that  these people would see the sense of the planning initiative and would support it whole heartedly. There’s a lot of potential for real good to happen, but if a small faction is against it, in time they can cause a lot of problems.

Paul Matiku of NatureKenya addressing the group
As should have been expected, we got back to the place we were to have lunch, not by 2pm but 4:30pm and ended up leaving nearer 6 and I got home just after 10pm in the end…! A communique was put together to make a statement about the intention of the team gathering. I’ll try and get this onto the website in due course.

Forest land in Tana River Delta clarified as protected under KFS & not for sale

Another of the majorly contentious issues in the Tana River Delta over the past year or more has been the sale of land in a pretty underhand sort of way – ‘public’ auction of ranches yet behind closed doors and with the prerequisite that you had already paid something in the region of Ksh 1 million in advance. Many of the actual community members on the ground in the delta are furious that their leaders on some of the committees etc have been selling the land to big investors for biofuels and other crops without consulting them. 

The following notice was published in the Daily Nation recently which indicates clearly that land that actually falls under the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) has been included in this scam. Here KFS is clarifying the situation and making a statement regarding the sale and purchase of any of this land. This can only be a good thing for the preservation of the forests on Tana River Delta.

National Env Management Authority director suspended over Dakatcha biofuel issue

I have been sent this link to a newspaper report on the suspension of a NEMA Director for having given clearance for the Dakatcha jatropha biofuel project when the NEMA Board had not cleared it. There was clearly some dodgy stuff going on (exchange of $$??) that led to this.

This really is an answer to prayer – that the jatropha project in Dakatcha is becoming less and less likely to happen. Katana, our A Rocha Kenya staff member who is from and lives in Dakatcha where he is working on our Farming God’s Way programme and doing bird surveys and helping NatureKenya in their conservation work there, came last week and reported that the vibe on the ground is that the project won’t go ahead. If you pray… please keep praying for a complete stop to this madness and instead for opening doors for us and NatureKenya to implement some really sustainable and good programmes to help the community raise their standard of living whilst reducing their impact on the forest and habitat.

More from Katana later… he’s got some awesome stories.


Jatropha shown to fail to deliver almost everywhere worldwide

We have been plugging away for a couple of years now saying how planting huge (in fact any) areas of Jatropha curcas as a biofuel crop is a seriously bad idea for both the environment and the local communities and also the country’s economy. This is particularly in the light of proposed jatropha plantations in Dakatcha (by an Italian company) and Tana River Delta (a Canadian company) which will definitely fail to produce what they claim it will and instead increase poverty levels and environmental degradation.

I have just been sent the following from the Institute of Green Economy (IGREC) which confirms what we have been saying all along:

An article titled “The Extraordinary Collapse of Jatropha as a Global Biofuel” by Dr Promode Kant, Director, Institute of Green Economy, New Delhi and Dr Wu Shuirong, Associate Professor, Chinese Academy of Forestry, Beijing, has just been web-published in the ACS Journal of Environmental Science & Technology.
An ambitious Indian biofuel program initiated in 2003 by the Planning Commission of India, envisaging 30% mandatory blending of diesel by 2020, involved raising Jatropha curcus on wastelands across India. In mobilizing millions of lowest income farmers and landless poor with the promise of high returns the powerful Commission may have relied too heavily on the opinion of one of its top functionary who expected an internal rate of return ranging from 19 to 28% even though past experiences firmly indicated otherwise. National planners’ enthusiasm for the species rubbed off easily on Indian research organizations and Universities that depend upon the Planning Commission for funding and many of these institutions themselves became partners in raising and promoting Jatropha plantations. The extreme high profile of the program attracted worldwide attention and it was quickly adopted by China and a large number of Asian and African countries and, by 2008, it had already been planted over 900000 hectares globally and is expected to be planted over 12.8 million ha by 2015.
But it has failed to deliver almost everywhere causing distress to millions of small farmers worldwide. It appears to be an extreme case of a well intentioned top down climate mitigation approach undertaken without adequate research, and adopted in good faith by other countries, gone completely awry. As climate mitigation and adaptation activities intensify attracting large investments there is danger of such lapses becoming more frequent unless “due diligence” is institutionalized and appropriate protocols developed to avoid conflict of interest of research organizations. As an immediate step an international body like the FAO may have to intervene to stop further extension of Jatropha in new areas without adequate research inputs.

The article can be accessed from the journal website

Our prayer is that the Kenyan government (and indeed governments around the world) will see the truth of what has been a huge error in pushing this crop as a biofuel and put a stop to any further jatropha developments…

Biofuels rightly stirring up a storm in European press

The problem we’re facing with biofuels here in Africa is that it is pretty much 100% driven from Europe and cynics say that it is Westerners trying to relieve a guilty conscience for the carbon emissions they are spewing out by the ton from the huge ecological footprint lifestyle most are living. In other words, people’s lifestyles are highly extravagant in terms of carbon emissions in the West and in order to maintain that lifestyle and feel good about it, they want to use biofuels in the name of reducing the emissions.

However in so doing, since a vast percentage of biofuels are looking like they’ll be produced in the developing world, it is conveniently ‘out of sight, out of mind’ to the West, and therefore a ‘clean’ fuel.

The facts are it is FAR from the case with studies showing that the production of such biofuels are releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than they would save from being used instead of fuel efficient use of fossil fuels…

At least there is some noise in the Western press about this now and we are praying hard that pressure can be brought on the Western governments to stop this immoral pushing of biofuel production in Africa and other Third World (or Two-thirds World as it is often referred to) countries.

EU energy policy could push world’s poor ‘further into poverty’

Controversial fuel crops linked to rising food prices and hunger

Biofuel project stalls as foreign investors go into bankruptcy

Unproven biofuel projects given clearance in unique wetlands and forest areas

News has just come through that the Provincial Commissioner for Coast has apparently ordered that the jatropha plantation project for the Dakatcha Woodlands that has been fought for over two years (see other blogs on this) should “start on Monday” – since “the MP and the local people want it”…

In fact there is a significant proportion of the local population who do not want the project and there is plenty of evidence that the crop will fail to produce an economic output that will improve the livelihoods of the people and not damage the environment.

All this comes in the light of the Minister of the Environment, Michuki, who helicoptered into the site last year September for a public meeting and said that “before he would give any go ahead, if Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd want to implement their project, they must furnish his office with scientific evidence that Jatropha is commercially viable in Dakatcha and that it is not harmful to people and the environment.”

He gave an example of a failed “development project” that took place in Tanzania where the proponent clear felled an indigenous forest to cultivate groundnuts. The project failed because by clearing all trees the proponent eliminated all pollinators.

As it is, the Italian company who is behind this project have yet to even address or speak out in support of the economical viability of the crop even when challenged on it. There has been no scientific / solid evidence given publicly about the actual potential of the crop and all the reports we hear are that it doesn’t work here. I have just spoken a few minutes ago with a farmer from Mpeketoni near Lamu who tells me that jatropha has been tried around his area… and totally failed.

He further asked the County Council of Malindi to develop a multiple land use plan and zone all forested areas for conservation. This was agreed that it should be a collaborative effort including the main stakeholders such as NatureKenya and local community.

As it happened, the zonation map has been produced without any input other than from the County Council and done basically behind closed doors and presenting effectively a fait accompli which only those supporting the jatropha project had any input to. The map was produced in a very ‘jua kali‘ (Swahili for rough and ready, unprofessional) way and pretty much sketched by hand – as you can see from an image of it below:

The larger cross-hatch patterned area is the original area that they wanted to put under jatropha but which thankfully has been turned down – at least for now. I’m sure they’ll push for it in due course. The area they are apparently being ‘given’ to do the project is the smaller bold bordered area. Unlike what the project proponents have been saying, the area takes in a significant portion of the Brachystegia woodland habitat – the habitat that the endemic Clarke’s Weaver, found worldwide only in Dakatcha and Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 20kms to the south.

So it is that we are still fighting local government who are insisting in the light of evidence against the cause that it should in fact go ahead. There has been no word to my knowledge from the Minister of Environment’s office that it should go ahead and it would therefore appear that local government officers are being compromised in order for the project to happen.
WHEN will we have anything happening here by government which really benefits the local people and environment?? Those who read this and who pray – please pray that we can stop this project completely and instead bring alternatives for the people which will make a real difference to them and in doing so protect this amazingly precious part of God’s creation.

Jatropha threating unique Dakatcha woodlands continues

The battle to save the unique Dakatcha Woodlands has been going on for a couple of years almost now. We thought for a while that it had maybe dissipated and gone away, but far from it. Whilst we are rejoicing that we have managed to stop 50,000ha (500 sq kms) of woodland being turned into a plantation of non-productive, desertifying crop, there is still the threat of 5,000ha of prime natural forest, woodland and coastal bush going under the same bleak crop of jatropha.

I have just heard from conservation colleagues with their ear more close to the ground the following:

“I have reliably learnt that the County council of Malindi has submitted a land use plan for Dakatcha which include a 5000ha land for jatropha pilot. This plan was supposed to have been developed in a participatory manner after an adhoc planning team was constituted in the meeting called by Green Africa Foundation in Malindi in Oct 2010. If I can remember well, the planning team constitute of the following

  1. District physical planner Mr Riungu
  2. KFS Zonal manager Mr Orinda
  3. Nature Kenya Site Officer for Dakatcha Mr Dominic Mumbu
  4. A representative of County Council of Malindi (CCM)
  5. A Community member.
Whatever the plan this team was to develop was to be tabled in a stakeholders forum for ownership and final editing. CCM was to facilitate the process as part of the requirement set by Mr Michuki (Minister of the Environment) when he visited Dakatcha in September 2010. This was to be accompanied by a technical report on viability of jatropha.

The district physical planner has been avoiding everyone and did a plan alone with the CCM which before tabling to stakeholders has been forwarded to NEMA for approval of the jatropha pilot. This is dishonesty and conmanship of the highest order by the planner and CCM and everyone must rise and reject this devious scheme in the strongest terms under the sun. NEMA is also reluctant to share the plan with anyone.

Ladies and gentlemen, brace yourselves for another round of battle for Dakatcha.

Below is a quotation from an email

‘However I do have some further feedback.  I was attending the Ministry Of Environment Multi-sector Forum meeting end of last week, with the PS in the chair.  The Dakatcha/Jatropha issue was raised.  The current Acting DG, NEMA (Geoffrey??, Macharia is on 2 months leave) reported that NEMA had received a land use plan from the County Council and it was indicating a location of 5,000ha for the project.  I requested that NEMA be transparent and share the land use plan with us, as I suspected it was a desk exercise, and would be seriously ‘wanting’.  The issue of local community poverty came up.  I responded that it was very unclear who were the local community in terms of who was speaking on whose behalf.  But I also emphasized that trying to improve local livelihoods was supported by everyone, but we remained totally unconvinced that Jatropha would achieve such improvement. 
My suspicion arising from NEMA’s brief is that this fight is far from over.  I think we need to now ask our European partners to investigate the Italian company and lobby within the EU to name and shame this company.
I also think that if NEMA grants a licence, this may end up needing legal redress as a breach of the new constitution, etc.
And so it continues… We urgently need to do what we can to put pressure on the Italian company in Europe to stop this madness. There really is NO evidence that Jatropha will grow economically here in East Africa and plenty to show that it really does badly. Even 100ha of prime natural habitat going under a crop that will simply allow the soil to dry up and erode whilst eradicating forever habitats holding unique and even endemic species… should not be allowed.

We have been doing surveys in the Dakatcha area over the past year and found a good population of the Endangered Sokoke Scops Owl up there – otherwise thought to be restricted to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest in Kenya. This is really going to be a continued battle, but one which is worth every step of the way to fight.

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