Category Archives: Communities & conservation

THE WORDS OF A MARINE INTERN FROM A ROCHA KENYA

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My arrival at Watamu remains a day to remember and maybe written down for a #TBT memoir in time to come. Well, I was headed to A Rocha Kenya and to confirm my disbelief was the overwhelming atmosphere of a serene and spectacular haven located 200 meters from Tembo road –The Mwamba Field Study Center –Indeed, this is how my excitement exploded, not with a thunder, but a forced squeeze that left me peaceful!

Believe it or not, where everybody else would cave in was the Mwamba Field Study Center. Here I found the most amazing hospitality services like there is in Watamu, the warm reception and the ecological harmony are key ingredients of A Rocha Kenya’s programme. Apparently, almost everyone. All kept their spirits high in readiness to conserve and protect the environment. And amidst the many questions that preoccupied my mind, I was sure that I had just but gotten into a family dedicated to fulfilling God’s work!

Imagine the illustrations, the marine research programme which is still at infancy serves at its best. Sooner did I know that my patience will be compromised and rush to answer the one big question, is Watamu Marine National Park the most biologically diverse marine ecosystem in Kenya and meet my research needs? This wasn’t going to happen in a broken town with a broken ecotourism heart. It was taking place in one of the lucrative coastal areas in the world –the home to Hemmingways Watamu, Ocean Sports Resort, Turtle Bay and the Humpback Whale watching point in Watamu Marine Association, where the world appreciates as the best tourist destination in Kenya.

In efforts to learn about expectation-management, my skepticism paid well when I met Mr. Stanley Baya who explained to me the subtle meanings of the Environmental Education and Arabuko Sokoke Schools & Ecotourism Scheme (ASSETS). Now I attend workshops for ASSETS! From generating income for sustainable ecotourism to offering bursaries to needy children in schools within Watamu, ASSETS has kept its head above the waters despite the raging waves of this ‘Kusi season’.

Mwamba Field Study center meets the demand for all nature of activities be it conferences, prayer meetings, conservation research work . . . etc. For instance, the events of the last few days did prove that the community in Watamu is a huge asset to environmental education and awareness, thanks to a workshop organized by A Rocha Kenya’s Science and Conservation Programme. The management and conservation of coastal and marine resources in Watamu is a common goal for all. You want government intervention on tourism aIMG_20160510_141238nd foster ownership of these resources –the democratic mantra? The workshop carried plenty of that and the community of beach and boat operators loved the entire package with much gratitude to Mr. Justin of Watamu Marine Association.

The strength and commitment in A Rocha Kenya is an expression of the imprint of God in the organization and each day there is abundance of hope. Although I haven’t given an account of all the awesome experience at A Rocha Kenya, I have found the marine research programme able to definitively answer my question and sooner or later all my wise skepticism of the rich biodiversity in Watamu Marine National Park will be proven dead wrong. As entrepreneurs hop into an age of the gig economy, the Western Indian Ocean community has focused on assessment of coral reef bleaching and the marine research programme has adopted that as a pilot project.

How do you preserve optimum conditions for recovery of bleached corals? The way forward is a composite of distilled wisdom on this subject, mind elevating, critical thinking and imparting skills. And the scientific community seem to agree a sustainable tomorrow despite troubled times of global warming and increased anthropogenic factors. Surely, behind the magical sandy beaches there is learning and I can’t get enough of everything that A Rocha Kenya has to offer.

THE “RAIN FORESTS OF THE OCEAN”

Have you ever thought about the coral reef habitat? Coral reefs are rocky mounds and/or ridges formed in the sea by small animals known as coral polyps through the accumulation and deposition of limestone (calcium carbonate). The “rain forests of the ocean,” coral reefs are biodiversity hotspots that make up less than 1% of the marine environment but are home to 25% of the ocean’s marine life. Coral reefs are of great importance in the ecosystem. They are the second richest biodiversity of any habitat in the world, feeding grounds, nursery ground and shelter for many organism including turtles, sea snakes, triggerfish, parrotfish, nudibranchs (a colourful type of sea slug), crustaceans, hermit crabs and sharks. Aside from their stunning beauty and rich marine life, coral reefs provide protection to coastal communities from shoreline erosion and chemical compounds extracted from coral are used in medicine for cancer and other diseases. Coral reefs are threatened by pollution, careless boat anchoring, high turbidity from poor farming practices upstream and climate change causing coral bleaching.

Given this background, A Rocha Kenya’s marine research and environmental education teams saw it fit to develop a Marine Environmental Education Manual specifically tailored for the Watamu Marine Protected Area to create awareness and address the conservation of the aforementioned habitat and the rest of the marine ecosystem. It will be used by both teachers and students in learning more about their marine ecosystem, which they readily interact with and are dependent upon.  This was done in partnership with two other organizations which are; Local Ocean Trust: Watamu Turtle Watch and African Bill fish Foundation together with the patrons to the environmental clubs selected from the eight schools that are part of the program.

The visits to the schools were interactive, fun filled and eye opening for the students, with the activity known as “the egg-carton coral activity” being intriguing and exciting. Through it, the students could easily relate to how a coral reef is built, the two ways in which corals feed and how corals behave at night and during the day. Apart from the school visits, we invited one school for a rock pooling activity at the beach in front of Mwamba. It brought the students to attention about the diversity of life in the rock pools.

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The teachers were also engaged through two workshops with the first geared towards disseminating as much knowledge as possible regarding the marine ecosystem. The second saw the teachers’ capacity built on how to conduct an environmental education lesson followed by familiarization and interactions with the marine biodiversity through various activities that they could adopt and practice them back at school with their clubs, such as crab surveys, beach sand art, making an organic tower, swimming, night rock pooling and a snorkeling trip to the Watamu coral gardens.

The schools are now closed for the April holidays marking the end of term one with the lessons we conducted having managed to reach out to two hundred and forty four (244) children from eight schools near the Watamu Marine Protected Area. Two main topics were covered that is, the coral reef habitat and the intertidal area.

THINKING GLOBALLY BUT ACTING LOCALLY-UNITED IN CONSERVATION

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expired at the end of last year and now everyone is trying to embrace the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  SDGs are more globally collaborative and inclusive compared to MDGs and therefore more promising. You move to a seminar room and write MDG or SDG, everyone starts thinking of the United Nations and other big multinational organizations. Here at A Rocha Kenya, we have been working to demystify this and appreciate the potential that all of us, whether young or old, have to help achieve these goals by thinking globally but acting locally.

Young People on the Global Stage (YPGS) is a project that engages students and teachers to address some of these Sustainable Development Goals and here in Nairobi A Rocha Kenya (ARK) has been working with three secondary schools as part of the project.  Between 15th and 18th February this year the project study visit took place and the ARK Nairobi team were delighted to host teachers from the UK, Spain and The Gambia for this event.

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The main aim of the study visit was to exchange ideas, share experiences and knowledge on sustainable development Issues and to hold a workshop towards resource development and a final communiqué by the young people. Over the duration of the week, the visitors together with the ARK team embarked on day trip activities and meetings in a bid to facilitate collaborative learning. The multicultural perspectives ensured unlimited conversations and sessions on sustainable development.

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The most intense day of the visit was on Monday which began with a visit to A Rocha Kenya’s Karara field study centre where Dr. Magambo, the National Director gave an overview of A Rocha Kenya followed by a tour to the tree nursery and demonstration plots to learn about conservation agriculture (Farming God’s Way). This was followed by a visit to Oloolua block of the Ngong Forest where they engaged with farmers and Community Forest Association (CFA) members to see the work of ARK with communities. From there they proceeded to the Ngong Hills for a hike and a picnic lunch. The day rounded off with a trip to Lenana School where members of the Environmental Club steering committee led the group on a tour of the school, showcasing and explaining their environmental conservation efforts.

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The reminder of the week was a series of trips to other organizations engaged in sustainable development. This included a visit to the Giraffe Centre, New Life Home Trust baby rescue centre, Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO), Dagoretti Special School, Marula Studios and Tangaza University College in smaller groups of five. On Wednesday the YPGS-ARK team met to plan for the workshop on Thursday. Another group had a chance to visit Kibera slums to see the challenges faced by residents and how they try to overcome those challenges. It was interesting to note that the population of Kibera is bigger than the population of The Gambia!

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The most memorable moment was the inspiring story by Musa Abdi Galma, an alumnus of Lenana school Environmental club, who shared passionately about his background, the challenges he witnessed in his area when he was a child, his love for the environment and the unstoppable strides he is making towards conservation. His eloquent, , but real story left everyone amazed, challenged and convinced that indeed young people could be agents and drivers of change rather than just victims, enemies or witnesses of the same.

The culmination of the week was the teachers’ workshop on the Thursday, which involved teachers from all four countries, along with ARK staff, coming together to produce teaching materials on three major themes: Poverty and Wealth, Hunger and Food Production and Sustainable Development. At the end of the session we were given the task of completing, over the next few months, resources which can be used cross culturally with sections specific to the curriculums of each participating country.

For all of us at ARK, the study visit week was an amazingly rich time of learning from and sharing with our project partners from other parts of the world and a great encouragement in our aim to see lives transformed as we work for the conservation and sustainable development of our wonderful, God given natural world.

STRATEGIC MANAGEMENT OF INTERTIDAL ZONES

People and nature are interlinked. We have always been dependent and interacted with the environment for centuries, obtaining both economic and ecological benefits. Within the marine environments, the Inter tidal zone stands out as among the areas with the most interaction with humans and human activities. While the other habitats are very vital providing fishing grounds and sea routes, the Inter tidal zone is where all the action begins. The zone is easily accessible for multiple human use, such as Inter tidal fisheries harvesting, harbor and recreational activities. These areas have been endowed with rich diversity of species that contribute to the provision of these ecological and economic benefits. However when it comes to their management, the coin turns and they seldom receive the same attention. The multiple human uses and their location at the transition between the land and the sea suggest that, these areas might be facing more pressure originating from both the sea and land. A closer look around, points to probably a higher rate of declining biodiversity in these areas than other areas due to over-exploitation of resources, pollution and other natural pressure such as the rising sea level. This calls for urgent re-look at the management of strategies currently being used in these areas.

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We start by asking a few questions; are the current threats facing this zone too obvious or do we need to understand them better? A recent report on natural resources management pointed out that one of the hindrance to ecosystem-based management is lack of proper understanding of cumulative human impacts on the environment. This sounds a familiar case in the Inter tidal zone. They have been used for many years but never seemed to be perturbed by these disturbances at least in the short term. And that’s where we should start.

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For effective management of these areas, we need to understand how they are working. For example; them being a transition between land and sea makes it really difficult to point out a few sources of threats that are causing the pressure. With the multiple stresses and the shifting baseline trends in the state of ecosystems, it can be easily but wrongly concluded that particular drivers are responsible. Additionally, emerging threats that are threatening the environment globally are also contributing to the decline of these systems. So do all these factors act synergistic-ally or are they additive? A clear understanding of these factors will provide an effective evidence-based management strategy.

This year the ARK marine team will be studying some of these issues and try to suggest management measures for the Inter tidal zone of Watamu Marine National Park and reserve. Join us as we seek to better understand this zone in one of the oldest marine protected areas in the world.

THE YEAR 2015, THE HOPE AND PROMISE OF 2016

Conservationists of all persuasions have embarked on a quest for environmental sustainability but in the face of an acutely difficult task we all need to consider what would motivate us to achieve it”- Peter Harris (Kingfisher’s Fire).

In retrospect, the motivation for the previous year for the A Rocha Kenya team can certainly be traced to the reinforcement of the Christian principles already upheld by the staff. This was instilled and fueled by the bible studies conducted every Monday morning which inspired and rallied the team to take care of God’s creation as alluded to in the book of Genesis, despite their job descriptions. It was further propelled by the visit of the A Rocha Founder- Peter Harris and his wife, Miranda Harris. They were able to be involved in the A Rocha Kenya’s activities and in turn they motivated the team and inspired many more in churches at Nairobi and Malindi through preaching the gospel of care for creation, by emphasizing the need for Christians to reconcile with God and his creation and ensuring restoration of God’s creation

Focusing on the Science and Conservation team, they were able to get a lot of research work going on. Despite being a team of two, they still soldiered on with support from numerous volunteers, interns and even the rest of the staff members. The terrestrial research team was able to conduct several bird ringing exercises held at Mwamba, Gede Ruins, Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Mida Creek. The annual water fowl counts were successfully carried out followed by many others at Mida Creek. One of the major highlights was mapping of the newly acquired Kirosa Scott Reserve and the monitoring of the endangered Clarke’s weaver breeding sites in Dakatcha Woodland. The team was also able to host several researchers.

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Moving on to the marine side of things, the year marked a beehive of activities for the team ranging from research in the intertidal rock pools to the coral gardens of Watamu Marine Park. The major highlight of the year was the presentation of marine research work that has been conducted by A Rocha Kenya since the year 2010 until the end of 2014 in the Watamu Marine Park. This was spearheaded by Benjamin Cowburn and Peter Musembi. They organized workshops at Watamu, Mombasa and Nairobi where several stakeholders were invited including Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute, National Museums of Kenya, Watamu Marine Association, Watamu Turtle Watch and boat operators. However, it was not all hard work and no play for the marine team, there was always the occasional recreational snorkeling and swimming for anyone willing to join.

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The larger Community and Conservation team worked to bridge the gap between the research team and the community at large, getting them to understand the need to restore the threatened habitats and ecosystems. The team was able to oversee the implementation of two projects into fruition, with one targeting empowerment of community forest associations (community groups who are actively involved in management and conservation of forests) through building their capacities and the other targeted empowering communities in Dakatcha Woodland through a livelihood project that promoted the adoption of Farming God’s Way (a conservation agriculture model). On the other hand, the pioneer program of the department-ASSETS, which has stood the test of time, was able to disburse scholarships to the many bright and needy students that come from the villages adjacent to Arabuko Sokoke Forest, amid a difficult year for the tourism industry since most of the funds are sourced from the ecotourism facilities at Mida Creek and Gede Ruins. Lastly, the vibrant environmental education team was able to conduct many lessons that were taught in schools around Dakatcha Woodland, Arabuko Sokoke Forest, Watamu Marine Park and Bamba.

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The mother of all- Mwamba Field Study Center, was able to host numerous guests throughout the year. They included researchers, volunteers, holiday makers, kite surfers and honeymooners. The year saw the center introduce a restaurant which is up and running, offer accommodation to water sports enthusiasts, host numerous workshops and to crown it all hold a kids festival followed by a successful fundraising dinner for the ASSETS program.

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Karara Field Study Center-which acts as the national base of A Rocha Kenya at Karen in Nairobi did not lag behind. The team was able to conduct numerous Farming God’s Way training, host several schools for environmental education lessons plus carry out various outreach activities to various community groups and churches.

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In order to instill and reinforce the spirit of team effort. The two teams from Nairobi and Watamu were able to participate in a team building exercise that saw them go on a blue safari that involved snorkeling at the Watamu coral gardens, lunch at the pristine Sudi Island and participate in beach games thereafter.

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It is my belief that there is no blueprint for a perfect course of action, since it is our job to identify it. The idea that there is such a blueprint reduces the whole business to a kind of a celestial game show with dire consequences for wrong guesses, but sadly it seems to be widely believed. However, this demonstrates our path for the New Year filled with uncertainty but promising with hope as written in Jeremiah 29:11 and Mathew 6:23-33. Certainly, I am convinced, the team will able to achieve even more than the previous year and continue ensuring nature is conserved while people’s lives are transformed.

A FARMER WAKES UP FROM DREAMLAND!

On a chilly Thursday December morning, individuals with passion in farming start streaming in at Karara- A Rocha Kenya’s (ARK) Nairobi office. With excitement and curiosity expressed on their faces, they are all eager to learn this new concept of faming; Conservation Agriculture (Farming God’s Way). Having held a series of Farming God’s Way trainings in 2015, this was therefore the last training this year.

As A Rocha Kenya, we are dedicated to conservation and restoration of biodiversity and for this fact, agriculture is one of the key critical sectors of interest. Being the mainstay and the most important economic activity in Kenya, agricultural productivity is however stagnating due to climate change (because Kenya’s agriculture is mainly rain-fed), pests and diseases and soil-nutrient deterioration, among others. Consequently, these pose critical challenges like food insecurity, environmental degradation and in the long run demoralization in farming. Due to the challenges mentioned above, ARK’s driving force is restoring the lost hope to farmers through organizing farmers training’s that seek to address biodiversity conservation and increase food production. Is this not everyone’s wish?

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As the training progressed, farmers were keen, inquisitive and excited throughout the whole process. Taking notes, getting their hands dirty through practical demonstrations and learning how to use fire less cookers are some of the activities they engaged in. ‘Cooking God’s Way!’ is one of their exclamations as they get to learn on energy conservation practices.

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Evidently, the farmers were satisfied at the end of the training. Their hope was renewed in farming by the use of natural ways to boost soil fertility, controlling crop pests and diseases as well as incorporating agro-forestry trees. This was a clear indication of low farm inputs and increased productivity which every farmer is yearning for.  One participant commented, “This training just woke me up from dreamland. All along I have not been farming correctly. I will do a total change in my farming ways” All in all, as A Rocha, we were convinced that the message was home and our sole purpose of CONSERVATION and HOPE was achieved.

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We are grateful for all the 2015 farming trainees and wish them all the best in their farms.

 

THE CHRONICLES OF AN EXPERIENCE SHARING FORUM; NGONG HILLS FOREST EXPERIENCE

One of the critical aspects about empowering a community is exposure which will actually convince them that what you are trying to teach them is actually applicable and practical as seen in certain communities in other parts of the country. However, this does not necessarily mean taking a community group for the usual luxurious field excursion. It is supposed to be about experiential learning and more so about sharing of various experiences the different community groups have undergone (in this context) their pursuit and quest for conservation.

Factoring the reality above, A Rocha Kenya has been organizing these forums aiming to empower Community Forest Associations around Arabuko Sokoke Forest and Dakatcha Woodland in Kilifi County and Ngong Hills Forest in Kajiado County. Earlier in the year, these forums have seen the Community Forest Associations from Kilifi County visit Wildlife Works at Kasigau, where they were exposed to the REDD+ Project (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) which involved learning about the carbon credit business including calculating the value of an ecosystem as carbon sinks. In addition they have led the Ngong Metro CFA to visit Arabuko Sokoke Forest to explore the ecosystem. This provided a good experience of the different opportunities offered by the forest. The major highlight being the visit to the elephant hole at Arabuko Sokoke swamp and a boat ride through the Mida creek that exposed the group to the potential of exploring ecotourism opportunities.

Flash forward to November, the forum was set to be held at Ngong Hills Forest, where the Kilifi County CFAs were supposed to visit and share with their counterparts of Ngong Metro CFA. The group from Kilifi consisted of a total of 32 people, eight members from each of the four CFAs which were Gede, Sokoke, Jilore and Dakatcha. Day one saw the group visit Oloolua forest which is one of the three forest blocks of the Ngong hills forest. Here, they were met by members of Oloolua Forest Environmental Participatory Group (OFEP), which is one of the user groups in the Ngong Metro CFA. Oloolua forest is an indigenous forest covering 671ha, gazetted by the Kenyan Government and under the management of Kenya Forest Service. It used to team with a variety of wild animals, however due to human pressure they have since disappeared with only a few spotted sporadically. The core reason for the immense pressure thrusted on the forest can be traced to politics in the 1990s; where 18ha of the forest was licensed to business men and cleared for quarrying, all in the name of gaining political mileage for the Member of Parliament at the time. The un-rehabilitated quarries were left behind characterized by huge depressions which left the forest precariously without any outstanding warning signs. They have posed a great risk not only to animals in the forest but also humans with several deaths and injuries reported.

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Despite these challenges all was not lost, the OFEP group committed themselves to restoring the forest into its original form as if heeding to Theodore Roosevelt words, “To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed.”  They therefore embarked on replanting trees in the area cleared for quarrying covering 5ha out of the 18ha without any financial assistance from external sources. Surprisingly also those who had devoted themselves to this work were old women who were clocking half a century and beyond having seen it all, which really challenged the group from Kilifi County who consider themselves still young and energetic but had yet to reach such milestones. “These women were working hard to restore the forest for generations to come,” these were words confessed by their Chairman. The main challenges that the Kilifi group learnt their counterparts were facing were inadequate funds, lack of political good will and an ecological challenge in the name of lantana camara an invasive species in the forest which had colonized the cleared areas that were meant for quarrying. Most of the challenges were similar to what the other groups were facing and they motivated each other to continue with their passion for conservation.

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The afternoon was scheduled for the group to visit the forest at Karara Field Study Centre which is A Rocha Kenya’s National base in Karen, Nairobi. The forest is intact characterized by many species of trees most of which are of great medicinal value and in addition it is home to various species of birds such as the black cap, thrush nightingale and marsh warbler. The community members were able to find out more about the work of A Rocha Kenya at the Centre such as Farming God’s way, a form of conservation agriculture.

The second day commenced by climbing the picturesque Ngong Hills, polka dotted with wind turbines, and the peak offering a magnificent aerial view of both Nairobi and Kajiado counties with a slight hint of Narok County further in the horizon. It was evident that indeed it is the highest point in Nairobi.

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Led by Bedan Leboo an official of the Ngong Metro CFA, the CFA members were taken to the third block; Empakasi Forest or locally known as Kibiko, the second having been the forest on the Ngong Hills. The forest is mostly characterized by plantations of Eucalyptus sp but highly significant to the locals since it was the crushing site for a plane that had carried the late Honorable Prof. George Saitoti who was once Kenya’s Vice president and a tough, vocal legislator who hailed from that region.

The major highlight of the experience sharing forum came in the afternoon when the group was taken to Kerarapon forest, still part of the extensive Ngong Hills Forests which acts as the source of River Sabaki also known as Athi and Galana. The forest, typical of any water tower had a resemblance of a rainforest characterized by chirping birds, tall, broad-leaved and gigantic trees, with small springs at the bottom, supplying water to a river dependent upon by most parts of the coastal areas before it pours its waters into the Indian Ocean. It was breathtaking but no! scratch that, it was wildly exhilarating for the community members from the coast with one Mzee David Chivatsi who lives right at the mouth of river Sabaki delighted at the sight of the springs and who could not contain his excitement evident by how ecstatic and frenzied he became such that he had to call home just to inform his loved ones what he was witnessing.

After such an eventful experience the trip came to an end with the CFAs having been exposed to a whole new world of conservation and how the Ngong Hills Forest is intricately interrelated to the Sabaki River.

A ROCHA KENYA ROCKED IN THE SHOWGROUND

Can you imagine working out of the office for six lump sum days? Well, an opportunity knocked at A Rocha Kenya doors some weeks ago for the second time.  We set out for the annual International Trade Fair at Jamhuri Park showground, Nairobi where all roads led in.

What a spectacular display of unique innovations, technologies and talents from different government institutions, organizations, corporate bodies, and schools all in line with the 2015 theme: “Enhancing Technology in Agriculture and Industry for Food Security and National Growth.’’ It was the best platform for ARK to interact with both local and international exhibitors as well as curious visitors.

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We were able to secure a stand through a courteous gesture of the Kenya Forest Service to demonstrate how Farming God’s Way can be used as a tool not only for improving food security but also for saving biodiversity.

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Thousands of people from all walks of life streamed in. For a moment it seemed overwhelming but the team was well prepared. Visitors from the Kenya Defense Forces, tourists, students, farmers, environmental enthusiasts and community developers were drawn to our stand by our beautiful garden among other displays.

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Did you know that about 70% of the food we consume globally comes from small scale farmers? Well, many of them arrived at our stand eager to learn how they can increase their yields and open a door for biodiversity into their farm. “We are tired with unending chemical use in our farms. Our farms have become so unhealthy” said one farmer. The pungent smell from a natural liquid fertilizer we had prepared was one of the striking exhibits that drew the attention of many. This is where the rubber met the road. As days rolled by, questions on farming and conservation were asked. It was our pleasure to quench this thirst for knowledge.

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Finally, the message was home; “You can increase your food production as you care for the whole creation.”‘Wow! Good job” “ARK is recreating the garden of Eden!’These were some of the reactions we got from different individuals which convinced us that, many would start relying on natural fertilizers, natural pesticides and would plant more wildlife friendly trees in their farms.

The following Monday we were welcomed by the 1-2-3 calls of the Rupell’s Robin chat reminding us that we were back to our offices in Karara. The show was over; we thank God for His grace throughout that period. For all those who missed out, see you next year! Kwaheri.

 

 

The fate of our Important Bird Areas…

Arabuko Sokoke forest is the only remaining strip of what used to be health and continuous Coastal dry forest in mainland Africa stretching from Northern Mozambique to Southern Somalia. With an area of only 420km square remaining, the forest still remains to be very important for conservation to both local and international. Being a unique forest of its own nature, it’s very rich in biodiversity (biodiversity hotspot) sheltering a number of globally threatened wildlife including the indigenous African plants, butterflies, mammals and birds. In fact, the forest is a home to six globally threatened bird species such as Sokoke Scops Owl, Sokoke Pipit, East Coast Akalat, Spotted Ground Thrush, Amani Sunbird and Clarkes Weaver.

These Birds require special habitat conditions and are unevenly distributed across the six vegetation types of the forest of both the natural and plantations. The Sokoke Scops Owl; the smallest of all owls in Africa prefers Cynometra vegetaion type of the forest and is believed to be breeding within these territories while the Clarkes weaver spend its entire life feeding in the Brachystagia and mixed vegetation sections of the forest. Both Spotted Ground Thrush and Sokoke Pipit prefer feeding on the undergrowth. They are all very special birds to watch and in return attracts many birders from all walks of life. They all depend on the welfare and contributions of plants and other forest wildlife as a whole for their thriving and breeding. Together, they all co-exist to form up this forest ecosystem whose resources has been pressurized through unsustainable exploitation.

Human pressure on forest resources and products for various uses are accelerating each new day putting Arabuko sokoke forest and adjacent twin forested section of Gede Ruins National Monument at a situation that is alarming for conservation. For the last three months, we have destroyed over 100 snares and recorded over 120 stumps of cut stems in Gede Ruins. It’s a shame even to see snares in a twenty year old regenerated forest within the ruins. This year, over 400 snares have been destroyed and 500 fresh cut stems found and mapped.

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Most of the animals targeted are suni, duikers, bush buck, endangered African elephants and protected elephant shrews. Manilkara sansibarensis is the highly targeted tree species for timber and the remaining used for charcoal burning. The highly favored wood carving plant species (Dalbergia melanoxylon) is not readily available due to over exploitation and have now turned to Cynometra webberi (the lonely home to critically endangered Sokoke Scops Owl) for the same purposes. Logging for local house construction accounts for less than 5% of the cut stems which implies that plats related forest resources are harvested majorly for commercial purposes whereas snaring for small animals goes to domestic consumption while bigger animals like elephants products are aimed at international markets. In one survey with communities, we were shocked to discover over 80 fresh cut stems of Manilkara sansibarensis within an area of 300 meters by 200 meters and as close as 100meters from the main road. A quick glimpse from the road side will convince you that all is well but make just few yards inside and you are deemed for a shock of the year.

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However, all is not lost as communities around the forests have ganged up to conserve or protect if need be after a series of capacity building workshops with them. With about fifty two villages surrounding Arabuko sokoke forest and three surrounding Gede Ruins, we can be sure of saving the remaining special habitats for homes of endangered wildlife. Unless everyone stands up for the same course, then we shall realize a better tomorrow.

Eliminating the villain – Lantana Camara

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Lantana camara

Originating from Mexico, Lantana camara of the Verbanacea family was introduced to Kenya in 1930. Since its introduction as an ornamental shrub, the invasive Lantana camara has spread to most parts of the Kenyan ecosystems including rangelands, wetlands, natural and planted forests, agricultural lands, urban areas, among others.

Research has showed that Lantana camara is an insidious invasive shrub of global significance in the conservation and restoration of biodiversity. Due to its allelopathic nature, it tends to push out native plants, suppress their growth and limit their productivity. The locals have inadequate knowledge about it and most livestock also find it unpalatable hence it spreads rapidly covering vast areas including arable lands. In Kenya, evidence has it that several species of antelopes are being lost and this is traced to Lantana camara taking over their habitats. ‘’A Rocha Kenya’s principle on Lantana camara is that it should be eliminated at all costs. We have really fought it in Karara Forest and continue to fight it in Dakatcha Woodlands, Ngong hills Forest, and wherever it is. It is alien and one of the most stubborn and invasive weeds in Kenya.’’ said Dr. Raphael Magambo , National Director.

Biological and chemical methods of controlling lantana have been unsuccessful. The only method that is showing positive results is physically uprooting it- this is labour intensive and time consuming. So who is willing to do all this?

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A group eliminating lantana

Hope lies in the hands of the affected communities. But how do we get them on board? Clearly there seems to be more information on the negativity of lantana than its positives, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any good that can come from it- this good is the incentive that is getting the communities engaged in eliminating it.

In Kajiado and Kilifi Counties, A Rocha Kenya (ARK) is working with communities to uproot Lantana that is choking their ecosystems. After trainings on the benefits they can derive from lantana, the communities are now actively uprooting it and converting it into profitable forms to improve their livelihoods. In Ngong, many people would prefer burning the lantana as a means of controlling it but now most of them are beginning to use its leaves to make liquid fertilizers for their farms since they are high in Nitrogen. This has helped curb the risk of forest fires. The vegetative parts are also being used as mulch in farms, making compost manure, and the stems used for making artisanal products like chicken houses.

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Chicken house

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A group making compost with lantana leaves

By doing this, it is slowly being wiped out. At Karara Field Study Center, we are using cut lantana branches as a shade for our tree nursery garden.

Despite these uses, we are discouraging people from introducing it in their localities. And where it has already invaded, let us uproot and use it wisely.

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