Category Archives: Training

Care of Creation Training.

Towards the end of May A Rocha Kenya conducted a training on Care of Creation in five villages in Dakatcha. Since moisture (water) plays a pivotal role in the wellbeing of the rest of the creation, the film  Water Running Dry was shown.
Looking at the  dire consequences of desertification as projected on the film, one villager  said,” I did not know that you actually should cry before felling a tree”. Deforestation is a real threat to fresh water sources. Some scientists anticipate international crises on fresh water due to waning global forest cover and general degradation of the environment.

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A group watching the film Running Dry.

A Rocha Kenya has taken the conservation message to Christian  communities, sharing the biblical basis of creation care with pastors. Pastors who attended the week-long training confessed that they have not incorporated conservation in their preaching. The event was a great insight for them as they agreed to spread the creation care message to their congregations.

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This church was among the venues during the training.

In the discussions the villagers acknowledged that Farming God`s Way (an on-going project) which upholds agroforestry as a principle is one of the solutions to the degradation of the woodlands. Deforestation (charcoal burning) coupled with shifting (slash and burn) cultivation is a major threat to the forest ecosystem. As a result the area receives rains at quite irregular times. Last year we were inspecting the Farming God`s Way plots (which had a luxuriant crop) and we saw a withered crop on the plots farmed the ordinary way. Early planting and mulching was the recipe for the success of the Farming God`s Way plots. The communities have started to establish tree nurseries and among the trees to be raised is the acacia Faidherbia albida. Seeds were issued during the training. The beneficiaries were excited to be issued with  seeds of such a useful tree. It is ideal for agroforestry as it shields plants from excessive sunlight during the dry season since it sheds its leaves during the wet season. The leaves readily decompose due to the presence of moisture and enhances soil fertility. In fact, it is claimed to fix ten times more the amount of Nitrogen fixed by legumes. Livestock such as goats and cows feed on it and it is also home to insects including pollinators.

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A group gathering tree nursery materials.

Environmental Education in Primary Schools.

Last year A Rocha Kenya was privileged to have an intern, Lydia Kayaa, who conducted environmental education lessons in 16 primary schools in Bamba and Dakatcha areas. Pupils were shown a film, Running Dry, which focuses on the threats of deforestation and desertification to rivers. The pupils were also engaged in practical conservation sessions including the establishment of tree nurseries. After the lessons each of the schools established a tree nursery to be monitored by the Wildlife clubs under the guidance of their patrons.
Towards the end of February, this year, A Rocha Kenya staff visited the schools to see how the tree nurseries were fairing. The major challenges that the schools are facing is water scarcity and our team had to offer refresher courses to revive the nurseries. A total of 243 pupils, who are members of Wildlife and Environment clubs, attended the sessions. This year`s theme is Trees, Forest and Climate Change and the objective was to empower the pupils to distinguish the terms nursery, seed, seedling and to familiarize them with the steps followed in establishing and managing tree nurseries.
This week, we hosted teachers from these schools for two days at our Field Study Centre in Watamu and trained them on capacity building and how they can successfully incorporate Environmental Education in the curriculum. The activity involved creating and writing of environmental games, songs and poems. The teachers also had fun as we took them out for snorkeling in front of our beach and they enjoyed exploring the marine ecosystem.

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Allan Majalia from A Rocha Kenya with pupils

in one of the schools.

 

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Allan Majalia (in a blue T-shirt) with pupils

 establishing a tree nursery.

 

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Pupils during a practical session.

 

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Teachers during the training at Mwamba

Field Study Centre.

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An environmental game.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capacity Building at the Grass Roots

I am not a proponent of the trickle-down theory, but I would like to coin the phrase ‘trickle-down knowledge’ because this is what I believe A Rocha Kenya is doing by empowering communities through Community Forest Associations.

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A Rocha Kenya is running through its Community conservation department, a project dubbed Empowering Community Participation through Community Forest Associations (CFAs). Through these trainings, A Rocha Kenya aims to capacity build the CFA groups in understanding issues of climate change, natural resources management, resource mobilization for the groups’ well being, sustainable groups’ management and networking the CFAs to be able to undertake advocacy activities with the County Governments and other local and national government structures.
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A Rocha Kenya conducted a two day training session in Kajiado County for the Ngong Metro CFA.The training took place at the PEC guesthouse in Ngong.
Stanley Baya (A Rocha Kenya’s Community conservation Officer) gave an overview of our work as A Rocha to the CFA as well as explaining the importance of the trainings based on the projects being undertaken. Speakers from Centre for environmental stewardship(CES) Oscar, Sophia and Dr Mbaabu did a great job as they taught the group on Environmental Crisis and on climate change, the Kyoto protocol and the introduction to Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

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It was an interactive session as the participants were divided into five groups and each group allocated a set of questions to discuss and later present the answers. The questions included: Who is in crisis? What are your concerns? What are the causes of Environmental Crisis? Each group appointed a presenter who in turn presented their answers and the group members were freely allowed to clarify and offer support where necessary. This activity elicited quite an active discussion with participants drawing local examples to try and explain some manifestation of the crisis such as how deforestation in the Ngong Hills Forest has affected the hydrological cycle such that most rivers which had origins from the forested hill tops are no more and the predicament has worsened with the ever growing population and thus encroachment into the forest area to seek settlement.

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The training was concluded by brainstorming session on the action plan in light of the knowledge received. It was a good one I must say.
Psalms 24:1 “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” So come forth let’s take of God’s creation.
Allan Majalia
Community conservation officer

A Rocha Kenya

 

18th Fundamentals of Ornithology Course gets off to good start

In 1996 when I was working as a Research Scientist in the Ornithology Dept of the National Museums in Nairobi, I was tasked with the job of putting together a course for Kenyan birders and bird guides that would stimulate and enthuse them as well as equip them to become better birders. 17 years later and 18 courses on “Fundamentals of Ornithology” is going stronger than ever and we are having to turn people away who are keen to take part. In fact we have more participants than ever registered this year (26) with people coming from as far afield as Lodwar, Dakatcha and Kakamega. 

One of the key reasons for starting the course was because birding was becoming more and more popular with overseas tourists and yet very few guides in the tourism industry knew very much about birds other than ‘yellow weaver’ or ‘eagle’. It was felt by Dr Leon Bennun, then Head of Ornithology, that this would provide a really useful service to Kenyan birders and budding bird guides – and it has been proved correct. 

The course is designed to cover all the basics of what birding and ornithology is about and to stimulate further interest in birds and birding. Almost 400 students down the line, I now meet past participants around the country who have continued with their interest in birds with some becoming professional bird guides and now running very successful businesses guiding overseas birding tourists around the avian-rich habitats of Kenya.

We try to get a good balance of practical outdoor birding together with class-based teaching covering subject such as classification, explaining scientific names, colours for birders, principles of identification, breeding and feeding biology, migration and even how to make your garden ‘bird-friendly’. Days start off with a 1 1/2 hour birding around Elsamere Field Study Centre grounds where the course takes place and which is ideal for finding a rich diversity of birds for participants to get to grips with. Today (the first full day of the course) we had over 60 species recorded including Giant Kingfisher, Garden Warblers and the first Grey-backed Fiscals we’ve had at Elsamere for several years – a species that used to be very common here. 

Tito teaching about adjusting binoculars Tito teaching about adjusting binoculars at the start of the morning birding

 Njoro’s team birding the car park

The early birding was followed by several lectures including teaching people about books and references and getting them set up for a week’s long practical of searching through the library we’ve brought from the museum to find out about various birds. It’s 9pm now and none have gone to bed yet but are still beavering away on the homework!

 Njoro teaching about references and how to use them

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.

Recycling for Research

Its really astounding how much stuff one needs when starting something new. From seaweed books to snorkelling bags all the little items necessary for effective research add up to a lot of new equipment. Africans are well known for their resourcefulness and being able adapt and reuse items for novel tasks and its no different here at A Rocha Kenya. When I told Henry (the Centre Manager) I needed a clip board for my underwater paper we looked around what scrap material we had here at Mwamba and settled on an old plastic toilet cistern as being the perfect tool for my new clipboard.

Henry and the Cistern

Clipboard in Action

A flood of Marsh Warblers & also several ‘Hippos’ caught & ringed

I left Ian, our Ngulia Ringing Group ‘night watchman’ + a few dedicated fellow mist watchers sitting on the wall of the dining room after dinner discussing whether they could put the nets up there and then since there was some thin mist around or whether they should wait until nearer mid-night since the leopard hadn’t come for his goat leg and we might upset tourists who would think we’d scared it off by wandering around near its bait extracting Marsh Warblers from nets in the mist… I headed for bed as I wanted a couple of hours kip before setting in to any work that might come with mist. When I woke at around 1am there was mist but also rain – and it didn’t get any lighter but rather heavier & I couldn’t see any action from my room so turned over and slept some more. I got up just before 3am when I woke to find it had stopped raining & went out to find David and Ian having just opened the one net that had been put up at midnight (so it turned out) and discussing putting up the second one. We then caught quite rapdily for about 3/4 of an hour and had the Kenyan contingent up and assisting before it chucked it down with rain again and we had to close. From then til dawn it was a cat and mouse game with the rain / mist of opening for a short while and being forced to close as the rain came in again. However we caught about 400 birds in total during the night.

Dawn arrived in a solid downpour of rain that delayed opening nets until 6am. We therefore missed what main Sprosser catch there might have been though in fact there were not that many in the night anyway and Marsh Warblers very much dominated the scene for the day.

It was busy for about 1/2 and hour but not overly so and before long the first ringing table was started up and we got going with ringing and releasing the Marsh Warblers – but finding among them some diversity, the best being an Asian Lesser Cuckoo – very smart in his boldly barred underparts and long black, barred tail, golden eye ring and legs. There were also quite a few ‘Hippos’ – Hippolais warblers, mostly Olive-tree Warblers but also a couple of Olivaceous and at least one Upcher’s. We also had 2-3 Common Rock Thrushes which are always great birds to handle and a beaut aduult male Barred Warbler showing off his barring and bright golden-yellow eye. A freshly plumaged Tree Pipit was also greatly admired and despite several more showers of rain we managed to end up clearing all birds by 10am with a total of 1,178 migrants ringed – and in fact only 3 Afrotropical birds – x2 Plain Nightjars during the night and one male Harlequin Quail, the first of the season.

An encouraging observation was 26 Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture heading west over the lodge mid-afternoon – encouraging because of the massive collapse of vultures in Kenya – in fact AFrica-wide – due to poisoning as well as habitat destruction and a reduction in wildlife that reduces their food source. Talking to David Pearson who has been running the ringing project here since 1970 there used to be many more around – even I can remember seeing 30-40 at a time over the lodge in the late 1990s.

One of the great things about Ngulia that I enjoy is spending time with the Kenyan ringers and revising or teaching ringing skills with them, particularly to do with Palaearctic birds which are not handled very much anywhere else in Kenya. Today, after the ringing had wound up I sat down with Gitau, Sylvester ‘Stallone’, Sameer, Nathaniel, Edson, Andrew and Chege and had what turned out to be a 3 hour session on age codes, ageing and discussing how the Ringing Scheme of Eastern Africa can develop and grow. We had a lot of fun trying to get our heads around the EURING age code system and then also the new Afrotropical age codes and seeing how and where they match – or don’t as the case may be.

David Gitau – one of the long-standing (16 years) and most experienced Kenyan ringers and a regular at Ngulia

Sameer (Right) looking up ageing information on a bird he has just ringed. Andrew training with a Sprosser (left) and Fransie scribing for them

One of the UK ringers had handed me a pair of brand new ringing pliers to give to the most deserving Kenyan ringer who I felt would really use them – but it was really hard to decide who should have them, so in the end I decided to put together a little ‘quiz’ for them about ageing and identification of the Palaearctic migrants at Ngulia and the winner would then get the pliers. So last night after supper and our briefing session with everyone I sat them down and gave them 10 questions such as ‘how do you age a Common Whitethroat?’ or ‘what is the key identification feature of a Sprosser against a Nightingale in the hand?’. It was again a lot of fun to do and the Kenyans told me I should have done this two or three times while they had been there. Gitau was the overall winner and is now the proud owner of a very fine pair of Porzana ringing pliers.

Ringing a Marsh Warbler

One of the key things to come out of the discussions was again the very real and urgent need to get the ringing permit system operating in Kenya – it is very difficult for a Kenyan to just take nets and go and ring anywhere if s/he does not have some sort of documentation to allow them to catch and ring birds and so as a result none of the young ringers actually go out and od their own ringing apart from the project work they are involved with (mostly someone else’s project as well). The stage we’re at is that we have submitted the proposed system of training and qualifying to the KEnya Wildlife Service who we need to have fully on board and to endorse and suppor the whole concept and system if it is going to have the authority and weight it needs to succeed. The response has been positive so far, but there is still a long way to go – we’re trusting those in charge will recognise the advantages of such a system and will support it whole heartedly.

Sameer studying the ageing guide

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Environmental Education at Malanga Primary School

Environmental Education is one of A Rocha Kenya’s most important conservation efforts, as it seeks to raise understanding and awareness of environmental issues in those children who live closest to the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and have the greatest effects on it. Currently, the Environmental Education team goes out once or twice a week, and seeks to reach all of the schools surrounding the forest. You can read about previous environmental education trips on the ASSETS blog. In this latest visit, this team consisted of Stanley, the Environmental Education Officer at A Rocha Kenya, Naomi, an Environmental Education major on attachment from Kenyatta University, and Lydia, an ASSETS graduate and intern at A Rocha Kenya’s Mwamba Centre. Following is the story of the team’s visit to Malanga Primary School, written by Naomi.

The Environmental Education team’s ‘safari’ to Malanga Primary School started off earlier than usual this week. This time we made it more fun by carrying snacks as packed lunch. We stopped in the forest just a few kilometres from the school where we took our lunch and had a chance to chat with some local children. After a few minutes we were back on the road to our destination.

The pupils were just done with their classes when we arrived. The patron for the Wildlife Club of Kenya organised the members into one of the classrooms where we had our lesson. They were curious about what we were going to teach them especially when we told them that we expected to have an interactive lesson. We introduced to them basic concepts about the environment and particularly emphasized on the need to conserve the forest which is the nearest environmental resource.

Stanley leading some of the day's activities

Stanley leading some of the day's activities

They were keen to ask questions on how they can be involved in conservation and we came up with a number of things they could do and also teach their parents so as to conserve the neighbouring Arabuko Sokoke forest. The day was a success because the pupils vowed to make their parents change their attitudes and behaviour towards unsustainable use of the forest.

Fundamentals of Ornithology and a dying Lake Naivasha

This past weekend I spent three days with some of my old colleagues and friends from the Ornithology Dept of the National Museums of Kenya – only its now called the Ornithology Section apparently. Kuria, Njoro, Chege, Malaki, Agatha, Musina and myself headed for Elsamere Field Study Centre on the shores of the lake and were there from Friday to Monday working on revising the notes and structure of the Fundamentals of Ornithology course that I’ve been teaching at Elsamere every April since 1996. After almost 15 years, we felt it was high time to update the notes and revise the course!

teaching on the Fundamentals of Ornithology course, Elsamere

Njoro helping with the ringing at the 2009 FoO course

It was an excellent time going through the notes and improving / re-writing / adding / deleting parts of the notes and we really managed to achieve something worthwhile through it – despite the serious distraction of the Dubai Rugby Sevens going on all day Saturday when Kenya almost beat the worlds best teams of New Zealand and South Africa!!

It was shocking, however, to see the condition of the lake – it has dropped to level like I have never seen it and apparently it hasn’t been like since before the 1940s possibly earlier. On the north and eastern side, the water has receded by about 3 kilometres and Douglas Tchagara one of the bird guides around the lake who has been fighting for its conservation, reported that they had been measuring the lake receding at 4cm per day!!! Hippos are dying every week as the water has receded so much they get stuck in very deep, soft mud trying to get out to feed; the bird composition on the lake is changing as a reflection of what is happening with there being both Greater and Lesser Flamingo on it for the first time that I can remember.

This spells a real disaster for the lake. Furthermore by this time of the year it is all meant to be green and there should be some off-flow from the escarpments the east and west of it particularly by way of 3 or so underground aquifers. However Elsamere was dry, brown and dusty – no sign of rain and not a lot of hope of any for the rest of the year in terms of anything significant. That lake is really on its way out and the government clearly has no concern whatsoever for it and has done absolutely nothing to mitigate or stop the disaster from happening. The problem is there’s too much money involved through the flower farms and it is said, which all can well believe, that they powerful farms are paying the politicians in order to get their own way…

I need to find out more and post it, but it is definitely a hugely worrying senario and deeply sad to see such a jewel of a place going down the drain…

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Bird ringing training course at Mwamba

We’re in the middle of a bird ringing training course where I am training particularly a Tanzanian PhD student, Robert, but also some of the Mwamba team and volunteers. I had hoped to have more trainees come from Nairobi and from the local Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Guides, but for one reason or another (mainly lack of funds to cover the costs of the Nairobi guys and the local guides are too busy with taking tourists into the forest) they didn’t make it. We’ve got Alan from South Africa with us for three weeks to help with the training which has been great. He took early retirement from business and has committed himself to ringing as many birds as possible and helping out bird conservation projects around the world where his ringing skills might be useful – hence he’s come to help with the ringing and has been keen to get his hands on any new species that he doesn’t get in SA as well as share his knowledge with the others on the course.

Alan ringing a dove

We started off with some basic introductions at Mwamba to the whys and wherefores of bird ringing before setting up 14 nets in the Mwamba nature trail at the back of the property where we often put nets for surveying the coastal bush birds. For some reason that I’m still in the dark about (any ideas welcome!), the bush habitat seems perfect for good numbers of birds… and yet we catch relatively very very few. In the three mornings we ringed there we only caught 27 birds of which 9 were retraps (birds we’ve ringed before and have been re-caught). However we did catch a couple of Mangrove Kingfishers – one immature and an adult – the latter was one of the retraps and we’d ringed it here 3 years ago! And also a ‘Bananabill’ (more correctly a ‘Yellowbill’ tho’ I prefer Bananabill as it really looks like it…) which Alan was also very happy to clamp a ring onto. These birds are not very well known or understood but it appears that around here most of them are migrants as come November they become very few and far between whilst now they are very vocal and can be seen and heard in many of the patches of bush and forest.

you can see why “Bananabill” is a good name for it!

The main trainee is Robert from Tanzania who’s about to start a PhD on coastal forest birds in Tz. It’s always great to have someone who’s enthusiastic to learn and he’s doing really well in picking up a lot of information in a very short time. Rehema (volunteer), Albert (you’ve ‘met’ him already before on this blog) and Tony & Jonathan (see the ASSETS blog) who’re keen to learn a bit about ringing as well to broaden their skills – though actually Jonathan already has done quite a bit of ringing in the past.

Ringing training on the veranda at Mwamba

We’ll be putting up some more news from the training – do ask any questions or make comments on it!

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