Tag Archives: Conservation Agriculture

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.

Jatropha bulldozers illegally at work in globally important Dakatcha Woodlands

Yes, they continued after all the initial protest was made and before any legal go ahead has been given. This, from Dominic, one of the key NatureKenya guys on the ground in Dakatcha who we work closely with:

“The letter by NatureKenya Executive Director to the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources has been highly despised by the political leaders in Magarini constituency. Local councillors have re-allocated the investor, Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd, another site near Mulunguni (part of Dakatcha woodland) . Caterpillars and tractors started felling down indigenous tree species and clearing vegetation on 15th March 2010. Sources say the lease is 4 years trial starting with 30,000 acres.”

Last month we had a team of guys in Dakatcha doing some training on Conservation Agriculture – a method of farming that massively improves your soil condition (the ‘conservation’ part refers to soil conservation though we are broadening it to include biodiversity conservation in our use) and thus your yields. More about the CA later, but while they were there they passed the place where the bulldozers have been at work clearing what sounds like a significant area of forest already in order to plant jatropha for biofuel.

It makes you really mad to think how totally blatantly a government can spit in the face of its own laws and simply ignore them when its in the interests of literally a handful of individuals. Laws that were drawn up for the benefit of the land and its people, to try and ensure a future that will sustain them all, put there and believed in in good faith by many citizens – only to be thrown in your face by the very ones who have promised before God to uphold the laws and enforce them. Below is a photo taken by our current volunteer Arjan who’s a tropical forest student from Netherlands (hadn’t realised there were tropical forests in the Netherlands…!) and who joined most of the 10-day Conservation Agriculture expedition.

One of the bulldozers used to clear the land you can see here which appeared to be a long corridor of opened forest, perhaps for quicker access to the main plantations areas. All this with no legal clearance whatsoever.

Not only this, but the A Rocha team doing the CA training reported that pretty much any panoramic type photo you wanted to take would invariably include smoke from illegal charcoal kilns:

A view from the road near Sosoni

The view from ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ at Marafa – again the tell tale charcoal kiln smoke even from here.

Again – if you are reading this and feel moved to assist, please write a letter complaining about this unlawful destruction of a very special habitat. Address it to:

Hon. John Michuki
The Minister for Environment and Mineral Resources
P.O. Box 30126, Nairobi
Fax: + 254 (0) 20 2710015/2725586
email: [email protected]

cc your letter to:

The Permanent Secretary,
Ministry of Environment and Mineral Resources.
P.O. Box 30126, Nairobi
Fax: + 254 (0) 20 2710015/2725586
email: [email protected]

The Director General,
National Environment Management Authority
P.O.BOX 67839, 00200 NAIROBI,
Fax: (+254) (0) 20608997;
Email: [email protected]; [email protected];

Director, NatureKenya: [email protected]

Director, A Rocha Kenya: [email protected]


Dakatcha Woodlands in turmoil – woman killed by charcoal burners

Yesterday our A Rocha Kenya man-on-the-ground in Dakatcha, Katana, (c.f. previous post on Dakatcha regarding jatropha and the threat of a vast plantation of it as biofuel) came in to the office and reported on some very disturbing but also very encouraging news of the latest developments in Dakatcha. As you may be aware, apart from the jatropha threat, which is yet to actually take place and we’re fighting hard with NatureKenya to stop it from happening, the biggest and in fact most real and actually happening  threat to the woodlands is… charcoal.

From what I’ve been told by NatureKenya staff who’re doing an awesome job in Dakatcha, the number of trucks leaving Dakatcha every day may have reduced recently which is good news, but it is still going on. One of the main features of the charcoal burning in the area is that it is mostly being done / driven by people who are not from the Dakatcha area but rather who have come mainly from an area called Bamba a long way to the south.

Canter truck loaded up with sacks of charcoal in Dakatcha

When I first started visiting the area 10 years ago there was plenty of selective logging of Brachystegia trees going on, but whilst they were starting to take smaller and smaller trees as all the large ones got finished, at least there was some regeneration happening and with a push to stop the logging, the habitat would recover. In Dec 2004, however, I saw my first major charcoal kiln in the woodlands – and it has rapidly got worse and worse until an estimated 20,000 large trees were cut for charcoal in that relatively small area just last year.

One of the first charcoal kilns we found in Dec 2004 at Majengo.

It would appear that around 2004, trees for charcoal in Bamba probably got finished and they moved north and started in on the Dakatcha Woodlands. For the past 5 years a lot of local people have been ok about it as they have got an income from it albeit a tiny one (c.$1.20 for a whole sack), but there have been a number of people strongly opposed to it and gradually more have become fed up with the raping of their land – leaving effectively a desert after an area is clear-felled for charcoal.

Katana has been seeing more and more charcoal burning happening as he has been doing surveys and meeting with community members to encourage them to protect the forest. The major news is that a couple of weeks ago near Goshi a woman who had been taking and selling food to charcoal burners out in the forest had gone to ask them to pay her what they owed her. Apparently they didn’t want to and in the end beat her and ended up actually killing her and trying to hide her body in a charcoal kiln. This, of course, has sparked off a huge outcry and there was a huge meeting of people in Mulunguni with others coming from Kaskini and elsewhere demanding that these charcoal burners should leave.

On Sunday there was another meeting near Katana’s home at Kirosa where again people were very vocal about getting rid of the charcoal burners. Last year at some point some Forest Guards had been sent in to clear out some of the charcoal burners and people had blamed Katana for calling them – even though he hadn’t. At that time they were still keen to get cash from the charcoal and were against anyone who wanted to stop the trade. Now Katana had the chance to stand and speak to them all and remind them of last year and how even though it wasn’t him who called the guards, in fact that is what is needed – to stop the charcoal burning and look for alternative ways of making a living other than destroying the forest. He was very excited about the change of attitude with the people and it is something we need to really work with and do all that we can to encourage the stopping of the charcoal trade.

The following images are ones that Katana took in early January not far from his home area of charcoal burning in action…
hardwood trees felled for charcoal kiln

logs being laid out for the start of a kiln

putting charcoal into sacks

With A Rocha Kenya one of the things we are seeking to do is to introduce some alternative forms of income generation. We’ve started on Conservation Agriculture and really believe it has huge potential. In fact next week we’re really pleased to have Pius from Mpeketoni (near Lamu) coming to lead a series of workshops for anyone who’s interested in five different locations around Dakatcha where we have put in demonstration plots for CA. We have been working with church leaders and members primarily as we believe this has real potential to reach a lot of people quite quickly. There’s a lot more to tell about the background to this which I’ll do in another posting, but suffice to say that Pius was here last year with Patrick from South Africa to teach CA but from a biblical basis and calling it ‘Farming God’s Way’. It has been amazingly effective and I reckon we’ve got a lot of hope to make a real difference to both people living there and the conservation of the place. More later…

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Dakatcha Woodlands under threat of ‘eco-(un)friendly’ jatropha biodiesel project

The Dakatcha Woodlands form one of the 61 internationally important sites in Kenya for bird conservation (and therefore by assumption other biodiversity as well) – known as an ‘IBA’ (Important Bird Area).

a view of the Brachystegia woodland in Marafa – a few years ago before it was hit with charcoaling

It is the only other place on the planet that Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandii can be found apart from Arabuko-Sokoke Forest 30kms to the south and it also holds several other Threatened species such as Sokoke Pipit and more recently we discovered a population of Sokoke Scops Owls Otus irenae there. We have been working with NatureKenya to have the woodlands protected, to encourage the local community to stop cutting trees for charcoal and timber and instead to use it sustainably.

Endemic Clarke’s Weaver Ploceus golandii (by Steve Garvie)

NatureKenya has been doing a great work with local groups of young people to encourage them to take up birding and other conservation activities. This is one of the groups with Dominic Mumbu, the NK manager 4th from the left.

This year, however, an even more devastating threat is looming – one that is masquerading as an ‘eco-friendly project’… for bio-diesel. The Malindi County Council has welcomed a proposal by an investor, Kenya Jatropha Energy Limited, to clear large tracts of land for growing Jatropha curcas.  This South American bush has been aggressively promoted in Kenya for the ‘biodiesel’ extracted from the oil in its seeds. It is now being tried in localities that range from rainfall-rich Western Kenya to desert-like Magadi area. Yet little is currently known of the plant’s suitability, its yield under different conditions, and the market capacity. Talking to Ann and Ian Robertson in Malindi – Ian being an experienced farmer and agriculturalist and Ann one of East Africa’s leading botanists – who have planted some jatropha in their garden out of interest, they report that the yield from jatropha is hugely unpredictable, some years it can be good and others it can be dire – and with no apparent reason. As a result it is highly unlikely to be suitable crop to grow on a large commercial scale and much better to be grown by small holders who can exploit the good years and get something out of it and make ends meet on the bad years with the other crops they are growing.

The jatropha / biodiesel issue is going to be one of the hottest debates going in East Africa environmentally in the next few years. A lot of businessmen are likely to jump on the band wagon where they can see big funding coming from the West to fund what some see as effectively covering up the West’s guilt complex for the vast amounts of carbon pollution it is producing – i.e. “give money to developing countries to produce biodiesel so that we can maintain our lifestyles and claim to have reduced carbon emissions – oh, and shame about that priceless forest or wetland that was cleared to grow an alien monoculture, but it’s all for the greater benefit of the planet…”

Anyway – this debate could go on quite a long time here! The point is Dakatcha Woodlands really are under threat of disappearing under an alien monoculture – and thus causing probably at least one species to go extinct.

As A Rocha Kenya we are committed to finding lasting, long-term solutions for conserving such habitats and sites whilst at the same time ensuring that local communities can improve their lifestyles and living standards but reduce their ecological footprint. We have already started working with churches in the Dakatcha Woodlands to introduce them to Conservation Agriculture, a form of farming that hugely improves productivity whilst conserving the soil and in fact improving the soil such that farms become more productive over the years and not less (as they do using the traditional farming methods). This is just one way of seeking to improve the lot of the local communities while teaching them the importance of caring for the environment – God’s creation.

Conservation Agriculture training by Paul Simpson in Marafa, Nov ’08 for church leaders

We’ve employed Gabriel Katana to work alongside the NatureKenya manager in Dakatcha and to also follow up on the Conservation Agriculture workshops we’ve held with church leaders there.

Katana – our right hand man in Dakatcha and doing a great job.
He’s also assisting in bird surveys and done some excellent work on finding how far the Sokoke Scops Owl is found as well as looking out for Clarke’s Weavers and keeping an eye open for where they might breed. The area is quite large however and currently he’s trying to do all this on just a bicycle or sometimes borrowing the piki (motorbike) that the NK manager uses. For him to be really effective we desperately need a piki for him – and then funds to cover its running. Katana’s salary has kindly been covered by a church in the UK, but any assistance towards purchasing a piki would be hugely appreciated.

More to follow…

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Conservation Agriculture workshop for pastors in Dakatcha Woodlands IBA – home to endemic Clarke’s Weaver

Can you support a farmer and cover her/his costs at a Conservation Agriculture workshop? (for only $30 per farmer!). Read on…

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a method of farming that is being taken up more and more widely in Africa with over 120,000 farmers in Zamibia alone having adopted this practice. It has been shown to significantly increase productivity on farms and is often taught in church circles as ‘Farming God’s Way’ (FGW). Why? Well because the basic concept of CA / FGW is to mimic the way that a forest grows (“God’s farm”) and thus produce the rich soils which you find in a forest (any farmer given the choice between a plot that has been farmed for 5 years and one that has just been cleared of forest would choose the newly cleared one since it will be way more fertile). There are cases where under the conventional methods, a farmer was getting 3 bags of maize from his acre and after using CA was getting 15 bags!

How do you do this? There are 3 main principles – NO ploughing (“plowing” for our American readers!),  lots of mulch (dead organic matter covering the soil surface), and rotate your crops. If you think of how “God farms his forest”, then there is no ploughing, there’s plenty of leaf litter etc on the soil surface (“God’s blanket” for the soil) and there is high diversity of trees and plants.

Taking these basic principles and building them on top of biblical teaching on how God cares for his Earth and has given it to us to look after and use wisely, it is a wonderfully effective way of encouraging rural farmers who are also Christians (probably 70% of the population in Dakatcha) to look after their farm and be able to get a good crop out of it.  Being built on biblical teaching means that church members are very quick in accepting the teaching and linking it in to biodiversity conservation – caring for God’s world – such as planting trees etc means that it becomes a very potent tool for conservation.

Conservation Agriculture plot being prepared

A CA plot being prepared near Watamu – careful measurement of where holes are dug is important.

Back in March, A Rocha Kenya ran a one-day workshop for 25 pastors in the Dakatcha Woodlands with Paul Simpson, a pastor and farmer from South Africa, giving the main teaching. This was received very positively and we are about to run a follow-up workshop going to much greater depth and lasting for 3 days for 30 farmers, pastors and church leaders. Dominic Mumbu of NatureKenya is working very closely with us on this and organising it on the ground.

Dakatcha is where we suspect the endemic Clarke’s Weaver to breed (found only in neighbouring Arabuko-Sokoke Forest and here) – a handsom black & yellow weaver found only in Brachystegia woodlands… and yet these woodlands are under serious threat of destruction due to logging and charcoal burning.

Clarke’s Weaver by Steve Garvie

Clarke’s Weaver (by Steve Garvie)

Charcoal kiln in Dakatcha Woodlands Charcoal burning in Dakatcha Woodlands IBA

It’s a very exciting venture – to be teaching people very practical and tangible ways of being able to help themselves out of poverty whilst at the same time conserving what is a particularly special part of the planet. Farming God’s Way gives people the possibility of using their land wisely and maximising what they can get out of it whilst allowing them to preserve the rest of the surrounding habitat.

Church member enjoying her Conservation Agriculture

…a cheerful farmer tilling her CA plot after a previous training at a Gede church

For this workshop to succeed, we need to cover the costs of the workshop participants – at $30 per person (includes all food, accommodation and materials). If you feel able to help support what I believe is an exciting project with huge potential to help both conserve biodiversity and raise the standard of living of poor rural farmers – then thank you and please do!