Like most websites we use 'cookies'. If you're happy with that, click 'OK' to close this banner and carry on. Or click 'Find out more'.
Campaigning for nature
Image: Nigel Blake
Longstanding environmental degradation and poor strategic management seriously threaten the Tana River Delta in Kenya's coastal province.
More recently the area has been highlighted in Kenya's national development plan as an area for expansion of large-scale irrigated agriculture which has led to a number of schemes (for food and biofuels) coming forward.
So today the Delta is at the centre of 'a new scramble for Africa'. Although rainfall is unreliable and soils are sandy and prone to salt water intrusion, the Delta is viewed as fertile. More than half a dozen companies are already gathering to reap its potential riches. These include Kenyan based organisations wanting to establish huge sugar cane plantations on over 70,000 ha of land in the Delta, a company from Canada UK wanting to grow oil seed crops on over 60,000 ha, possible mining in the sand dunes and prospecting for oil and gas. And this is not all; the governments of China and Kenya have agreed to prioritise the building of the new port at Lamu, and the Kenyan Government is advertising for expressions of interest.
The most advanced agricultural schemes are those proposed by Mumias Sugar Company (MSC) Ltd (a Kenyan company) jointly with Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority (TARDA) and the Canadian based Bedford Biofuels. Mumias and TARDA are proposing to turn 20,000 hectares of the Delta over to sugarcane production, while TARDA was allocated 40,000 for maize and rice, although they failed to produce any food in the first two years. Bedford plan to grow Jatropha curcas, a biofuel crop on 10,000 ha of land,a project described as a 'pilot'!
Kenya's National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has approved these projects after considering their Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs). Environmental organisations are strongly opposed to these decisions because of the potential impacts on the Tana Delta's ecology, biodiversity and local people's livelihoods. A UK based company G4 Industries Limited had also planned to grow oil seed crops on 28,000 ha, but have withdrawn their proposal citing environmental reasons.
With such a vast land grab for food and biofuel products (sugar cane and seed oils can all be used to produce energy) the Delta looks set to change irrevocably. It's immediately clear from the figures that there simply isn't enough land in the Delta to satisfy these competing claims. If the planned projects go ahead they will convert an area of over 110,000 ha (270,000 acres – nearly three times the size of Amboseli National Park, or over eleven times the size of our Minsmere nature reserve in Suffolk!) into plantations. The local people will lose land they have lived on for years and with it their livelihoods, and the magnificent wildlife will be history.
The Tana River Delta is one of the most important wetlands in Africa and has been described as Africa's second Okavango Delta. It supports over 350 species of birds, including 22 wetland birds found in internationally important numbers, globally threatened birds such as the Endangered Basra reed warbler, for which the delta is a critical wintering site, and two threatened primates – Tana River red colobus and Tana River crested mangabey.
The core Delta area covers 130,000ha (320,000 acres) and is a rich mix of habitats supporting not only thousands of wetland birds, but also hippos, lions, elephants, buffaloes and many breeding fish and amphibians.
The Delta was listed as a Ramsar site in October 2012 recognising its international importance for wildlife.
The adjacent Tana River Primate National Reserve was established in 1976 to protect the endemic and Critically Endangered Tana River red colobus and Tana River crested mangabey. Small populations of these primates are also found in remnant forests in the Delta.
The Tana Delta is also part of the Coastal Forests of Eastern Africa Hotspot and is regarded as being of international importance for wildlife.
But it's not just the wildlife. Tana Delta is one of the poorest regions in Kenya where 73 per cent of people still live below the poverty line, and the river provides essential ecosystem services (eg food, fresh water and fuel) to 90,000 people living in the area. The Delta is the only dry season grazing refuge for local pastoralist communities (Wardei and Orma) who have used the land for centuries.
Local people live by the seasons, adapting to the regular floods that keep the area productive through the year. The Delta provides grass throughout the dry season for enormous herds of animals (335,000 cattle, 260,000 sheep, 360,000 goats, 57,000 camels and 19,000 donkeys) from a very wide area, which are the basis of survival for many thousands of people.
The Delta is a major fishery for the local and export market; and local people grow subsistence crops, cash crops and fruit trees for their survival. New economic uses include tourism, with lodges, boat rides and a wildlife conservancy all currently under development. Most farmers belong to the Pokomo ethnic group, while fishermen include the Bajuni people and migrants from other parts of Kenya.
Visit the Tana River Delta campaign website (under Useful links) where you can watch videos about the Delta and the impacts the proposed Mumias-TARDA sugar plantation will have on local people and the environment. Find out more about the wildlife of the Delta, or donate to support the campaign.
Many of the projects proposed in the Delta are for biofuels, some could end up in the European market, look at our website for more information on our work on biofuels generally.
We object to the proposed developments, which we believe will have devastating impacts on the Delta's ecology, biodiversity and local people's livelihoods. We believe that the economic gains from them will be small. For example, the Mumias Sugar Company says the income from the project will be £1.25 million a year over 20 years, but our economic analysis found that the revenue from fishing, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be £30 million over the same period. Our conservation partners in Kenya believe that their country will gain more economically from conserving the Delta, rather than destroying it.
Many of the projects proposed in the Delta are for biofuels, some could end up in the European market. Climate change is widely recognised as posing the most serious threat to people and global biodiversity. Renewable energy offers an important contribution to combat the deleterious environmental changes due to climate change, by reducing dependence on fossil fuels and, hence, reducing harmful emissions of greenhouse gases, which we strongly support. However, some renewables – biofuels in particular - only deliver limited carbon savings over their life cycle. Moreover, demand for biofuels is leading to the conversion of natural habitats such as grasslands and forests on a potentially huge and catastrophic scale with limited savings in greenhouse gas emissions - the Tana River Delta is one of many precious wildlife sites that could be lost to biofuel projects. The switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies needs to avoid harm to ecosystems and biodiversity.
We have been supporting Nature Kenya and BirdLife International in their campaign against the developments, and in their efforts to secure a more sustainable future for the Delta. One in which the wildlife has a place and the local communities the chance to generate incomes and in which the Delta can help Kenya adapt to climate change. We believe that large-scale developments should not go ahead until an alternative vision has been agreed and a master conservation and development plan for the sustainable use of the Delta prepared. Such an approach seems to be strongly supported by local people.
a court injunction against Mumias Sugar Company (MSC) Ltd and Tana and Athi River Development Authority (TARDA) blocked their development between July 2008 and June 2009. A second court case was filed and the February 2013 judgment ruled largely in favour of the local communities.
letters by prominent individuals asking the Kenyan Government to review the case for development in Tana.
Nature Kenya have three field staff in the Delta working to mobilise local communities – almost all are against these major irrigated developments – and working with them to enable more positive and conservation focused developments. This includes implementing conservation projects on the ground with local communities to help them generate income eg from beehives.
A strategic land use planning process for the Delta is underway. This was launched at a meeting hosted by the Kenyan Office of the Prime Minister with support from Nature Kenya in September 2011. The plan is being developed with the support of DFID (the UK Department for International Development) and is due to be completed by the end of 2013.
Consents have been granted to the Mumias-TARDA and Bedford Biofuels projects. So far TARDA's efforts to produce maize for food security have all failed.
Other major developments continue to target the Delta, including sugar proposals by MAT International and oil and gas prospecting by Flow Energy of Australia. Kenya's Government favours industrialisation in the Tana area and it is prominent in economic development plans such as 'Vision 2030'.
In 2009 a serious drought affected the Delta leading to hunger, low river flows and exacerbated damage to forests, showing the unsustainability of current irrigated agriculture proposals and weakening the argument for further expansion. At the end of August 2011 it was estimated that there were more than 3 million cattle in the Delta. With Northern and North Eastern Kenya and Somalia experiencing severe drought many pastoralists from these areas made their way to Tana Delta.
In May 2011, the southern part of the Delta, allocated for a time in the 1990s to Coastal Aquaculture, a company who wanted to develop prawn farming, was listed for auction. The auction was closed to those who did not make a substantial deposit, and the buyers, if any, have not been revealed. However, the local communities are claiming the land, and the Kenya Forest Service has issued a letter of notice saying:
'Our firm instructions and Warning to the public is that, all that piece of land appearing as deltaic ecosystem under the cover of Mangrove vegetation adjoining the sea fronts at the Tana River estuaries in OZI and CHARA are gazetted forest areas by ordinance.'
Comments submitted on the Environmental Impact Assessment for the Mumias irrigated sugarcane project.
Cost benefit analysis study commissioned by us and Nature Kenya.
Three public hearings are held in the Delta with local communities. The farming community support the project, while pastoralists are against it.
A cost benefit analysis shows that the Mumias project documents underestimate the cost, overestimate the profit, and ignore fees for water extraction, compensation for lost livelihoods, chemical pollution, loss of tourism earnings, and wildlife. The study shows that annual gains from current economic uses of the Delta by farmers, pastoralists and fishing communities stand at £30 million, compared to the £1.25 million that the sugarcane project promises to generate.
The National Environment Management Authority gives approval for the Tana Integrated Sugar Project to go ahead.
Nature Kenya joins efforts with other members of the Kenya Wetlands Forum in a civil society to campaign against The National Environment Management Authority's decision on a number of different fronts.
BirdLife Partners write to National Environment Management Authority and the Kenya Government, expressing their concerns in regards to the sugarcane project. In spite of the awareness campaign, various government officials endorse the project, saying it must go ahead. Five members of the Kenya Wetlands Forum apply for, and get, stay orders against the sugarcane project at the Malindi High Court. The Kenya Wildlife Service convene a stakeholder meeting in Nairobi to initiate the process to get the Tana River Delta listed as a Ramsar site.
Launch of Tana film: Is Tana's sugar really sweet?
RSPB staff visit the Delta with Nature Kenya.
High Court in Malindi dismisses the Tana Delta case (with costs) due to a technicality.
NGOs consider relaunching the legal case.
The Tana River Delta features in the BBC TV programme Future of Food in which George Alagiah travels the world to reveal a growing global food crisis that could affect the planet in the years ahead.
TARDA (Tana and Athi Rivers Development Authority) are allocated 40,000 ha in the Tana Delta to grow maize and rice in response to the food crisis. Nature Kenya officers on the ground facilitated the formation of a site support group (caretaker group) for the Delta and discussions with the local community on management planning are ongoing.
Nature Kenya staff visit the Delta to get community support and commitment to a new court case. Potential plaintiffs come forward from the farming, pastoral, fishing and conservation communities. One village is served with an eviction notice.
Nature Kenya starts the management planning process for the Delta by undertaking community consultations and producing draft village action plans.
A British company G4 Industries Limited propose a new project to grow oil seed crops (crambe, castor and sunflower) in an area of 28,000 ha in the Delta and an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is being prepared.
Nature Kenya and the RSPB submit comments on the ESIA objecting to the project because of potential impacts on wildlife, people and water and the need for agreement of a strategic masterplan for the Delta before individual projects proceed. Tana features on BBC Radio 4's 'From Our Own Correspondent'.
Nature Kenya and another Kenyan NGO the East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) join forces to support the communities to file a new legal case and identify a team of lawyers. The Tana case continues to get media coverage in Kenya. Nature Kenya and BirdLife International submit information about the Tana case to the Ramsar Convention in advance of their Standing Committee meeting.
Nature Kenya holds a consultative meeting with location and District level leaders on the proposed Tana Delta management plan.
Staff from Nature Kenya and EAWLS hold a meeting with the local people in the Delta who will represent the rest of the community in court. A public hearing is held in the Delta to discuss the G4 Industries proposed project - those opposed to the project are intimidated.
RSPB staff visit Kenya and together with Nature Kenya have meetings with NEMA, Kenya Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Energy and EAWLS to discuss the Tana case. Despite our objections, NEMA grant consent for the G4 Industries project.
Nature Kenya organise a national media campaign on Tana. Nature Kenya, the RSPB and BirdLife International submit comments on the ESIA for a new proposal by Flow Energy Limited (an Australian company) to explore for oil and gas in parts of the Delta. We object to the project because of weaknesses in the ESIA including lack of vital baseline data on biodiversity and because of the need for a strategic plan for the Delta to be in place before individual developments are permitted.
RSPB launch a letter writing campaign. The new court case is filed by representatives of Tana Delta local communities in the Kenyan High Court and a first hearing held. Four of the defendants (including NEMA, TARDA and the Kenyan Attorney General) attend. The lawyers for the communities apply to amend the case in light of the newly adopted Kenyan Constitution, which includes stronger environmental and land rights. They also apply for injunctions. The injunctions are not granted - the judge feels the case should be amended and widely advertised first before the request for such orders is considered. The court case is widely covered in the Kenyan media.
Expeditions to the Delta to collect further data for the Ramsar listing find over 3000 globally threatened Madagascar Pratincole. With a world population estimated between 5000 and 10000 this means Kenya's Tana Delta is likely to be a prime wintering site.
Nature Kenya convene a national stakeholder meeting to discuss a potential conservation and development master plan for the Delta. The meeting is extremely successful with over 50 attendees, including senior officials from government agencies such as TARDA, NEMA, the Water Resources Management Authority (WRMA), the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), plus Mumias Sugar company. The result is that a team of agencies was constituted to lead the plan production process with NEMA and KWS as conveners and Nature Kenya facilitating the process. The meeting is featured in prime TV news and on many radio stations (including the BBC). A team of four Nature Kenya Officers and five KWS staff visit the Delta to conduct an awareness campaign on the importance of listing the Delta as a Ramsar site. The visit is very productive – the local people are supportive of Ramsar listing.
An EIA for the Bedford Biofuel proposal to cultivate jatropha (an oil seed biofuel crop) on 50,000 ha in six group ranches in the Delta is published. Nature Kenya, the RSPB and BirdLife International submit comments objecting to the project.
Two of the defendants in the community court case TARDA and WRMA (the Water Resources Management Authority) file responses. A court hearing to consider the injunction applications is scheduled for 16 December, but is adjourned until 14 February due to the court vacation. TARDA forcibly evicts 800 Wardei households (more than 2000 pastoralist people) from Gamba Village. The villagers moved to a remote area with no clean water, no health services and the nearest school is 7.5 kilometers away.
Bedford Biofuels organise a public hearing for their project during which it emerges that the company has leased 164,000 ha of land in six ranches bordering the eastern part of the Delta. The meeting has a charged atmosphere with bus loads of ‘supporters’ of the project being paid to attend.
RSPB staff visit the Delta with Nature Kenya staff and visit Wardei pastoralists from the displaced Gamba village who were forcibly evicted to make way for the TARDA rice and maize project for food security. We also visit the village of Ozi on the coastal edge of the delta where Nature Kenya has been working with the community to establish a site support group, which is now in the process of establishing a formal Community Conserved Area (CCA).
NEMA writes to Flow Energy requesting clarification on several issues and requiring the developer to develop a working relationship with all stakeholders including Nature Kenya. Sadly this does not happen.
The RSPB Birds magazine has a feature article on the plight of the Delta. 500 pastoralists hold demonstrations in Kipao in the Delta against the grabbing of their land by government and foreign corporations. The former residents of Gamba village write to the Kenya Prime Minister urging him to investigate their situation.
A court hearing scheduled for 14 February is delayed until April following requests by some of the Respondents for more time to file their responses. About 100 people from Tana Delta travel overnight to Nairobi to attend the hearing. They were joined by another 50 people who come from Tana Delta but live in Nairobi. The community representatives hold a demonstration within the Nairobi High Court grounds and then walk to the Vice President's office to present the Tana issues to him. The VP promises to look into the issue and raise it with the President. The media cover the demo giving the Tana case a much higher national profile.
A team of Nature Kenya staff visit the Delta to increase awareness of the ongoing court case. The visit is a great success - all 12 villages visited are supportive of the case. TARDA has issued two more pastoralist villages (Onkolde and Galili) with verbal eviction notices. TARDA is employing a different strategy with farming villages especially in Salama Location. Here it has farmed all round the villages denying the villagers access to much land for subsistence farming, in the hope that without a means to livelihoods the farmers will choose to leave their villages.
Prime Minister Raila Odinga visits Garsen in the Delta. Community members organise themselves and demonstrate before the PM against the grabbing of their land. The PM promises to look into the issue but in his speech steers clear of mentioning development projects in Tana Delta.
Serah Munguti Nature Kenya's Advocacy and Communications Manager makes a moving presentation on the Tana and Dakatcha cases at the RSPB Members' Weekend in York.
Nature Kenya and BirdLife International submit information about the Tana case to the Ramsar Convention in advance of its Standing Committee meeting. NEMA issues a licence to Bedford Biofuels to cultivate 10,000 ha of jatropha, which it describes as a 'pilot'! Nature Kenya, the RSPB and BirdLife International write to the Kenyan authorities urging them to reconsider this decision. A Nairobi based firm of auctioneers advertises two plots of land in the Delta for sale, which comes as a shock to the people of the Chara and Ozi communities living in these areas. The Lower Tana Conservation Trust (LTCT), one of Nature Kenya's partners, leads the protest against this 'land grab' of local people's land by Bedford Biofuels and launches an online petition to collect signatures. The Kenya Forest Service issues a letter of notice saying:
"Our firm instructions and Warning to the public is that, all that piece of land appearing as deltaic ecosystem under the cover of Mangrove vegetation adjoining the sea fronts at the Tana River estuaries in OZI and CHARA are gazetted forest areas by ordinance."
The Observer newspaper runs a feature on the land grab in Tana after which G4 Industries confirm they are withdrawing their project. Tim Stowe, RSPB Director of International Operations, said: 'We congratulate G4 Industries on their wise decision. They have listened to all the evidence about the impact of plantations in the Delta and have done the right thing. We hope other companies with similar proposals in the area will now start to follow suit and withdraw their plans.'
At a court hearing on 19 July 2011 Kituo Cha Sheria (KCS) – a legal NGO in Nairobi that provides legal aid to poor and marginalized communities joins the court case to support the local communities.
An inter-ministerial working group meets in Naivasha and develops a strategic framework for the sustainable development of Kenyan Deltas, including Tana. The meeting is facilitated by Nature Kenya.
Bedford Biofuels begin work on their project clearing ground to develop their tree nursery.
Kenya's environment authority (NEMA) advises that jatropha is 'not viable' in coastal Kenya. It emerges that the two NEMA Directors suspended in July 2011 are accused of acting irregularly in granting the licence to Bedford Biofuels. NEMA's Chairman, Mr Francis Ole Kaparo, said that the licence had been awarded in spite of mounting scientific evidence which has exposed the claims made for jatropha as false. Nature Kenya congratulates NEMA on these decisions and submits a formal appeal against the Bedford licence.
Local people in Tana who have spoken out against the Bedford Biofuels project receive threats.
Our Canadian Partner Nature Canada support the Tana case, featuring it on their blog and writing to the Canadian government raising concerns about the Bedford Biofuels project.
Around 65 participants take part in a high-level meeting in Malindi to discuss the need for a strategic plan for the Delta. The Kenyan Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) hosts the meeting with NEMA and Nature Kenya jointly providing the Secretariat. Representatives from key Kenyan government ministries and agencies attend together with NGOs, media and international experts in the fields of land use and delta planning and environmental assessment. The meeting includes a workshop plus a field visit into the Delta to provide the opportunity to speak to the local people to understand the issues first hand. It closes by adopting a Communiqué which confirms the launch of the Tana Delta planning initiative. The output will be a long-term strategic land use plan representing a 'truly sustainable' future to the Delta, informed by Strategic Environmental Assessment. The process will take place over the next 18 months, with the support of DFID (UKAid).
Over 1000 Wardei pastoralists, previously evicted from Gamba village to make way for the unsuccessful food programme, are forced to move again as annual flooding temporarily submerges their new village Walkon. This emphasises why proper land use planning for the Delta is so urgently needed.
Canadian developer Bedford Biofuels is progressing activities on the ground for their 10,000 ha biofuel project. Valuable habitats have already been damaged. RSPB launch a further letter writing campaign urging the Kenyan authorities to rethink and cancel the permission for this project. The Kenyan authorities have acknowledged irregularities in the way this permission was granted and it jeopardises the strategic planning process by proceeding before this is settled.
Hearing dates of 21-22 May 2012 are set for the Tana court case.
Village meetings are being held in the Delta to collect baseline information on land use and resources for the Tana land-use plan and Strategic Environmental Assessment.
The biofuels-driven land grab that threatens the natural environment, food crop lands and the way of life of local communities is featured in the BBC 2 series Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve.
We become compliant with the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATA) to achieve transparency and accountability throughout the project and provide the public with information on how the money from DFID (UKAid) is being spent.
Violent conflict over resources between farmers and pastoralists leaves around 200 people dead, 13,500 displaced and more than 30,000 people affected.
Nature Kenya launch an appeal for humanitarian support. A ton of maize flour and 280 litres of cooking oil bought and distributed in displaced people’s camps in the Delta. The rest of the money is given to the Kenya Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance to communities.
Tana River Delta is designated as a Ramsar site (Wetland of International Importance) and recognized as the second most important estuary and delta ecosystem in Eastern Africa.
Signatures collected in an online campaign against the Bedford license run by RSPB volunteer Dave Scott are handed to the Ministry of Environment and NEMA.
Land Use Plan Framework and SEA Scoping Reports published.
We hear reports that Bedford Biofuels have laid off most workers on their project site in Tana Delta.
Judgment in the High Court case is positive for the local communities. The judge rules that the short, medium and long range land use development plans for the Tana River Delta need to be developed with full participation of the communities and other stakeholders.
Kenyan elections. The Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) is phased out and coordination of the Land Use Plan and SEA moves to the Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA). New governance structures are established at national and county levels.
Serah Munguti from Nature Kenya attends IIED London symposium on Land Grabs and makes a compelling presentation on Tana and our Strategic Plan/SEA work.
Massive flooding in Tana Delta.
The Bedford Biofuels 'pilot' project consent lapses and a visit to the area confirms their field is abandoned and being grazed by herds of hundreds of animals. Media coverage in Canada focuses on disgruntled investors who lost money when Bedford Biofuels went bankrupt.
Nature Kenya and other members of the team from the Kenya Deltas Secretariat producing the Tana land use plan have a successful meeting with Tana River County Governor and convene a well attended community meeting which was co-chaired with county government.
A second round of briefing meetings are held with Tana River and Lamu County Governors. Communities start to earn income from livelihoods initiatives initiated with support from DFID. A Site Support Group was established in Tana Delta and trained in advocacy, governance, business enterprise management and biodiversity monitoring. Kenya Forest Service sets aside 70,000 ha of forest and thicket as community conservation areas and invites Nature Kenya to support information of a Community Forest Association to manage the conservation areas.
Official launch ceremony for Tana Delta Ramsar site attended by almost 700 people.
Nature Kenya and other members of the plan team attend a three day international scientific conference on Tana Delta in Mombasa organised by NEMA. Their presentations on the Tana plan and SEA work attract much interest and are very well received.