Kenya: Wetlands conservation project raises living standards

02 Feb 2011

Tree planting exercise in Laikipia District, Kenya.
( Photo: UNDP/Geoffrey Kamadi)
Nairobi – In one of Kenya’s most polluted river basins, a conservation and livelihood improvement project coordinated by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has helped raise health and living standards of local communities.

At seven pilot sites in the basin of the River Nyando, UNDP’s US$600,000 wetlands project trained 64 community leaders to manage and rehabilitate the wetlands through various methods, such as diversified fishing techniques and alternative farming methods, including agro-forestry, bee-keeping and horticulture initiatives.

Some 5,000 acres rehabilitated under the project since 2007 had been blighted by unplanned harvesting, tree burning and over-fishing that had destroyed much of the wetlands. Depletion of forestland has also led to flooding and population displacement.

“This project has been vital not only to preserving wetlands, but also to improving living standards, alleviating poverty, reducing child mortality and improving food security,” said Dr. Christopher Gakahu, Energy and Environment Team Leader for UNDP Kenya.

Among the beneficiaries of the UNDP-funded project, a primary school close to the shores of Lake Victoria - where up to 250 students have been orphaned by AIDS - has harnessed innovative conservation methods to feed its students and improve the environment.

Rabuor school runs an eco-club where students plant and cultivate an acre of tomatoes and watermelons. Since the project started a year ago, the program has sold produce amounting to about US$550, income to student farmers for food and other school necessities.

School and wider community initiatives successful with conservation projects in the area are rewarded with certificates and trophies at special events such as tree-planting days and celebrations of World Environment Day, and World Wetlands Day on 2 February each year.

Through radio broadcasts, school essay competitions, informal gatherings and public meetings (barazas), the project has raised awareness of how traditional farming methods can be combined with newer conservation approaches.

The Government of Kenya last year launched a new national constitution and a development blueprint, Vision 2030, aiming to lift living standards and speed up progress towards the 2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which include the goal of ensuring environmental sustainability.

“Ultimately, the communities’ ability to respond to and reduce the impact of environmental changes on the River Nyando basin will be essential to progress toward the MDGs,” said Gakahu.