A new plan to guide developments in the Tana Delta has been released, bringing an end to more than 10 years of wrangling over the vast, coastal woodland.
The plan, launched in Nairobi, places huge responsibility on the governments of the Tana River and Lamu counties, who should approve any developments.
It advises against developments in areas with clearly established environmental and social safeguards which are legally gazetted.
These include forest reserves and river corridors, existing settlements and designated communal land holdings around those settlements.
The plan also demarcates the core area of the floodplain in the upper and lower delta.
“With the plan, investors will know what and where to set up operations based on our studies unlike in the past where it was largely trial and error,” said Peter Odhengo, the inter-ministerial technical committee chairman.
The Tana River Delta Land Use Plan (LUP) aims to guide public and private investments and contribute to reduced tensions and conflict over land and water resources.
A delta is a low-lying fragile ecosystem that provides key environmental services that support livelihoods. Kenya has seven main deltas, namely, Tana, Yala, Omo, Malewa, Nyando, Sondu Miriu and Nzoia.
The plan was developed by experts from various government departments, and non governmental organisations that included Nature Kenya in a process that began in 2012.
Nature Kenya has notably fought for preservation of the delta and was instrumental in saving more than 150,000 hectares that would have been cleared for the destructive jatropha shrub.
It has been produced in accordance with a Land Use Planning Framework published by the Ministry of Lands and the former Office of the Prime Minister in 2012. “Even small changes to the hydrological system can upset the natural balance of a delta. This needs to be very carefully assessed in all situations,” said Nature Kenya Director Dr Paul Matiku.
The plan area covers 225,000 hectares where there is strong competition for use of land and water between different elements of its resident communities and also with those who bring animals to graze and drink during the dry seasons. The delta was a few months ago named as the newest Ramsar site in Africa due to its rich biodiversity and ecosystem.
Conservationists described it as the second in East Africa and one of the world’s 11 most important deltas.
Currently, the delta is facing a major environmental threats following massive deforestration, large-scale agricultural developments, damming and water diversion to other basins for irrigation.
Community members in a village called Kipini have came together to rescue the delta by championing against deforestation.
Awadh Mbarak Hassan says they formed a group — called Kipini Community Conservation Management Forum (KCCMF) in 2013 to stop illegal logging.
Mbarak says their village risks being wiped out because of rampant destruction of mangroves. “Many People in the area do not know the importance of conserving mangroves. Our aim is to sensitise the locals and in schools we shall bring in pupils to train them how to plant them,” he said.
He says the mangrove used to be sold in Ijara, Mombasa and were sometimes exported.
Zainab Mohamed, a group member, says the destruction was done by ‘our husbands’ who destroyed trees for commercial purposes not knowing the environmental threat.
“Our husbands used to cut mangroves for commercial purposes because of hunger and high poverty levels, right now we tell them to go fishing or dwell on a activities that are sustainable to the environment,” she says.
At the mouth of the Tana River at the Indian Ocean, a luxurious sea lodge was recently swept away by floods.
Some locals claim it could be as a result of the deforestration.
Joseph Gachango, the manager of Kipini Sea Lodge, owned by Malindi Italian consulate Roberto Macri, says it had nine suites with a capacity of 16 people.
Three of the suites were completely destroyed. “We used to have many guests here from Europe specifically Italy, corporate organisations, and non governmental organisations, who come for seminars,” he said.
Gachango says he believes the disaster was as a result of climate change. He says the management plans to put up a sea wall to protect the remaining suites.
Hausner Kitali Wendo from Wetlands International says the new management plan enhances mangrove conservation.
He said it also maps climate change vulnerability in the delta to help the Tana Delta community to adapt to the changing climatic conditions. “Mangrove is a rich source of raw material for making honey, one is able to harvest a lot of honey, which will then be packaged as mangrove honey that is identified as of great nutritional value,” he said.