Kenya Goes Regional For World Wetlands Day 2014

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By Catherine Yaa- Kenya Wetlands Forum

Site visit at a section of the Sio Siteko wetlands in Busia County on 2nd February 2014 by National and County government officials and partners.

This year’s (2014) World Wetlands Day (WWD) event marked on 2nd February took a regional approach in Kenya with focus on the transboundary Sio- Siteko wetlands in Busia County. So why Sio- Siteko one may ask; the agricultural activities and initiatives made to ensure wise use of these wetlands and their resources gives a realistic picture of the WWD theme; “Wetlands and Agriculture: partners for growth”. This theme emphasises on the need for water, agriculture and wetland sectors to work together so as to achieve the best results in the management of wetlands.

A tour to a section of the Sio- Siteko wetlands reveals that the communities in Busia County are making efforts in their own small way to conserve and uphold the wise use principle by practicing agriculture that will not compromise the functions and existence of their wetlands. However, they are faced with a myriad of challenges and their Deputy Governor- Kizito Wangalwa takes his time to share them with us.

He further explains that it has been a challenge to use wetlands resources to benefit the residents of his County due to poverty levels which are rated at 70%. A reality that faces many communities in the East African region; and then comes the question can environmental sustainability be achieved in the midst of poverty? ; A thought for us all to ponder on.

Indeed, as the Deputy Governor put it, there is need to transform the mind set of his people more so when it comes to meeting their basic needs versus using their resources wisely so as to enable them meet these needs; another reality, which reflects the predicament many communities face in the East African region. Again, the basic needs (education, housing, food security) among others versus environmental sustainability come to mind. Dr Alice Kaudia, the Environment Secretary- Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (MEWNR) proposed possible solutions which can take us closer to environmental sustainability; more so for the residents of Busia County.

First, she echoes the need to respect the riparian reserves/ zones and where demarcation has not been done then there is need for it as it becomes difficult to hold anyone accountable where wetland boundaries are not clear; capacity building on appropriate agricultural activities suitable for wetland areas is her second proposal and she gives an example of bamboo planting around wetlands for their conservation and rehabilitation while emphasising on the use of the right species in order to reap the desired benefits. This, then takes me back to the perception many often have on wetlands as agricultural barriers thus their continued reclamation and drainage to pave way for agriculture. Perhaps it is time we begin to focus more on best agricultural practices which support the function and existence of our wetland ecosystems.

As different speakers representing the East African region share their sentiments; one thing is clear there is hope as East Africans surely do cherish and clearly understand the benefits that come with healthy wetland ecosystems. The spirit of partnerships and realization that we all stand for the implementation of the East African protocol, Ramsar Convention and many other pieces of legislation that bind the region lights a ray of hope for the survival of wetlands. It is important to note at this point that, a management plan for the Sio Siteko transboundary wetlands has been prepared in partnership with Ugandans and Kenyans who have diverse expertise in the wetlands sector not leaving the communities behind. However, the implementation of the plan has not yet been realized. As we all think of development, the environment is often far from our minds but not with the Deputy Governor of Busia. He intends to put forth a proposal to the County assembly to set aside KShs 2 million to support activities within the Sio Siteko wetlands hopefully the aspirations of Ugandans and Kenyans in the border County of Busia will be realized as such a provision can initiate the implementation of the management plan. Clearly, there is no need to reinvent the will as the Sio Siteko management plan covers not only environmental aspects but the social and economic as well.

As the day came to a close, the need to educate the children on the importance of wetlands was echoed if at all we are to walk closer towards environmental sustainability. The Environment Secretary- MEWNR handed over reading materials on wetlands to the head teachers who hosted the national event on the grounds of Busende Primary and Secondary School to share with the young minds they feed with knowledge. As the Swahili saying goes, “Samaki mkunje angali mbichi” meaning fold a fish while it is still wet to fit in the frying pot and so the saying applies to the minds of young children and nurturing their knowledge on environmental matters.

I also must say that, several prelude events to mark WWD and show case this year’s theme were held and one such event was the official launch of the Tana Delta as a Ramsar site in Minjila, Garsen on 30th January 2014. As we reflected on the theme, the Tana Delta is one wetland that has survived several threats related to agricultural developments. It was encouraging to hear the communities talk of the wise use principle and they go ahead to explain that development is welcome and more so if it allows them to put into practice this principle. Something they recall learning from the East African Wild Life Society in the past. As we nurture partnerships for growth there are definitely many opportunities for the wetlands, water and agriculture sectors to plan and develop programmes that will enhance the management of wetlands in the East African region.

The Sio Siteko wetland system spans the Kenya- Uganda border and it traverses Busia County and Samia Sub County in both Kenya and Uganda. The wetlands are part of the wider Sio-Malaba-Malakisi catchment which consists of a number of interconnected secondary and tertiary wetland subsystems that drain into the Lake Victoria. The Sio River originates from the foothills of the Kenyan segment of Mount Elgon with a total length of 85km and catchment area of about 1,338 sq. km.

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