Like most of the world I guess, Kenya’s landscape is under strain. As the population grows (and Kenya’s is >43 M fit into a land mass about half the size of Ontario), the strain on basic resources will continue to grow. And, consequently, so will the strain on its landscape. Meeting the need for water and fuel is already taking a great toll.
In the Matangwe area, drinking water largely comes from pools of water filled during the rainy seasons. If it’s a good season, the pools will be filled and might, just might, last until the next rains. If it’s a poor season, then everyone goes thirsty unless they can undertake journeys of many kilometers to deeper ponds. But it’s not just people that use the ponds, the countryside is dotted with cattle, goats and sheep – a source of wealth (and food) to the people in the area. The more livestock, the better off you are. One of the problems is that the livestock, in using the ponds, destroy it – eating and breaking down surrounding vegetation that would protect it from evaporation and from siltation when the rains run off; roiling the water so it is muddy; urinating and defecating in it so that bacteria and parasites proliferate.
There is only one source of fuel for heating and cooking: wood. Daily, women and children (and sometimes men if an axe is required to cut up something large) fan out through the countryside looking for dead wood or brush that they can cut down with a panga (machete), bundle up and carry home. Each school day, a number of children (a LARGE number) of children are tasked with the job of bringing a few branches to the school to cook the noon meal. A few branches multiplied by many children results in a large pile of wood…each day.
Without a more thoughtful approach (and one that, in the long run, will require looking at population growth), the destruction of the countryside is inevitable. Inevitable.
The people living in the Matangwe area know that they have a growing problem on their hands. In meetings with a large segment of the community adults it was very clear to me that they were greatly in favour of restricting access to the ponds to cattle and in reforesting whatever areas they could. In fact, in the best of all possible worlds, what they would really like would be a separate cement trough that livestock would drink out of leaving the ponds (and the vegetation around them) just for human consumption. But this would require funds to fence off areas and to provide tha piping and trough.
A number of people here in Canada had given me funds to use in my “project” in Matangwe. We’re not talking large sums of money but, when put together, enough to start the project. There are two large ponds, one draining downhill into the second. Both have partial wooded banks and also areas of significant erosion caused by livestock. The upper pond would be ideal as a source of water for the trough….but the lower pond is in greatest need of protection. And…..although materials and labour are relatively cheap in Kenya, I don’t have a LOT of money. So…here’s the plan that we came up with: I’ll put $850 into fencing off the denuded areas of the lower pond, allowing cattle access only in one small corner. The community will police this to make sure that livestock owners (quite a few were at the various meetings and are quite willing to do so) keep their cattle out of the fenced area. At the same time I put 2500 Kenyan shillings ($35) into buying tree seedlings from a community-owned nursery to begin to retree the areas protected by the fence.
Call this “Phase 1”. Future phases (if there is success with Phase 1 and continued community buy-in – that is they see the benefit of carrying on) would involve completely fencing the lower pond and then working the upper pond – fencing it off and replanting trees while putting in a cement trough with feeder pipe for the livestock between the two ponds.
I was impressed with the enthusiam of the villagers. I got the sense that this is something that they would really like for their community. They see great benefit in it. And it wouldn’t take a lot of resources to do it. I visited a nearby community that had a cement trough that had been provided by a development grant from the European Union. It’s just a matter of chasing down the resources. As I write this, the area that the fence will be put in is being readied for the fence. Some seedlings have already been planted. Phase 1 is beginning to happen.
Of course, if the local ecology is both protected and developed, then the bird populations depending on it will be healthy. And if there’s an interesting bird population then avian ecotourism (something I’ve been pushing as a money-generating option for the area) would be that much more attractive….
Just a few of the birds encountered around the Lower Pond: