Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) has pointed out that wildlife conservation is in conflict with agriculture.
The Chairman of the NEMA Board of Management Mr Francis Ole Kaparo has said tourism has taken away the best grazing areas for livestock in the Maasai Mara Reserve and the neighboring group ranches.
“This has resulted to the degradation of the environment as tourism development and agriculture compete for space in the Mara ecosystem,” Mr Ole Kaparo said in a press conference at Nairobi to inform the public of the stakeholders’ decision the previous day on the way forward for the Mara development proposals.
The Chairman said enormous threats are currently facing the ecosystem which include a burgeoning human population, land subdivision, changing land tenure systems, crop farming, poaching, blockage of wildlife migratory corridors, habitat destruction, sedentarism, environmental degradation and poverty.
“In the last decade,” Mr Ole Kaparo said “former Group Ranch land bordering the Maasai Mara National Reserve was sub-divided and individual title deeds issued (for mostly 40-60Ha plots).”
This was done without formal protection in the form of holistic leasing of large contiguous areas hence posing a real threat of fragmentation of the land into a variety of land uses such as intensive farming and settlement.
“Besides continuous sub-division of land into smaller parcels, there is an increase in change of use from livestock keeping, which is eco-friendly to wildlife conservation, to agricultural production,” the Chairman said, citing examples of wheat and maize farming.
Mr Kaparo further pointed out that massive interest in tourism investment in the Maasai Mara National Reserve and within the conservancies has led to the development of unplanned and uncontrolled tourism facilities such as camp sites and lodges. “Tour operators have continued to target the areas outside the national reserve for tourism development, resulting in a mushrooming of tourist facilities,” the former speaker of Kenya’s national assembly said.
The government imposed a moratorium on development of tourism facilities in the Maasai Mara Reserve in 2007. NEMA said the moratorium was to remain in force for a period, within which the government would provide clear policies and guidelines for tourism planning, development and management.
Mr Ole Kaparo said “since 2007, a total of 122 projects requiring Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) have been submitted to NEMA for approval.” However, he added “because of the moratorium, they were not processed and are still pending. NEMA has also received 98 Environmental Audit (EA) reports for the same ecosystem. Only 16 EIAs have been approved for the region and only for those projects submitted before the 2007 moratorium.”
The County Councils of Transmara and Narok, where the reserve falls under, had been engaged in the development of a general management plan for the protected area in 2007? However, the process has not been completed to date. “This has complicated NEMA’s ability to make a decision for project applications from the Mara region,” Mr Kaparo said.
The Mara ecosystem, he explained, maintains the greatest and most spectacular large mammal migration on earth and is one of the “wonders of the world”. It is the most highly visited tourist area in the East African region, contributing millions of dollars annually to the Kenyan economy.
According to the NEMA leader, the Mara “requires workable, integrated natural resource management and a land-use strategy to enhance conservation of resources, increase benefits to local communities and sustain the long term multiple use of the Mara ecosystem.”
The community landowners around the protected area have organized themselves into conservancies. NEMA is concerned that the communities who are land owners in the Mara ecosystem have not benefited from their land despite billions of shillings generated.
“The communities have continued to protect the environment and wildlife from time immemorial but might decide to change their land use to other competing options such as crop farming which may lead to the extinction of the Mara ecosystem,” he said, explaining that “NEMA will not allow this to happen. In this case the authority is committed to listen to the community to ensure that the community reaps the benefits associated with Maasai Mara.”
It’s noteworthy that the Mara ecosystem is 6000 sq km. The protected area is 1510 sq km while area outside the protected area is 870 sq km of important habitat. “If this area is enjoined as a conservation area this will result in an additional 1.8 per cent of conservation area which now stands nationally at 7.8 per cent. Therefore the initiative we are engaging in today will contribute to increasing the conservation area to 9.6 percent,” Mr Ole Kaparo said.
NEMA released guidelines on the establishment of conservancies in 2010 and based on this, “the conservancies have revised their project proposals to ensure that the Mara Ecosystem is not degraded while communities benefit from their private farms. Some of these projects have innovative designs that are environmentally friendly.”
NEMA, whose mandate is to exercise general supervision and co-ordination over all matters relating to the environment, agreed that communities should be allowed to use the land in a way that is compatible with wildlife dispersal areas provided they provide a management plan for the conservancy and an EIA study report to NEMA.
The roadmap is strategic as the Maasai Mara Reserve and the neighboring group ranches provide critical habitats such as forests, swamps, migratory routes, special breeding sites for different species and important river systems. The Maasai Mara ecosystem has one of the richest assemblages of wildlife in the world and supports around 237 herbivores per square km, making it one of the most productive natural terrestrial ecosystems.
Furthermore, NEMA said that a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) will be formed to advise on the issuance of EIA licenses for the pending 122 proposed projects. “The members will include representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, Narok and Transmara county councils, Ewaso Nyiro Development Authority, NEMA, KWS, one representative of the community conservancies and Africa Wildlife Foundation,” he articulated. “The TAC should finish this work in three months.”
The stakeholders agreed that the formula for approval of EIAs for the community conservancies will be one bed per 350 – 500 acres depending on hold-up capacity. “The facilities should be well scattered to avoid crowding in one area. Where there is no controversy on an EIA license, a license should be issued more-so outside the protected area. Every effort should be made to increase benefits to the local people by all stakeholders operating in the Greater Mara.”
Additionally, the Chairman said that Transmara and Narok County Councils should finalize the general management plans for the protected area within three months to enable NEMA to embark on processing EIAs for the protected area. “Failure by the Councils to finalize this Management Plan will compel NEMA to finalize the activity and bill the councils as provided in Section 12 of EMCA 1999,” he warned.