Inside the mega-fight to save Mara ecosystem as experts mull solutions

Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) Executive Secretary Masinde Bwire speaks with Tanzania's Water Deputy Minister Mary Prisca Maundi. [Courtesy]

Delegates from the East Africa Community (EAC) have endorsed an ambitious proposal to save the fragile Mara ecosystem which is facing a huge threat of environmental degradation.

This is happening as experts from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda as well as partners made a resounding call for justice for the ecosystem that is the cornerstone of life the Maasai Mara and the Serengeti game reserves.

There are regional fears that a failure to intervene in unchecked developments, deforestation, poor farming, uncontrolled water abstraction, and pollution threaten the future of the fragile ecosystem.

Experts believe the turn of events is threatening to choke life out of at least 1.2 million residents who depend on the ecosystem for survival.

Despite the stunning natural wonders enjoyed by both Kenya and Tanzania, the ecosystem is under a grave threat pushing conservation efforts into the spotlight.

In a resolution signed by delegate representatives from Kenya and Tanzania, partners are eyeing a change in strategy with a focus on technology, innovation, partnerships, and joint transboundary efforts to address the problem facing the ecosystem.

Their declaration was endorsed during the 12th Mara Day celebrations in Mugumu, Tanzania, and highlights the dedication and the rush against time to conserve the ecosystem.

According to Dr Masinde Bwire, Executive Secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), cooperation and eco-diplomacy are vital to ensure that Mara River's resources are used wisely and equitably.

"It is vital for us to explore innovative approaches, data, science, and emerging technology to harness the ecosystem's potential while conserving its long-term prosperity," said Bwire.

Experts are optimistic that full implementation of the proposals will be a massive game-changer in the relentless effort to conserve the ecosystem.

In the new proposals, delegates have proposed the identification and mapping of all the major point source pollution hotspots and prepared a water quality investment plan for the Mara River.

Pollution is among the teething problems experts believe is slowly killing the fragile ecosystem and has been blamed for the poor water quality of the Mara River.

"We hereby agree and recommend partnerships for the application of artificial intelligence, earth observation, and other innovative technologies to support knowledge generation and ecosystem monitoring for decision support and sustainable management of the shared ecosystem," read their resolutions in part.

The delegates have also fronted include promotion of climate-smart agriculture to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on the riparian communities.

As part of the efforts to save the ecosystem, experts have also made a resounding call for the two countries to initiate a Water Fund (Watershed Investment Program) for the Mara River Basin.

This, they argue, will optimally support the conservation of the Transboundary Masai Mara Serengeti ecosystem while at the same time empowering women, youth, and other marginalized groups for more inclusive and sustainable development.

They are also proposing the establishment of a joint transboundary water project and institutionalizing the Mara River Basin scientific conference to help unearth more interventions.

During the celebrations, researchers fronted the use of innovation as a key pillar to protect the ecosystem.

The delegates also agreed to intensify and diversify resource mobilization initiatives for a broad-based multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder transboundary programme to catalyze sustainable management and development of the Masai Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.

They are also hoping to tap into indigenous knowledge to protect the ecosystem and are optimistic that both Kenya and Tanzania will endorse the initiative.

The delegates are optimistic that the two national governments, county governments and local authorities, development partners, conservation agencies, and local communities will participate in the implementation of the new proposals.

Uganda's Permanent Secretary for EAC Affairs, Edith Mwanje, who was the chief guest at the event, challenged partners to embrace concerted efforts to save the ecosystem.

"By coming together as sister EAC States, we not only promote people-to-people integration but also pave the way for attracting sustainable investments," she noted.

In the plan to save the ecosystem, stakeholders believe the incorporation of the private sector in activities targeting proper resource management is vital for the survival of the ecosystem.

Kenya on its part, has also pledged to plant 15 billion trees to improve forest coverage on the ecosystem.

The representative of Kenya's Principal Secretary for EAC, Asals and regional development Mr Julius Mwabu said the efforts to conserve the Mara ecosystem is a priority for President William Ruto's administration.

"The Kenyan Government, on its part, has put in place adequate policy, legal and institutional mechanisms geared towards saving the Mara River Basin; key among them being the protection of the Mau Forest which is the source of River Mara," he said.

Dr Ali Said Matano, an advisor on climate change issues at Price Water House Coopers and the immediate former LVBC Executive Secretary challenged the stakeholders to embrace research.

The Mara River basin covers a surface of 13,504 sq km, of which about 65 per cent is located in Kenya and 35 per cent in Tanzania. From its sources in the Kenyan highlands, the river flows for about 395 km, draining into Lake Victoria in Tanzania's Mara region.

Both Tanzania and Kenya have a shared resolve to sustainably manage Mara River Basin as a critical ecosystem in Lake Victoria Basin contributing to sustainable socio-economic development, biodiversity conservation and vibrancy of the economies of the States.