Beneath the clear morning skies in Chara, a village on the edge of the Indian Ocean in Tana River County, footprints spread across vast mudflats to create a web that leads into the mangroves.
The footprints end at an isolated spot where tens of men and women are braving the Coastal heat to fill up seedling tubes and place them in the nurseries.
Every day, they fill up 800 tubes to establish nurseries.
“Our target as a group is to fill up 100,000. Every day, I team up with my friend to fill up 100 tubes before noon,” Ramadhan Hassan says.
Ramadhan lives 12 kilometres away in Nduru village, and for the past week, she has been joining the bandwagon of the community who want to restore their degraded mangrove forests.
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Kilometres away in Kipini, another village lying delicately on the mouth where Tana River enters the ocean, Riziki Bwanake is collecting wild seeds on her way to a patch where they are restoring mangroves.
“The seeds of this tree are often used in playing bao game, a traditional board game popular among the Coastal people. The tree grows within the terrestrial areas here, and we collect the seeds so we can plant,” Riziki says.
Just like Chara’s ‘footsteps of history’, Riziki and her team’s footsteps do not only end at an already restored site where lush mangroves waltz to the ocean breeze, they go deep into the terrestrial forest. Here, they collect the wild seeds whenever and go all out to plant them whenever the rains start.
“We have borne the brunt of coastal erosion due to climate change. It is already affecting us, and it is upon us as communities to work before it is too late,” Riziki says.
But it is not only in Chara and Kipini where communities are at the forefront of conservation, a two-hour boat ride from Kipini leads to Ozi, another magical village at the tail end bordering the ocean.
Here, several community members are all out with the seeds they have been collecting. Wherever they go, they carry around jembes and pangas to ease in digging the seeds into the soil.
“The rains are here, and we have been out for planting. Collecting seeds has also helped us bring back the species that were almost disappearing,” Tirimo Ali says.
It is not only in Tana River County where several Community Forests Associations (CFAs) and groups are working to restore degraded ecosystems, communities in areas in Lamu that fall within the Tana Delta are undertaking similar restoration programmes.
Back to Eden, a group in Witu, Lamu County is part of the larger group that is undertaking the innovative project of restoring the Tana Delta. At Back to Eden, the members use innovative approaches to restore the degraded areas.
Besides collecting the wild seeds of indigenous plants, they also collect those of wild fruit trees to plant in the forests and farms, an approach they say is helping keep away the wild animals like baboons and monkeys in the forests.
“With such an approach, the animals will not be raiding our farms as often,” Lameck Kibet said.
The restoration programmes by communities within the Tana Delta are part of the broader Tana Delta Restoration Initiative(TRI), where communities are supported to take the lead in sustainably managing their environment and natural resources.
The TRI Tana project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The project is being executed by Nature Kenya within the 130,000-hectare delta, which is globally recognised as a Ramsar Site, Key Biodiversity Area, an Important Bird Area, and a Global Biodiversity Hotspot.
Besides Tana Delta being East Africa’s second most important delta and Kenya’s largest delta, it also forms part of the Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests biodiversity hotspot. It is also a proposed World Heritage Site.
But with the impacts of climate change manifesting, Tana Delta, like many other areas, is also affected. It has experienced intense droughts and floods, coastal erosion, salty water intrusion and other challenges that have increased pressure on its resources. These trends have seen the parts of the Tana Delta experiencing high degradation due to overgrazing and conflicts over water resources.
Nature Kenya director Paul Matiku said that restoration of the Tana Delta is critical in sustaining both the ecosystem and livelihoods of the communities that entirely depend on it.
“Tana Delta is a very critical ecosystem. With the current impacts of climate change being experienced, there is a need to reverse these trends. It takes effort and teamwork to achieve this and a lot has been achieved since the programme started. The communities have been at the forefront of adapting and mitigating these impacts. Through the GEF funding, Nature Kenya has managed to roll out a series of livelihood support initiatives that will ease restoration of these areas,” Dr Matiku said.
Under the project, some of the highly degraded areas were mapped and a GIS-based Geodatabase is used to monitor restoration progress.
According to a restoration map showing progress generated based on monitoring data, 8,462 ha of degraded land out of the targeted 10,000 hectares has been restored. “The restored areas have been achieved through a combination of community-based approaches like direct seeding, planting of tree seedlings and also aided regeneration through sustainable land uses such as climate-smart Agriculture,” Rudolf Makhanu, Tana Delta Restoration Initiative Project officer said.