Promoting Sustainable Management of the Mara Wetlands – Tanzania

Buswahili village, Mara wetlands © Chris Magero
Buswahili village, Mara wetlands © Chris Magero




Project countries & sites: Mara Wetland, Tanzania

Project duration: May 9th 2016 – May 8th 2017

Project Partners: BirdLife Tanzania, Stitching Delft IHE

Key stakeholders: United Republic of Tanzania, Mara Wetland Communities

Project Donor: Planning for Resilience in East Africa through Policy Adaptation, Research and Economic Development (PREPARED) Project, funded by USAID/Kenya and East Africa

Project Goal: The goal of this project is to conserve and protect the Mara Wetlands, a Biologically Significant Area (BSA) in Tanzania.


Map of Mara River Basin

The Mara Wetlands

The Mara river basin is an important watershed of Lake Victoria Basin. It covers an estimated 13,834 km2 from Kenya to Tanzania. It contributes 5% of the volume of water flowing into Lake Victoria and is well recognized for biodiversity conservation owing to its international significance of wildebeest migration, supported by the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem. The population in the basin is estimated at 1.1 million people (in 2002) with a population growth rate of 2.7%.

The Mara wetlands is recognized as an Important Bird Area in Tanzania (TZ041) Lake Victoria: Mara Bay and Masirori swamp located on the lower part of the basin in Tanzania and recharged by the Mara River. It extends about 50km towards Lake Victoria and covers an area of between 400-500 km2 of permanent swamp and flood plains. It supports globally significant populations of migratory birds, mainly the White-winged Black Tern and the Shoebill (categorized as Vulnerable on the IUCN redlist),  essential ecosystem services including provision of water, food, fertile soils for agriculture, grazing for livestock, and sediment retention.

The resource users of Mara wetlands include livestock keepers, peasant farmers, fishermen and women, beekeepers, traders, miners, handcraft producers, as well as direct and indirect water users. In Tanzania, wetlands support income generation for local livelihoods with agriculture and livestock keeping, coming in ahead of fishing in terms of income generation. The Mara wetland is known to support important ecological services including biodiversity, food provision, water storage and flow, groundwater recharge, water purification and carbon accumulation.


What are the challenges facing this ecosystem?

The documented threats to Mara basin include poor water quality, reduction in water flow, and pollution from mining and agriculture, and biodiversity loss. A growing population in the Mara basin and with it an increasing demand of natural resources has led to expansive riverine cultivation, upstream deforestation and incompatible land use, resulting in increased water runoff, soil erosion and sediment loads that have altered the seasonal flow of water resulting in extreme incidences of droughts and floods within the lower basin. Despite the existence of an extensive framework of coordination by the Tanzania Water Resources Management Act, there is poor coordination and management of conservation activities at multiple levels in the Mara wetlands, resulting in the lack of focused and sustained conservation action.


How is the project addressing the issues and challenges?

The goal of this project is to conserve and protect the Mara Wetlands BSA in Tanzania by 1) Strengthening the governance of local, district, national and regional institutions for sustainable transboundary wetland management; and 2) Increasing the awareness of Mara wetland values and promote sustainable alternative livelihood approaches for the benefit of nature and people.


The key outputs from this project

i. An Integrated Management Plan for Mara Wetlands

ii. Communication Strategy to support implementation of the Mara Wetlands IMP

iii. Community action plans to support implementation of the Mara Wetlands IMP

iv. Trainings and capacity for community members and other  stakeholders on the implementation of the IMP and sustainable livelihoods


About PREPARED Project

The PREPARED Project, the central component of USAID/Kenya and East Africa’s PREPARED Program, works to strengthen the resiliency and sustainability of East African institutions, by targeting three key development challenges of East Africa that are likewise high priority areas for the U.S. Government (USG): climate change adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and sustainable access to water supply, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). It is implemented by Tetra Tech ARD.