2 Mar 2018

Local communities take action to conserve their swamp

Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group has mobilised their local community to restore degraded areas in the Yala Swamp Important Bird and Biodiversity Area in Kenya

Members of Nyiego Community (in blue tops) working on their agroforestry demonstration plot planted with the indigenous Markhamia lutea
Members of Nyiego Community (in blue tops) working on their agroforestry demonstration plot planted with the indigenous Markhamia lutea
By Nick Langley

BirdLife Partner Nature Kenya nominated Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group (YESSG) among its 2017 Nature's Heroes. YESSG have created awareness on the conservation of the wetland to the local communities and the schools adjacent to the wetland, so far 10,000 people have been reached through awareness. The SSG has also mobilised the local community to restore the degraded areas in the Yala Swamp Important Bird (Biodiversity) Area (IBA).

The members monitor biodiversity and are restoring critical wildlife habitat 

Formed in 2015, Yala Ecosystem SSG is a network of 46 Community Based Organisations (CBOs) with 1,126 members (621 female). “The SSG encourages constituent groups to take action to conserve the swamp by creating awareness of its importance for ecosystem services and biodiversity”, says Nature Kenya's Local Empowerment Manager, Mr. Siele Joel. "The members monitor biodiversity and are restoring critical wildlife habitat along the River Yala and within the swamp by planting indigenous tree seedlings, bamboo and papyrus. They also promote the benefits of sustainable nature-based income-generating activities."

The Vice Chair of Yala SSG Stephen Okumu presents the Nature's Hero award to members of the Yala SSG-Yimbo cluster

Recently, on 14th of February 2018, a total of 26 individuals from Nyiego Women Group graduated as Training of Trainers’ (ToT) farmers after successfully completing 52 weeks of training in the Farmers Field School. The ToT farmers are planning to teach other farmers some of the best practices learnt including agroforestry, growing drought-resistant crops as an adaption measure to climate change, soil and water conservation measures, and kitchen gardening. With support from KFS, they are planning to rehabilitate a 20km stretch of Hwiro stream with bamboo. The stream flows through Alego-Usonga Subcounty and drains into the Yala swamp. The other Farmers Field School (Olalo Women Group) is still running till the end of April 2018 when they are expected to graduate too.

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Members of the SSG who sit in the Yala Swamp Land Use Plan Advisory Committee are spearheading sensitization activities captured in the Land Use Plan. The County Governments of Siaya and Busia advertised the Yala Swamp Land Use Plan for public scrutiny on 24th January 2018, the members have taken the initiative of conducting awareness, encouraging members of the wider community to read the document and provide comments as required. Sensitization has been successfully conducted in 3 locations i.e. South East Alego, Central Alego and Khajula locations

Ibrahim Onyango (in blue top) from Yala SSG leads a group from the Bar Olengo Secondary  School Wildlife Club on a birding event

The SSG organized an event to mark the World Wetlands Day 2018 using money from their own established conservation fund. During the event they reached over 160 participants with powerful messages appealing to community members to support the land use plan for Yala swamp and stressing the need for all stakeholders to take a proactive role in promoting sustainable conservation of Yala wetland.

Tour guide leaders from the Yala Community Ecotourism Organization (YACETO) have initiated discussions with County government of Siaya-Department of tourism on development, production and marketing of tourism packages for Siaya county. Among other priority activities, they are lobbying for adoption of the Community Conservation Areas (CCAs) approach to promote tourism and revenue earnings within Yala swamp.  

In an attempt to find effective measures of conservation of the nationally endangered Sitatunga antelope and stop bird poisoning, 7 volunteers have scheduled to convene a dialogue forum with habitual poachers by mid-March 2018 to get a firsthand insight of the leading drivers of poaching in order to find lasting solutions to the vice.

Yala Ecosystem SSG has demonstrated that with commitment, individual and community initiatives can indeed make a difference, providing a message of hope with win-win solutions for people and biodiversity alike.