COLLABORATIVE CONSERVATION

Dr Joseph Mwangi, Kenya Country Coordinator, EWT African Crane Conservation Programme
JosephM@ewt.org.za

The African Crane Conservation Programme (ACCP) under the ICF/ EWT partnership, recently formalised their conservation partnership with local communities by signing conservation agreements. A conservation agreement is a formal voluntary partnership between conservation bodies and local communities geared towards conserving biodiversity while improving the quality of life for local communities. Grey Crowned Cranes in Kenya are predominantly found outside protected areas in wetlands surrounded by community lands. These community wetlands are critical habitats for Grey Crowned Crane survival, especially for breeding, but communities are also dependent on the ecosystem goods and services offered by these wetlands for their livelihoods.

The ACCP, in partnership with community members, is working to maintain the ecological integrity of wetlands in western Kenya as Grey Crowned Crane habitats, as well as contribute to communities’ wellbeing. Through this initiative, we aim to reverse the downward population trend in Grey Crowned Cranes, a species currently Endangered with a population that has declined by over 50% in 19 years (BirdLife International 2020). By signing the agreements, the ACCP, through its local Kenyan partner organisations Kipsaina Crane and Wetland Conservation Group and Community Action for Nature Conservation (CANCO) committed to assist the community groups establish income-generating alternative resilient livelihood options to reduce over reliance on wetlands as their main source of livelihoods.

This was a culmination of a long community-led initiative facilitated by the ACCP to identify priority livelihood projects that can improve the economic wellbeing of the communities, and consequently decrease reliance on the wetlands. Identification of alternative livelihoods was through a community participatory process, with the ACCP only providing guidance and facilitation. All the projects were identified by community members and endorsed by conservation stakeholders in the region of implementation, local and national government. The ACCP signed conservation agreements with community groups neighbouring three key wetlands in Kenya of King’wal, Saiwa and Sio Siteko. These brought together 11 community groups with a total membership of 199 members (67 male and 132 females).

Through the partnership, community groups made conservation commitments to refrain from farming in the wetlands, report capture of Grey Crowned Cranes, and create a buffer zone between their farms and the wetland boundary by planting indigenous trees and other wetland friendly vegetation, while acting as crane ambassadors in their areas to educate others on the importance of wetlands and the threats facing Grey Crowned Cranes. In return, the ACCP agreed to:

  1. Assist three self-help groups located in Lower part of King’wal wetland in Nandi County start up a tea and tree nursery livelihood business,
  2. Assist four groups in upper King’wal wetland located in Nandi County and one group neighbouring Saiwa wetland in Trans Nzoia County start up beekeeping businesses, and
  3. Assist one community group bordering Aaiwa wetland, Trans Nzoia County and two groups neighbouring Sio Siteko wetland, Busia County to start up poultry keeping businesses.

The partnership is already showing results, with increased reporting of crane sightings and breeding records by local community members, cutting down of Eucalyptus trees along wetland boundaries and planting of Indigenous trees, and reporting of poaching incidences by community members.