The government of Kenya, through the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), has approved a proposal to turn 20,000 hectares of the pristine Tana Delta into irrigated sugarcane plantations. Conservationists and villagers living in the Delta, which provides refuge for 350 species of bird, lions, elephants, rare sharks and reptiles including the Tana writhing skink, believe the decision is illegal and are determined to block the development. The groups are considering what action they might take.
Paul Matiku, Executive Director of Nature Kenya (BirdLife in Kenya) said: “This decision is a national disaster and will devastate the Delta. The Tana’s ecology will be destroyed yet the economic gains will be pitiful. It will seriously damage our priceless national assets and will put the livelihoods of the people living in the Delta in jeopardy”. “The environmental assessment for the scheme was poor yet the government has defied even those very modest recommendations. We refuse to accept that this decision is final. The development must be stopped at all costs”
The proposal was approved by the Kenyan government’s National Environment Management Authority, which put 14 conditions on the sugarcane plan. The conditions are weak and ignore the environmental assessment, which showed that irrigation of crops would cause severe drainage of the Delta. The decision also overlooks an ongoing dispute over compensation for farmers and fishermen who would lose their land and fishing rights. Paul Matiku said: “This is the only dry-season grazing area for hundreds of miles and its loss will leave many hundreds of farmers with no-where to take their cattle.”
A report commissioned by Nature Kenya and the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) in May found that the developer’s plans overestimated profits, ignored fees for water use and pollution from the sugarcane plant, and disregarded the loss of income from wildlife tourists. The study said the Delta’s ecological benefits “defied valuation” and that the proposal would cause the “irreversible loss of ecosystem services” – benefits such as flood prevention, the storage of greenhouse gases and the provision of medicines and food.
The Mumias Sugar Company says the income from sugarcane cultivation will be US$2.45 million (EU€1.58 million) over 20 years but the report showed the revenue from fishing, farming, tourism and other lost livelihoods would be US$59 million (EU€38 million) over the same period. Paul Buckley, an Africa specialist with the RSPB, said: “Until now, Kenya’s support for global agreements to protect wildlife has been excellent but this development could severely damage Kenya’s reputation for caring for its environment.”
Conservationists say that an integrated management plan for the entire Tana River basin should precede any development considerations. The lack of project design documents - required by Kenyan environmental law - has been a critical omission in the whole Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) process. “The current EIA was hurriedly produced and lacks vital information. NEMA should reject it and request for a new EIA study for the new project site”, stated Paul Matiku.