Human Activities: Deforestation and Croplands Expansion Threaten Mara Wetland

Human Activities: Deforestation and Croplands Expansion Threaten Mara Wetland

CAPTION: Mara wetland is highly affected by human activities — mainly deforestation and crop farming. Photo by Prof. Nzula Kitaka and Ondiek Risper

Tuesday May 16th, 2017

Fredrick Mugira
May 16, 2017

For hundreds of years, it has been a home to several reptiles, plants, animals, birds and insects — becoming synonymous with hospitality in the wildlife world. In fact, many of Mara River Basin wetland’s plants, animals and insects cannot be found anywhere else in Kenya and Tanzania.

But nowadays that synonymous does not seem so apt. The wetland is highly affected by human activities — mainly deforestation and crop farming.

This is according to a new study by researchers at Egerton University and Tanzania’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism, Tanzania led by Prof. Nzula Kitaka.

The recent study was conducted in 180 households from the six villages of Kwibuse, Kembwi, Bisarwi, Ryamisanga, Kirumi and Kongoto, neighbouring the wetland.

“The clearing of forests in the Mara River Basin has resulted into increase in open canopy forests and tea plantations by +214 percent. Savannah grasslands and shrub land (rangelands) on the other hand have decreased by 35 percent due to expansion of agricultural land by 203 percent,” the study documents.

One of the reasons why trees in Mara wetland floodplain are cut is to produce charcoal.

In fact, the study indicates that charcoal production from the trees growing in the wetland’s floodplain—practiced by 17.6 percent of the people there—is one of the most lucrative businesses in the communities living close to the wetland.

In these communities, charcoal production generates a relatively high annual net income of TZS 1,032,797.19 (USD 473.83) probably due to the fact that the trees used for the activity are obtained for free, the study concludes.

And on average, according to the study: “91 bags of charcoal are produced per year of which seven are used for home consumption and 84bags for sales.”

The figures seem impressive as far as poverty eradication is concern. However, when it comes to conservation of the wetlands, they are disheartening.

This is more so because, researchers noted an increase in soil erosion in the Mara wetland basin due to the reduction in sub natural vegetation cover caused by deforestation and increase in agriculture. Soil erosion, coupled with poor management of cultivated land and over grazing leaves communities staying around this wetland at a great environmental risk.

About Mara wetland

Mara wetland is a riparian papyrus wetland situated in the Mara River Basin which is a transboundary basin shared between Kenya and Tanzania.

The basin covers an area of approximately 13,750 km2 of which 65 percent is located in Kenya and 35 percent in Tanzania.

The wetlands’ source of water is mainly the Mara River which originates from Enapuiyapui swamp in the Kenyan Mau Escarpment.

The Mara River meanders through large and small scale agricultural farms before entering the Masai Mara Game Reserve and the Serengeti National Park in Kenya and Tanzania respectively, and finally ending its-395 km journey by discharging into Lake Victoria through the Mara wetland near Musoma town, Tanzania

The wetland covers an area of approximately 164km2 with seasonal variations from 135 km2 in dry season to 186km2 in rainy season.

Existing Ecosystem Services
Besides charcoal production, researchers documented papyrus mat making— practiced by minority 29.5 percent of the community members living near Mara wetland, as another activity in the basin. On average, 168 bundles of dry papyrus are harvested annually which generates approximately 432 mats per house hold. The annual net value of mats is TZS 360,260.10 (USD166.71).

Among all the provisioning ecosystem services derived from the Mara wetland, brickmaking is the least practiced activity by the local communities — just only 2.8 percent. This may also explain the relatively low annual net value of 172,827 (USD79.98) generated from brick making.

The study found out that water abstracted from the wetland is used mainly for domestic purposes. The dependence on this water however varies with season — low during rainy season and high during dry season. On average the daily amount of water used by each house hold for domestic purposes is 100 litres.

Water abstraction from the wetland, though for free, has a monetary value of TZS 280,000 (USD128.17) per year. This implies that the water from the wetland should be used sustainably since the community may have to spend the same amount of money in case the service of water provision is no longer provided by the wetland.

Fish production was also observed among the activities happening in Mara wetland. Fish commonly harvested from the Mara wetland includes; lung fish, cat fish and Nile tilapia. The local communities practice both commercial and subsistence fishing with minority of them being engaged only on fishing for home consumption especially during the rainy seasons when fish is abundant.

Annually, cat fish and lung fish generate a gross income of TZS 2,677,714.20 (1226.98 USD) and TZS 9,046,128 (4145.12 USD) respectively. The net value of fish harvested from the wetland is TZS 14,825,782 (USD 6,860.61) per year.

Other benefits of the swamp included the use of swamp materials for house roof thatching, livestock grazing, firewood fetching among other activities.

Gender and Equity Status
In the Mara wetland, the researchers conclude, “gender based labour division defines which gender group has more or less access to Ecosystem Services. For instance, fish is more accessible to men (60.2 percent) than women (5.8 percent) while women have more access to firewood (73 percent), water (52.8 percent) and papyrus for mat making (60.0 percent).”

Thatching grass is also more accessible to men (48.4 percent) than women (11.2 percent). Both men and women have more access to clay soil for brick making (58.3 percent) and trees for charcoal production (72.6 percent). This implies that women are more dependent on the wetland Ecosystem Services than men based on their daily activities, such as water abstraction for domestic use, firewood collection and papyrus mat making for both domestic and commercial purposes.

Meanwhile, men are only involved in fishing and house roof thatching. Roofing of the houses is, however, an occasional activity; only taking place when need arises, for instance, when a new house is built or re-thatched. According the study, this suggests that, “traditional division of labour limits men access to wetland Ecosystem Services while at the same time overburdens women in supporting household’s livelihoods.”

With regards to participation in decision making on wetland Ecosystem Services such as utilization, consumption, marketing and use of revenue from the sale of products particularly in male headed households, gender equity was reported by household respondents in this study.

From the field observation, the researchers found that it was only men who participated in decision making regarding community issues, for instance, who among community members should participate in the household survey conducted in this study. Therefore, the study concludes, there is a higher chance that this may also apply to the households’ decision-making. It roots for conducting separate focus group discussions (FGDs) constituting different gender groups to get more insight on decision making at household level.

Conclusion
Evidently, although Mara River Basin wetland ecosystem in Kenya and Tanzania is very important in supporting livelihood and economies of communities living near it, the wetland faces great threats such as over-exploitation of wetland resources and agricultural expansion.

Now, the researchers are rooting for an integrated management approach to increase the economic valuation of the ecosystems for the sustainability and for the benefits of the local communities.

They also advocated for awareness raising and capacity building through a variety of tradition-based approaches and a need to revise the existing policies, institutions, interventions, and processes, to enhance gender equity within the management of water, land and ecosystems.

The need for close collaboration with relevant partners, stakeholders and effective advocacy on the importance of valuation at the appropriate time and place was also strongly encouraged.

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