Village Eco-Enterprises Movers and Shakers.

“In The Making”

To empower local community members with the skills and knowledge of conserving their wetlands, you need to subject them to training and skill building seminars, this has always been the par for the course. Needless to say, more often than not, these skills and knowledge only ever stick to a small fraction of the target audience. But that one enthusiastic, willing, able and ready person is all we need to make a change right?

20160829_140446Well, the same was the case for an Entrepreneurship training conducted by Ecofinder Kenya. Paul is a community member of Koguta Wetland and he was one of the trainees. During the training, he did not have a business but had been thinking of starting one. He was very impressed with Ecofinder Kenya’s nature based enterprise portfolio with particular interest in ecotourism. This is because he believed that there is potential for ecotourism in Koguta wetland especially in terms of avi and boat tourism but this has never before been tapped into.

After the training, he set out to set up an ecotourism venture in the wetland. As it is known, starting any business from scratch is not easy, but in his case, this proved to be even more difficult because he did not have a leg to stand on. There was no past activity that he would get reference from, but he was still determined to try and make it happen. He then put together a group of determined young men like himself, who to the best of his knowledge, he thought would be competent enough to make their idea fly. This however was not the case because a few weeks later, things fell apart.

His entrepreneurial spirit was 20160829_140236crushed, but he did not lose hope non the less. He went back to his notes from the training and decided to go at it with a different approach. Paul established a tree farm by planting 3000 tree seedlings in one of his farms, that is in close proximity to the wetland. His main aim for this was to tap into the water available in the wetlands and use it to establish his planted forest, when mature, he would harvest a percentage and plant double that every time.

Aside from his tree farm, Paul is also getting into fish farming. His family had tried this some years back with lung fish and cat fish, it was successful but they did not stick to it. He is therefore tapping into a source of water close to his farm and establishing fish ponds.

Paul hopes to get more and more of his community members to embrace and adopt these alternative sources of livelihood, so that they may reduce the pressure they exert on the wetlands. As these plans are in motion, he is slowly coming up with a portfolio of attractions and ecotourism products and activities in his village. He has a vision that more people from his community will join him, together they will develop numerous nature based enterprises and reduce the over dependence and over exploitation of the wetland. By so doing, they will have a healthier wetland ecosystem and Koguta wetland will eventually thrive as an ecotourism destination.

 

Village Hubs for Wetland Conservation Agriculture

Over dependence on wetland resources as we have seen, is the root cause of wetlands destruction and the degradation of these resources. Over and over again there have been efforts of creating awareness on the importance of wetlands and ways of conserving our wetlands. Truth be told, you cannot tell people to abandon a way of life, especially a source of livelihood for them and their families, without showing them that there is actually an alternative that works better.

One that will take care of their needs, their environment, IMG-20160725-WA0008provide them with sustainability for those resources they need from the wetlands in the long run and on top of it all, be a health conscious alternative. At Ecofinder Kenya, we have been able to demonstrate to members of the community the alternatives that they have to wood fuel, through providing them with green technologies, like biogas digesters and compost toilets which they can use to get organic manure that they can use in their farms and get even better yields, as opposed to farming in the wetlands, where aside from habitat destruction, they are also exposing their farms to being destroyed by the fauna in the wetlands.

IMG-20160725-WA0009Our model farmers act as village hubs and they are charged with teaching and demonstrating to visitors and the rest of the community members how biogas digesters work and explaining the importance and contribution of the technology to wetlands conservation.
The model farmers are therefore also wetland keepers, they promote Conservation agriculture and through that, they also advocate for wetlands conservation, curbing destruction of wetland wildlife habitats and avoiding human wildlife conflicts in wetland communities.

Model Farmers as Wetland Keepers

 Teaching, communicating, awareness creation, campaigning and training, these are all different strategies that have been employed in the fight for the conservation of wetlands and their resources. People living in proximity to wetland communities are often faced with the temptation to encroach and grab the lands in the wetlands for their own economic gains, not giving any consideration to the flora and faunal diversity in the wetlands and destruction of their habitats.

Among all those people, you occasionally come DSC06770across the conscious few, the people who take a step back and look at the ecological foot prints that they leave behind with their anthropogenic activities in the wetlands. It is these few individuals that are the stepping stone to making a real difference in the communities, in terms of perception and conservation efforts.

This is a story of model farmers, who act as village hubs for alternative livelihoods innovation. Charles for instance, is a Mzee in Dunga wetland community, when the opportunity to make a difference and to be a part of an impacting educational process to his fellow villagers came along, he grabbed it and is now a successfully established model farmer. He is a very proud owner and ambassador of a heavy plastic biogas digester and an ecosan toilet for composting donated to him as an incentive for the conservation of the papyrus wetland.

20160711_145913Charles hosts different visitors on his farm and homestead and is very enthusiastic about communicating the value of conservation to them and practically showing them how they can use their own excreta and that of their cattle for composting to get better yields in their farms and for clean, environmental and health friendly energy for cooking. showing them how they don’t have to farm in the wetlands and subject their farms to trampling and destruction by wild animals and cutting down trees in the wetlands and their surrounding for cooking for them to be able to support their families.

Most importantly, how adopting these strategies will go a long way towards reducing encroachment in the wetlands and this will be a win win situation for both parties because reduced encroachment will reduce destruction of wildlife habitats and this will inturn help curb human wildlife conflicts.

Farms’ Afforestation for Environmental Conservation

DSC02893Establishment of model farmers is based on the premise of conservation. The model farmer’s are expected to promote wetland conservation through reducing pressure on the wetland caused by encroachment for resources and other economic activities like farming.

To add to this, the model farmers are also supposed to show solidarity for conservation through ensuring that 10% of their homesteads are covered with trees.

In support of this, we are distributing DSC02837tree seedlings to all the model farmers, in the quantity that is equivalent to 10% of their farms. We are also jointly engaging in tree planting with the respective model farmers and their entire households, and encouraging everyone to help in the protection and nurturing of the trees in the homesteads.

Entrepreneurship Training for Nature Based Enterprises

Wetlands in general, have a wide array of resources and Dunga, Kusa, Yala and Koguta wetlands are no exception. The resources in these wetlands include fish, papyrus reeds, water hyacinth, birds, wild animals, Ambatch trees, water, sand and some cultural sites. Over the years, the communities living in proximity to the wetland areas have been exploiting these resources and using them for economic reasons.

12888573_10208459707872914_4060968801498070443_oThis has been one of the major contributors to the degradation of the wetland and its resources. From research conducted in the wetlands, and a little bit of citizen science, we have come to the conclusion that exploitation of these resources cannot be ceased. The community members need them to support their livelihoods so there is no chance of preservation, we can only promote wise use of the resources.

In-light of this, Ecofinder Kenya has brought education on Entrepreneurship and sustainability to the would be entrepreneurs living and operating in the wetland areas. They were told how to apply the following in concepts:

  • Opportunity identification,
  • Customer relations,
  • Financial management,
  • Resource mobilization,
  • Marketing,
  • Micro franchising
  • Sustainability concepts. (Environmental and Economical)

We are also engaging the entrepreneurs in the micro franchise enterprises that Ecofinder Kenya has which include:

  • Solar lamps enterprise which promotes clean energy and reduced uses of wood fuel
  • Compost toilet enterprise to promote sustainable farming
  • Biogas enterprise to promote reduced wetland encroachment
  • Tree nurseries for environmental conservation
  • Papyrus/hyacinth crafts
  • Fish farming as a means of alternative livelihood
  • Ecotourism as an alternative livelihood
  • Comfort enterprise (soap making and re-usable sanitary towels) to promote women empowerment and ecological entrepreneurship
  • Horticultural enterprise

In addition to this the would be 12513654_10208459707952916_6698097960438420051_oentrepreneurs also engaged in a participatory session where they came up with ideas and discussed different scenarios, in some cases conducting role plays. They have also come up with ideal nature based enterprise ideas and are working on materializing them into actual business enterprises keeping in mind that Conservation and wise use are the keys to sustainability.

Biogas Digesters for Wildlife Habitat Protection

Community members in the Winam Gulf wetland areas spend a lot of money on fuel for cooking and lighting their homes at night. The alternative to this that they have is the cutting down of trees and other wetland vegetation and use them as wood fuel.

This leads to encroachment into the wetlands and destruction of habitats for the animals which live in the wetlands, for example, the sitatunga, hippopotamus and numerous bird species. Birds species like the papyrus gonolek, is an endangered species, further destruction of its habitat will lead to it being completely wiped out from the wetland ecosystem.DSC06986

We are constructing Hybrid feed biogas digesters which are designed in a way that they produce gas with the use of human excreta and cow dung. It is one digestion chamber which has 2 inlets, and one outlet.

This is a strategy that is meant to curb the use of wood fuel and hence reduce the dependence of the community members on wetland vegetation. Just as the ecological sanitation toilets are used to produce compost manure, the biogas digesters also produce slurry as a by product, and this is collected and can be used in farms as compost manure.

The use of biogas will help in improving the livelihoods of IMG_20160407_113819the community members and also lead to the continued conservation of the wetlands. This is because of the impact of relieved pressure on the wetlands in terms of farming in the wetlands, and reduced pollution because of the use of clean energy for cooking in the households.

The other positive impact that this will have is that it will reduce encroachment into the wetlands and this will end up reducing the cases of human wildlife conflict and habitat destruction.

Model Farmers as Village Hubs for Wetland Conservation Agriculture

Facilitation of alternative livelihoods requires that there be established demonstration plots for the alternative livelihood options that we wish to promote. A model farmer has the responsibility of acting as a learning centre for the community at large.

For one to call themselves a model farmer, they have to have a well functioning Ecosan toilet and biogas digester. They also practice farming in accordance to an integrated farm plan and be in a position to teach other members of the community on these alternative livelihood options.

They are therefore selected on the basis of a well drafted Eligibility criteria which requires that he/she be a farmer who is not farming in the wetland or they are willing to move from the wetland and establish productive farms away from the wetlands, preferably in their homesteads.

Conservation Scheme Agreements

After the selection of the model farmer, he is to sign a conservation scheme agreement which outlines his responsibilities, alongside Ecofinder Kenya’s responsibilities, in the new found partnership between the two parties.

The model farmers that we are DSC02845establishing all have farms in their homesteads, they have a number of cows from which they can get cow dung that they need for the regular feeding of their biogas digesters.. Their farms have been planted and arranged as per an integrated farm plan that has been developed on a  participatory basis with the model farmers and the project team.

In order to promote a tree protection and conservation culture, all the model farmers have planted trees covering 10% of their entire homestead. The gas that is being produced by the farmers is being used in the homesteads for cooking and lighting purposes.

The model farmers therefore do not have to spend their money on wood fuel or paraffin, they do not also have to go farming in the wetlands with the notion that they will get better yields. They can produce good yield in their homestead farms, without having to spend any money on acquiring fertilizers, which are also pollutants.

This works to reduce pressure exerted on the wetlands through encroachment into the wetlands. This will help reduce human wildlife conflict which will help in conserving the biodiversity of the wetlands.