Mt. Kasigau is the most northeastern mountain in the Eastern Arc and Coastal Forest Biodiversity Hot Spot in Kenya and a priority for conservation. These ancient crystalline mountains have a high species richness and compared with other hot spot locations have a high concentration of endemic species and among the highest degree of habitat fragmentation and loss (Newmark 2002). Moreover, the Taita Wildlife Corridor between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks has long been a focus for wildlife conservation, however without coordinated efforts. Perhaps because of the mountain's isolation and the very rigorous climb to its summit (from 600 m to 1641 m in about 2 km), little is published about Mt. Kasigau and the Kasigau, Taita, and Kamba people living around its base.
This region consists of 5 local communities- Jora, Kiteghe, Rukinga, Bungule and Makwasinye- tucked between Tsavo East and Tsavo West National Parks. These communities struggle to meet their continued needs, while also facing escalating human-wildlife conflicts. Each community on average is around two thousand citizens, and collectively they are trying to eke out a living in trying conditions.
The residents of Kasigau are subsistence farmers whose food security is frequently hampered by increasing droughts and frequent wildlife incursions. The inability to rely entirely on their farms has forced these people to resort to other modes of survival such as charcoal burning, sand harvesting, gemstone prospecting and illegal hunting, all of which threaten their habitat. Ironically, the surrounding Tsavo National Park and other privately owned ranches have been making good businesses from eco-tourism activities.
Previously, WildiZe has helped these communities with the development of the Kiteghe Primary School, refurbishing the 5 community schools and the Kiteghe Day Secondary School, the Rukinga Greenhouse project in collaboration with Wildlife Works and publication of the Kasigau Woody Plants and Uses Book. However, there is much more to be undertaken.
In this vein, WildiZe is coordinating an extensive Kasigau Regional Initiative, focusing on additional greenhouses, water catchment systems, improved accessibility to existing schools, and implementing Waste Management systems. These efforts will help to improve the quality of life throughout the Kasigau region, while affording greater accessibility to food and water resources, which in turn would provide food security for people, while providing the further benefit of reducing human-wildlife conflicts. Furthermore, WildiZe is attempting to make this a full corridor project, by not treating each community in isolation from the other, but rather as a larger whole, to bring positive impact for the entire citizenry, both human and wildlife, in the Mt. Kasigau region.
Enterprises based upon natural resources in a sustainable manner can be profitable. This approach is also a cost-effective way of conserving the environment, and one in which the local residents are the primary stakeholders and view themselves as engaged and therefore responsible for their environment.
1. The Kasigau Woody Plants and Uses Book recorded 75% of the local plants in Tsavo with field notes, cultural and medicinal uses. Working with the local communities to gather information about local flora, Kim Medley, Associate Professor of Geography at Miami University, developed this book as a local resource for education. WildiZe provided a grant for the printing of the field study guide for the local communities and visiting volunteers. The book was published in both English and Swahili.
Over a two-year period, Ms. Medley worked with residents in the villages of Makwasinyi and Jora on a floristic and ethnobotanical inventory of trees, shrubs, and woody vines that occur along an ecological gradient that includes Commiphora-Acacia bushland in the lowlands, farm fields and home sites at the base of the mountain, and semi-deciduous-to-evergreen woodland, and evergreen-to-cloud mist forest above 1000 m on the mountain.
The study employed a participatory research approach that focused on shared learning, built positive relationships between the researchers and the researched, and validated local knowledge. The collaborative purpose was to learn about ("kazi kwa kujifunza") the plants and vegetation patterns in relationship to the mountain and gain an ecological and cultural view of patterns of diversity.
2. WildiZe worked with Wildlife Works for the creation of a self-sustaining greenhouse project to serve several critical conservation needs within the Kasigau corridor. Wildlife Works' mission is to harness the power of the global consumer to create innovative and sustainable solutions for wildlife conservation. Not long ago, the 80,000 acres we now know as Rukinga sat on the brink of disaster. For years, it was home to a failing cattle ranch, but wildlife continuously utilize it as a passageway between Tsavo East and Tsavo West national parks - the largest protected lands in Kenya.
The Greenhouse project involved renovating derelict and defunct greenhouse structures, on the land leased by Wildlife Works. Now renovated, the greenhouse is used to:
· Grow indigenous trees for reforestation of the local community to replace trees lost to the charcoal trade
· Grow Habanero chilli pepper bushes for distribution to the farmers on the edge of the corridor to use in a variety of forms, and as a barrier to elephants to stop them crop raiding
· Propagate organic fruit tree seedlings for sale to local farmers to provide shade, and as a rich additional cash crop for their arid farms
The first two components provide direct conservation and community benefit and the third component supplies a cash flow to pay for the first two and make the whole project self-sustaining.
Finally, the profits made from the sale of fruit trees are used by Rukinga to purchase the ripe peppers from the local farmers, from which they make a range of "elephant-safe" pepper sauces and pesticides sold both locally and in retail outlets in Kenya's cities, thus creating a market for the community's cash crop.
WildiZe funding made all this possible, which has become a sustainable income generation and community development success.
1. The Bungule and Makwasinyi Greenhouses are being set up to help minimize human/wildlife conflict, while providing a viable, long-term source of income and sustainable food production. Both the Bungule and Makwasinyi communities are endowed with a good water supply direct from Mt. Kasigau even during severe drought spells, which is not true for the other Kasigau communities. These water sources have become a convergence point for wildlife (especially Elephants), humans and livestock creating conflicts.
The establishment and management of the Greenhouse Project will showcase how these communities can immensely benefit from vegetable and tree seedlings. This pilot project is expected to show how to successfully grow crops and allow the community at the homestead level to adopt food sustainability. The greenhouse is expected to produce tree seedlings for both sale and planting within the Bungule village forest. Vegetables will be sold and consumed locally and tourist enterprises as well. The concept is to have the Greenhouse provide enough income to survive on its own moving forward.
WildiZe will be working with the local community to study how the Rukinga Greenhouse project was successful and can be replicated in Bungule and Makwasinyi.
2. Rukinga is a community of 2706 with multiple homesteads and businesses, plus a transitory population working in local mines. Unfortunately, there are tremendous health hazards being faced through improper waste disposal. In fact, livestock have perished after consuming uncontrolled waste. Other than a small open dumpsite, there is no formal waste plan or health compliance occurring.
Wildize is working with the local community to establish a far-reaching Waste Management plan. This includes education for the local community about the hazards of improper disposal, as well as teaching them the proper new steps to be implemented. These steps include a new recycling program, proper disposal techniques, new human waste systems, and better handling of Household Hazardous Waste. Secondary benefits of this project would be the reduction of human - wildlife disease transmission.
3. The Kiteghe Day Secondary School and school improvements will allow students from throughout the Mt. Kasigau region to continue their educational pursuits. The goal is to turn Kiteghe into an academic hub and village polytechnic. This project will expand the school to eight classrooms, raise transitional attendance and help to reduce tuition costs making the school more affordable to every homestead. Current funding needs include renovating these classrooms and providing for a new Administrative Office.
4. Jora is the only Village in Mt. Kasigau, which has no source of water, and relies on the water in Bungule or Rukanga to meet its demands. This supply is erratic at best, and does not meet the full needs of the community. Past efforts have attempted to drill a borehole to rectify this situation but unfortunately this only provided saline water.
Without a true water source, local institutions will be unable to operate and conflicts will continue to be exacerbated between livestock growers and encroaching wildlife. In order to rectify this, the town of Jora, in cooperation with WildiZe, is looking to build a Rock Water Catchment System to create a reservoir along a seasonal river. This reservoir will be filled during the annual rainy seasons and then managed to supply a year-round consistent water source.
With a continuous water source in place, Jora has plans to establish Kitchen Gardens throughout the village, supplying nutritional value for the community diet and minimizing negative agricultural practices that are creating conflicts with the local wildlife.
WildiZe is looking to provide community development opportunities that endorse educational opportunities for the local citizenry on long-term sustainability and toward minimizing (and hopefully, removing all together) human-wildlife conflicts. WildiZe is in a unique situation, to be able to help manage multiple projects in the Mt. Kasigau region that can provide conservation values and economic benefits equally across the communities. Our work in the Mt. Kasigau Region can provide a model on how other communities can work together to participate and thereby strengthen sustainable efforts being undertaken regionally.