Dunga Wetland Alternative Livelihoods Project: Addressing Human-hippopotamus conflict.
The wetlands of Dunga on the shores of Lake Victoria, Kenya have fantastic touristic potential. Yet these lands are also rife with conflicts from some of the very animals that make the area so unique. Animals such as the hippopotamus compete with human settlement and often raid and destroy crops, leading to local retaliation. However, solutions to this conflict are beginning, springing up from locally conceived ideas executed in often surprising and creative ways. One of these methods is the use of ‘Eco-San’, or ecologically-sanitary toilets, which enrich existing agricultural lands through soil fertilization of crops from human waste. This helps negate the need for further colonization of swamplands, while at the same time decreasing direct human-animal conflicts with hippos on newly-converted lands.
Sitting atop an internationally recognized Important Bird Area, or IBA, the Dunga wetlands house numerous endemic bird species (Papyrus Gonolek, Papyrus yellow warbler-add more species) as well as the Sitatunga antelope (Tragelaphus spekii), Spotted-necked otter (lutra maculicollis), and the hippopotamus. Other notable wetland birds found on site include the kingfisher, little egret and hammer kop. Yet the same fertile habitat that has housed the wildlife for so many years is also attracting an influx of village settlement. This is pushing many of the species of the area to the brink, and threatening to erode the area’s unique natural history.
Upland, much habitat has already been converted for farmland by local people, living little option but to colonize new lands for cultivation. Moreover, many of the areas have been over-harvested and the soil is very dry and ill-suited for agriculture now. Due to the fact that wetland or swamp soil is very rich and fertile, as well as wetter, increased human migration into wetland habitat has begun in the past ten years. This has affected wildlife negatively not just from direct conversion of habitat, but from human conflicts with hippos. Hippos come up to graze on greenery near the lake at night and find that their food has now been converted into farm plots. The animals therefore begin to feed on the agricultural crops of villagers, causing negative economic impacts for villagers at the household level. Local people attempt to combat this through direct harassment of hippos, calling the Kenya Wildlife Service to destroy problematic animals, and expending more time and energy in farming by digging ditches to keep hippos from entering their croplands. This is not a fail safe method however, and hippos will often breach these man-made trenches in the land in search of forage.
Sustainable development in Dunga is ultimately a question of how efficiently the land is used, as current consumption patterns will destroy the remaining wetland habitat in the near future. A pertinent question therefore becomes, how does one prevent further encroachment onto wildlife habitat? The answer is to make better use of the land, and to set local leadership examples of this improved land ethic in a way that can be emulated many times over by other community members and adjacent villages. CREE is also advocating for the establishment of stricter environmental protections in sensitive hippo habitat to prevent further encroachment from new immigrants, as this is vital for the long-term security once current residents are educated on conservation values.
This twinned goal of efficiency on the land and environmental education is key to the long-term viability of wildlife populations amidst human settlement, seeing as the area is not a protected area by law and ‘fencing and fines’ is both unjust and ineffective. ‘Eco-San’ toilets channel human waste from house toilets into two compartments, (urine and faeces) which can then be used to fertilize soil and produce crops on household plots, thereby negating the need to go into the wetlands and convert more land. Project objectives include related to this in Dunga include:
- Minimize human-hippo conflict through decreased human interaction and crop cultivation in hippo grazing areas.
- Install ‘Eco-San’, or ecologically sanitary, toilets in communities adjacent to wetland habitat.
- Advocate for increased wetland protection in sensitive areas to prevent additional encroachment by outsiders
- Train villagers on sustainable agricultural techniques, water conservation, and eco-friendly enterprises through the sale of excess household garden crops.
- Fortify local institutions with sound environmental guidelines for land usage, such as the ‘Village Environmental Committees’ (VEC’s).
- Expand participatory opportunities for women via VEC membership and subsequent engagement.
- Empower communities’ sense of self-sufficiency through local leadership examples from the village
- Reduce land-use pressure throughout the Dunga wetlands through more efficient use of farm plots, which reduces demand and conversion of land closer to prime wetland habitat
- ‘Climate Ready Communities’: CREE staff are continually factoring in the role climate change will play in altering human-environment dynamics at the village level. The wetland areas CREE works in our experiencing increased flooding, which caused 3 deaths recently. To respond to climate change in a creative and adaptive manner, CREE staff will analyze potential wetland habitat shifts from climate change and plan wetland plantings accordingly. We are also educating the community on climate change’s potential impact to their wetland homes and livelihoods.
Turning the tide for the better from a biodiversity conservation standpoint will depend not only on the stemming land conversion (the proximate cause), but also on fostering a more tolerant environment for wildlife through changes in local people’s attitudes towards their natural surroundings. CREE has already seen the effects of Lake Victoria Sunset Birders’ (LVSB) work through a change in mentalities seen in villagers working with LVSB’s. However, much work remains to be done. CREE is partnering with LVSB to expand this impact and multiply it across many villages in the area, on a scale not experienced before. Already, we have seen much local uptake of eco-san and other related technologies, with unexpected local innovation through use of construction materials, as well as other villagers copying the success of pilot projects. In this sense, each household is a seed for the village; a nucleus of innovation springing up from within. CREE seeks your support to ensure that this work can continue.