Archive for October, 2014

taitatrialIn August this year, a collaborative effort dubbed “Tamaduni Za Kiafrica Zaboresha Uhifadhi” was launched in taita-taveta county of Kenya. The objectives of this first trial run were to:

  1. To gauge interest in traditional ways of conservation amongst Taita communities.
  2. To create more awareness on the interaction of ecosystems and the importance of human activities to those ecosystems, from forests to wildlife, water, air, and land and to emphasize that this was known by the Taita elders a long time ago as is evident in the Elder’s description of how they practiced sustainable conservation.
  3. To sensitize the community on the new 2013 Wildlife Act, especially on the new penalties and compensations and to encourage the community to participate in spreading awareness.
  4. To bridge the gap between stakeholders including communities in Taita Taveta to begin to create unity where heretofore there has often been misunderstanding and mistrust especially between KWS and the ‘Hot Spot’ communities.

This program is a collaboration between Njavungo Council of Elders, Amara Conservation, the Kenya Wildlife Service and KUAPO. Since August, Amara Conservation and KUAPO have been reviewing all the data we collected to analyze what went right, what to change and how to chart the way forward. A detailed report of the program can be found here.

In summary, a total of 1,363 community members across ten villages were officially reached with this program. The overall response from the communities towards this program and our objectives has been very positive. Based on the responses to our evaluation questions throughout the trial program we saw an increase in the number of people who felt they could benefit from a balance of traditional and modern conservation practices. We were encouraged by the audience’s commitment to assist Njavungo and KWS in conserving the environment. The communities are eager to know more about how they can start to see direct benefits from their cultural heritage and wildlife. In fact, one of the successful elements of this project has been the bringing together of KWS and Njavungo. This has helped KWS to connect to communities who have previously been somewhat hostile due to high instances of HWC. It is also the first time that KWS has recognised Njavungo and the potential of their reach within communities to assist in matters of community wildlife crime reporting as well as human wildlife conflict.

What we have achieved is a first step in what will be a long journey to increase the ownership of responsibility and benefits from conservation among communities living with wildlife, and all Kenyans. A debrief and way forward meeting is going to be held with all the collaborators on November 3rd to determine next steps. We will keep you updated as things unfold.

If you wish to support our community conservation efforts, please consider donating to our cause – financially (here) or in kind (contact us at to find out how).


About the Collaborators

Njavungo Council of Elders was formed in 2012 after a call from Central Government that each area should have such a council. Their name includes references to the three main tribes found in Taita Taveta; Njama for Wataveta, Vumwe for Wapare, and Ngome for Wataita.

Amara Conservation started its work in Kenya in 2001 and focuses on education and providing reasons why it is important to conserve the environment. They believe in the power of information, they do not design solutions but provide the mindset and information to the communities to help them find the solutions themselves.

Kenya Wildlife Service conserves and manages Kenya’s wildlife for the Kenyan people and the world. It is a state corporation established by an Act of Parliament Cap 376 with the mandate to conserve and manage wildlife in Kenya, and to enforce related laws and regulations.

KUAPO was formed in January 2013 following the killing of a family of 11 elephants when Kenyans took to the streets urging the government to take stern action, calling upon the judiciary to set up a special court for wildlife crimes and asking the President to declare Poaching a National Disaster. KUAPO wishes to create a national conservation agenda that gives back wildlife management to the People of Kenya by actively embracing the age-old philosophy, traditions, and cultures alongside newer practices for the purpose of eradicating poaching and other environment and wildlife crimes


Transparency in Conservation

Posted: October 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

One of the key objectives of KUAPO in our detailed memorandum of articles is to bring transparency and ethics to the national conservation practices in Kenya. And of course we also believe that the best place to start is with ourselves – so here we are sharing the funds we have raised in 2014 and how they have been used.

KUAPO Trust Funds

Please feel free to ask us any questions about the sources or use of funds and we will happily oblige. We believe that those who give and those who are thinking of giving should be able to clearly and publicly see how their funds are being used or will be used.

Transparency in Conservation – Collaboration in Conservation.

Please note: these funds are funds directly raised by KUAPO and do not represent funds raised by any grassroots member of KUAPO. Also note that expenses are also those that have been directly made by KUAPO and not by any grassroots member of KUAPO.

KUAPO had the pleasure of attending the Wildlife Sector NGOs sensitization Meeting at Nairobi Safari Walk, KWS HQs today. The message of the day was clear and simple – we must work together, we must collaborate to save our wildlife.

KWS and the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources acknowledged the role of NGOs in conservation of Kenya’s wildlife heritage but also stressed that divisiveness and competition between NGOs and KWS was counterproductive.

The meeting was a follow up from a meeting in November, 2013 where similar issues were discussed.

Key Messages from the Meeting:
1. Collaboration between KWS and NGOs is the only way forward. We must be one voice.
2. Implementation of Wildlife Act requires 25 sub legislations to be developed. The Nature Conservancy is leading the charge here but it will be an inclusive process.
3. Information sharing is critical and KWS does have to be abide by the constitution and will develop a process to harmonize and share data.
4. A National NGO Forum – umbrella group will be formed to structure engagement between KWS and Wildlife NGOs
5. Space for wildlife & bushmeat poaching are bigger threats to wildlife conservation than poaching of elephants and rhinos


KWS Acting Director – William Kiprono states his case at the Wildlife NGOs sensitization meeting.

The presentations by KWS were followed by a lively question and answer session which focused on information sharing, education, the proper use of innovation, physical planning – mapping of corridors, and the development of the national NGO Forum. You can read the details in the attached document here.

KWS and the Ministry have promised the following documents/actions will be undertaken on in the next couple of months:

  1. Circulation of Taskforce on Wildlife Security Report
  2. Wildlife Census – State of Wildlife Conservation – annually
  3. Development of Mechanism for harmonization and dissemination of information
  4. Preparation of Wildlife resource monitoring report – Cabinet Secretary
  5. Setting up of National NGO Forum
  6. Feedback on wildlife corridor map after consultation with ministry of lands

We look forward to the meeting in January 2015. Till then “Fungua Roho”, as Director Kiprono said and lets figure out how to work together for the better of our wildlife and our communities. It is incumbent upon us all in the Wildlife NGOs sector to follow through and follow up, to hold KWS to the above as we hold ourselves to it as well.

Onwards and upwards!

This article By img05John Mbaria was published in The EastAfrican – May 31st – June 6th 2004 edition. It is worth a read and a long think about how we can use this knowledge today and learn from errors in the past to work with the people in the Taita Hills to bring them sustainable income through alternative livelihoods that conserve their environment. Let us start applying our local knowledge, the strength of our environment in positive and enriching way both for the environment and the people. To quote from the article:

“Slowly, however, a beginning is being made by locally-based scientists working with local communities to develop biodiversity products on a commercial basis. Though still confined to pilot projects and typically available only within the region, there is no reason why these and many other products cannot, with proper marketing and packaging, secure niches in global markets.”

It seems we never truly got beyond the “slowly”…our new law continues to empower bioprospecting. We should be responsible about how we take this into the future – because it has the power to bring sustainable incomes to poverty stricken neighborhoods – but it also has the power to corrupt. We need to find that “fine balance”.

African Violet Blues: Why Hasn’t This Million-Dollar Flower from the Taita Hills Made the Local People Rich?

John Mbaria


While Africans are encouraged to ‘conserve’ nature, the West is actively engaged in commercially exploiting it. JOHN MBARIA outlines the predictably paternalistic trajectory of an ongoing project to ‘save’ the last wild population of African Violets in Kenya.

May 31-June 6, 2004 (The East African)

The 400-acre Mbololo Forest in the Taita Hills in Kenya’s Coast Province is what is known as a cloud mountain forest, its steep terrain bathed in cloud. Its moist habitat is home to a great many plant species. Among them, growing on cliffs and large rocks under the forest canopy, is the last remaining wild population of the Saintpaulia teitensis species of African violets. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing human population in the area adjacent to the forest is engaged in an intense daily struggle for survival. Entire families toil for long hours on end to make little more than half-a-dollar a day. Few people in the community are aware that the African violet — a plant with thick, leathery dark green leaves with red undersides, that bears four to eight bluish flowers — is more than a just a pretty flower; that cultivating it on a commercial basis may hold the key to liberate them from poverty. Strangely, those who are aware of its economic and aesthetic potential, seem to be obsessed more with “saving” this “last frontier” of the African violet than with how and whether it can help the Taita people change their lives. Indeed, the Taita people appear to be in the way, and the persuasive power of the dollar is being brought to bear to get the Taita to look elsewhere for income-generating activities so that they no longer use the forest’s resources intensively, thus contributing to its “preservation.” It is a typical donor-NGO-community liaison – just as with wildlife conservation, the “problem” is identified as people and conservation becomes an either/or paradigm. Reviving the people’s centuries-old symbiotic relationship with the forest (which has only recently come under strain from growing population and land hunger) is apparently considered unrealistic. Instead, says a “Saving the Species” posting on the website of Rob’s Violets, (“growers and exhibitors of African violets since 1975”): “The long-term goal is to maintain forests outside the Mbololo Forest so people will not need to go into this forest for their livelihood and in doing so impact the African violet habitats.”

Ordinary folk in Taita would probably be astounded were they to be told that people in the US, Japan, Russia, the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere around Europe have formed African Violet Societies and Clubs that mint millions of dollars from growing and displaying the violets. “There is at least a $50 million-a-year industry built around the interest in this flower,” says Gerard Hertel, a Professor of Forest Ecology and & Entomology with the Department of Biology at West Chester University in Pennsylvania in the US, who, along with Kamau Wakanene Mbuthia, of the National Museums of Kenya, has been studying the violets under a project funded by African Violet Society of America, Inc . Mbuthia and Benny Bytebier of the Museums’ Taita Biodiversity Project have documented eight separate populations of the Saintpaulia species in Mbololo Forest.

Prof Hertel adds that in 1891, a German, Baron Walter von Saint Paul-Illare, sent seeds from Tanga in Tanzania back to the Royal Botanic Garden in Hanover, Germany. Since then, three species of African violets found in the Coastal Forests and Eastern Arc Mountains of Kenya and Tanzania have been transformed into 10,000 hybrids and a multimillion dollar industry. “Probably most homes in the US have had an African violet growing in them at one point or another.” He says the trade in violets is exploitative. “To date, little has been returned to the people who depend on the habitats where the violet grows (naturally).” Conservationists have been campaigning to get the local people to preserve “the necessary genetic stocks” of the violet lest they disappear. As justification for this, Prof Hertel says East Africa’s wild population of violets “are too small; little can be made in the short or long-term from harvesting them locally.” Professor Hertel is not alone in advancing this argument. The East African Wildlife Society (EAWLS) is currently engaged in a project that seeks to offer the Taita people what EAWLS director of programmes Hadley Becha calls “innovative and alternative livelihoods.” In other words, get them out of the forest.

However, Becha admits that violets can generate income for the local people. “I am positive that the flower has an economic value.” He adds that the Taita have not been cultivating it because they are yet to realise this value.

But why is the EAWLS not assisting them to realise this potential? “As a membership organisation, we in EAWLS can only highlight the bioprospecting potential in the flower with the hope that our partners can take it up,” says Becha.

He, however, adds that his organisation is currently involved in teaching the local people how to reduce land degradation through planting trees, soil management and through farm forestry and how to start up apiculture (bee keeping) and ecotourism projects.

A fundraising venture has been set up. A dispatch from the Department of Biology, West Chester University entitled, “Helping the People Protect the African Violet Habitat,” says, “Funds are needed for fuel-efficient stoves, to provide technical assistance to maintain agricultural production, to help develop tree nurseries, to pay people to help plant and restore the forests that have already been removed.” Potential donors are asked to direct “tax-deductible donations through the WILD Foundation of US” and to “contribute a small percentage of the sales of domesticated violets to the conservation of African violet.” Other methods used to raise money for the project are through adding a small amount to the cost of violet and violet-related products for conservation purposes; asking those who place orders for the flower to contribute to conservation, and by “asking elected representatives in Washington to increase the funding for the US Agency for International Development Offices in Kenya and Tanzania to assist in violet habitat protection.”

Nowhere does the dispatch, nor the entire EAWLS project, mention that the Taita people, with a little imagination, the right international contacts and some capital, can cultivate the flower commercially and become rich enough to contribute to its conservation concretely. After all, the very rarity of this wild variety could be leveraged to create a niche market willing to pay the real social cost of preserving the African violet: the livelihood of the Taita people.

The story of the African violets is a pointer to the sheer economic potential poor countries fail to realise by not developing commercial products out of their biological resources. In East Africa, this potential stretches from the marshy terrain at the coast through the grassy savannah plains and onto the highlands and most of the inland lakes. The region teems with a huge variety of plants, larger and lesser animals, birds, fish and a huge population of harmful and beneficial insects. There are nestles, thistles, thorns and marigold; woodpeckers, lions, ostriches and beetles. Though much of this diversity is represented fairly evenly throughout the region, it is in such rainforests as Kakamega in Kenya and Bundongo in Uganda — which are thought to have been part of the Guineo-Congolian Rainforest that originally stretched across the continent from Guinea to Kenya — and in the Eastern Arc mountains and Coastal forests of Kenya and Tanzania that the diversity is best demonstrated.

East Africa has one of the 25 biodiversity hotspots in the world. Covering a mere 1.4 per cent of the world’s surface area, these “hotspots” contain 44 per cent of the plant species and have larger numbers of endemic species per hectare than any other place in the world. Being part of the tropics, the East African countries together host 50 per cent of the earth’s biological species and 80 per cent of its arthropods.

Says the Biodiversity Hotspots website of Conservation International: “The Eastern Arc Mountains and Coastal Forests hotspot stretches along most of the eastern coast of Tanzania and into extreme southeastern Kenya. The hotspot extends more than 400 kilometers inland across Tanzania toward Lake Nyasa. It also includes the offshore islands of Pemba, Zanzibar and Mafia. A chain of upland and coastal forests, this hotspot comprises only 0.1 per cent of tropical Africa’s land area yet contains a startling 13 per cent of the entire continent’s vascular plants. Nine endemic primate species, like the critically endangered Tana River red colobus monkey, and the delicate African violets are among the region’s best known species.”

But for all this natural wealth, poverty and all its manifestations continue to grip East Africa, where the majority of people live on less than a dollar a day. The question often asked is why the West, which can never hope to have as much natural wealth as East Africa, is able to exploit so much of the region’s resources for its own benefit.

More often than not, the region’s low technological development is blamed for the inability of the people to fully engage in bioprospecting. Part of the answer lies in the cultures of the region’s peoples; part in the economic model applied by different countries; part in lack of capital, and part in Africa’s socio-economic relationship with the rest of the world.

However, an emerging school of thought believes that East Africans have allowed themselves to be swayed, if not to be misled, by the environmentalist lobby that emphasises and funds “preservation” of species at the expense of utilising such species to meet the growing needs of local communities.

Indeed, even as the environmentalists beat their drums, various private Western interests are engaged in a long-running, thinly veiled plunder of Africa’s biodiversity resources. For instance, in Madagascar, two anti-cancer drugs — vinblastin and vincristine — were made from the Madagascar periwinkle (Catharanthus roseus) by the pharmaceutical firm, Eli Lily Company. Though the two drugs are said to generate $100 million per year for the company, none of this is shared with Madagascar.

Closer to home, the story of Aloe vera is even more interesting. Though its trade is partly hampered by a decree issued by former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi, and by CITES having put it on its endangered list, a number of middlemen continue to capitalise on it. Participants attending a conference held recently on Aloe in Lakipia district were told that Kenyan middlemen in cahoots with non-Kenyans dominate the business, exporting Aloe to foreign manufacturers who later flood the Kenyan market with soaps and drugs made from it.

In addition, many communities in the highlands of East Africa had discovered and used Prunus africana to treat “the old-man’s disease” — as prostate cancer is often referred to. But they had yet to master how to exploit it on a commercial scale. That is, until people like Jonathan Leakey came along. Endemic to the highlands of Cameroun, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, Prunus africana is a slow-growing indigenous tree species whose healing properties are said to have been discovered in South Africa about 400 years ago. Modern scientific research has established that pygeum powder, which is extracted from the bark of prunus africana, provides relief from prostatic hyperplasia, a swelling of the prostate gland, and prevents the development of prostate cancer.

Following this, a lucrative trade in its bark has emerged, with the World Agro-Forestry Centre (ICRAF) revealing that a kilogramme of powdered extract retails at about $12,000 on the international market.

Early last year, the Cable News Network (CNN) reported that the international trade in prunus barks was worth $220 million a year. But, according to experts at ICRAF, only a neglible proportion of this vast fortune ever “trickles down” to the true owners of the tree. In Kenya, Jonathan Leakey was licensed by KWS’s CITES office to export the prunus bark in the early 1990s. Last year, the Community Museums of Kenya (CMK) took the matter before the Public Complaints Committee of the National Environment Management Authority over what CMK programme officer Issa Mohamed, termed “massive de-prunisation” of the Tugen Hills forest. This is a 100-km stretch of indigenous forest on the western escarpment of the Rift Valley. During the NEMA proceedings, Leakey denied that he had been harvesting the bark from government protected forests as alleged by the CMK, and that he had instead been buying the barks from local farmers. Environment Minister Newton Kulundu later cancelled Leakey’s export permit despite the latter’s plea to be allowed to export a 25-tonne consignment of the barks he had retained from earlier extraction. The Economist of London had reported in April last year that the trade in prunus bark rose from 200 tonnes in 1980 to about 3,500 tonnes last year, 68 per cent of it going to the German market, where Leakey is said to be a supplier to one of the leading pharmaceutical companies.

Indeed, bioprospecting is big business in the US, Europe, China and most other developed countries. Scientists at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology (Icipe) estimate that naturally-derived medicine creates over $400 billion; agrochemicals generate $30 billion; commercial seeds $30 billion, while industrial enzymes generate over $1.5 billion each year. In addition, WHO estimates that herbal medicinal products, food supplements, flavours and fragrances add $60 million to the wealth already wielded by residents of developed countries. The potential is even greater when it comes to insects. The head of the Bioprospecting Programme at Icipe, Dr Wilber Luande, says that “insect services” — in terms of pollination, soil fertility, predation and parasitism — “have an annual value of $117 billion, $17 trillion and $417 billion respectively.” Dr Luande says that Africa — where 80 per cent of the population relies on traditional medicine — does not feature anywhere in the list of the top earners and exporters of raw material for nature-based commercial products. Instead, the US, Japan and China take the lead. IN most cases, African countries prefer to plead with the European Union, the US and other developed countries to be allowed to sell them their biological resources at a pittance. On their way back to Africa, these resources undergo various modificationss and are acquired by Africans for a fortune.

The shaky local private sector has largely opted out of bioprospecting, thus failing to capitalise on emerging opportunities from biological resources and preferring to concentrate on such traditional industries as manufacturing, agriculture, mining and commerce.

Slowly, however, a beginning is being made by locally-based scientists working with local communities to develop biodiversity products on a commercial basis. Though still confined to pilot projects and typically available only within the region, there is no reason why these and many other products cannot, with proper marketing and packaging, secure niches in global markets.

On October 4th, 2014 thousands of citizens around the globe marched for elephants and rhinos. People from all walks of life came together with one voice and one message – #NotOnOurWatch! Powerful, moving images of humans walking for elephants and rhinos erupted from places like Eumundi, Iringa, Botogota-Rugando and many more cities – some widely known, others relatively unknown, some large, others small but each just as vibrant and important as the other.


Here, in Kenya, people marched in Nairobi, Diani and the Maasai Mara – we joined the global voices asking for ivory carving factories in china to be shut down, for poachers to be jailed without bail and much, much more. Memorandum of Demands had already been sent out to the so-called “Gang of 19” detailing specific actions that these governments should take to end the poaching crisis and the illegal trafficking of wildlife parts.

Whether these demands will be acted upon, whether thousands of citizens marching across the globe will push these governments to act remains to be seen. But what I can say is this – having marched in Nairobi – I felt a “one-ness” with the people that I marched alongside. I felt that we are not alone in this “fight for our heritage” and that all of us ordinary citizens in Kenya did care – we did feel that our voices deserved to be heard. What touched me the most was the reaction of Mzee Mwasi (Chairman of Njavungo Council of Elders) from Taita-Taveta – after the march he was literally buzzing with excitement and energy to go back and continue to make a difference in his community. Even if the march in Nairobi did just that, reinvigorate all of us to continue our fight for our heritage, then it’s good enough for me.

Yes, there are those of us who probably feel that the money could have been better spent elsewhere. On the ground, in the field. And perhaps we are right – but as I said above, the expression on Mzee Mwasi’s face and his renewed determination to save wildlife in his county, were enough to satisfy me.

Most important of all, though, is for us to remember – that the march in and of itself is NOT the cause. It is a way for us to voice our thoughts, to apply pressure on governments to act, to show solidarity at the global citizenry level. And it certainly is not the end…. Let us take this momentum that has gathered and follow through on specific actions in each of our cities, homes and villages. There are many things that we can all continue to do – every day things. We can utilize our brain and our brawn, our knowledge and our enthusiasm – to make a difference.

Here are some ideas:

  • Understand the poaching crisis and spread awareness amongst your friends, colleagues and family.
  • Do not purchase any wildlife products (ivory, rhino horn etc), whether it is purportedly from legal sources or not.
  • Do not purchase charcoal unless from known and sustainable sources.
  • Petition governments to crackdown on the kingpins involved in trafficking and poaching and to clean up known trafficking ports.
  • Provide information on wildlife crimes and known wildlife criminals in your area.
  • Re-engage with your cultural roots and age-old conservation practices so we can find a fusion which involves all citizens in the management of our wildlife.
  • Support grassroots organizations such as Elephant Aware – Maasai Mara, Local Ocean Trust, Osotua Wildlife Foundation, Amara Conservation, Tsavo Pride, KUAPO, March for Elephants – San Francisco, Global March for Elephants, Action for Elephants – UK.
  • Do not drive off-road in protected areas. Do not hassle or crowd wildlife on a game drive.
  • Do not litter – especially in protected areas.
  • Do not go on elephant back safaris. The painful training that an elephant is subjected to is beyond belief and something that scars these gentle creatures for life.
  • Do not go to a circus where animals are used.
  • Petition countries that allow “sport hunting” of elephants (or any animal) to stop this cruel practice. Lobby your own government to ban “trophy” imports into your country.
  • Lobby your government to ban ALL sales of ivory and support actions to shut down ivory carving factories in China
  • Advocate for the burning of all ivory and rhino horn stockpiles and public assessment of stockpiles prior to destruction

Every one of us can do something – let’s do what we can! It doesn’t end here….watch this space for actions and be prepared to get involved.