NGO wants state to rescind controversial allocation of Yala Swamp

Twenty five African conservation organisations have petitioned the government to rescind the allocation of Yala Swamp to a private agricultural company.

The BirdLife International partner organizations have faulted the allocation of 6,763.74 ha (16713.57 acres) of Yala Swamp to a private agricultural company by the National Land Commission saying the parcel forms part of a key biodiversity area and a source of livelihood for the community.

BirdLife International is the largest global partnership of nature conservation organizations with partners in 115 countries, 26 of these in Africa and is committed to protecting biodiversity and supporting governments to achieve sustainable development.

The organizations said in the letter to the government that they support development that is preceded by a critical assessment of ecological, social, health and economic impacts and is environmentally sustainable.

“In the Yala case, however, there seems to be a lapse in interrogating the impacts on people and biodiversity. We believe that Yala swamp will offer more long-term benefits in its current state, through the provision of ecosystem services and livelihood benefits, then if it is converted to farmland,” they said.

The protest letter has been copied to NLC Chairperson Gershom Otachi, Land CS Farida Karoney, Environment CS Keriako Tobiko and the Siaya Governor James Orengo.

The organizations include the Conservation Society of Sierra Leon, Association Les Amis des Oiseaux, BirdLife Zimbabwe, Nature Uganda, Ghana Wildlife Society, BirdLife South Africa, Naturama (Burkina Faso) and Nigeria Conservation Foundation.

Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi, Guinee Ecologie, Nature Communautes Development, Mauritian Wildlife Foundation, and Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society have also objected to the allocation.

Others are Nature Tanzania, SOS-Forets, ABN (Burundi), GREPOM (Maroc), ASITY (Madagascar), Society for the Conservation of Nature of Liberia, BIOSPERA (Cabo Verde), Nature Conservation Egypt, Nature Mauritanie, Nature Seychelles and BirdLife Botswana.

BirdLife Africa Partnership Council chairperson Sheku Kamara said the decision to give away part of Yala Swamp is problematic as over 250,000 people live within its vicinity and directly depend on it for livelihood.

Kamara said the Swamp is home to many unique plants, animals, and bird species and also provides key ecosystem services including fighting floods and absorbing carbon.

“Sugarcane growing is not compatible with other land uses in the area and the allocation that includes land that is designated as an indigenous and community conservation area,” Kamara said.

The chairperson said African countries can only achieve their respective development visions by striking a balance between economic development and the protection of nature.

He said the countries will achieve agenda 2063 if ecosystems that provide vital ecosystem services such as Yala Swamp are jealously protected to continue providing the services in perpetuity.

In July, local conservation NGO, Nature Kenya faulted NLC for going ahead and allocating the Swamp.

Nature Kenya executive director Paul Matiku had warned that investors should not supersede the ecological well-being of Yala Swamp and the livelihoods of local communities.

NLC was that month anticipated to make an announcement over the allocation following recent public hearings convened by the commission in Nairobi and Siaya to discuss the matter.

Matiku faulted NLC for going against those who objected to the allocation.

“Many stakeholders, including local communities and government agencies, explicitly expressed objection to the allocation during these hearings,” he said.

Matiku said that during the public hearings conducted by NLC, 21 entities, including community, civic and governmental organizations, presented strong objections to the proposed allocation.

Their grounds for objections were rooted in human rights violations, threats to community livelihoods, habitat destruction and loss of biodiversity, as captured in NLC’s paper.

Matiku said Kenyans expected NLC to make a decision that respects the constitutional ownership rights of the communities in Yala, recognizes the ecological value of Yala Swamp, and promotes the preservation of the wetland for prosperity.

“Anything short of these minimal expectations is unacceptable and should be rejected.”

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