Rural Kenyans protect wetlands to curb water scarcity

BUSIA, Kenya, April 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Armed with a hoe and Wellington boots, George Wandera planted bamboo seedlings in neatly dug holes along the banks of a stream on his farm that feeds a nearby lake in western Kenya.
"I’ve never tried this on my farm before but it’s the first step in protecting the stream," he said.
"Wetlands such as lakes and floodplains act as natural safeguards against disasters, by absorbing excess rainfall during floods, with the stored water then available in times of drought," said Julie Mulonga, programme manager at Wetlands International Kenya, a conservation charity in Busia.
During the current drought, farmers and herders have been drawing water from the wetlands, and streams feeding them have run dry.
Local communities have also been draining them to grow crops, Mulonga said.
Wandera remembers when large parts of the Sio-Siteko wetland, near the border with Uganda, were drained to make way for farmland.
"We never thought our activities were harmful until we saw the consequences – that is, more floods during the rainy season and less water during the dry season, leading to a decline in vegetation and animal species," he said.
Charities like Wetlands International Kenya, with support from the government, are working with communities in Busia to protect their wetlands, while helping them develop alternatives to farming like beekeeping and eco-tourism.
Wandera said some farmers are building greenhouses to cultivate vegetables like yams.
"But they ensure the farmers can grow vegetables using less water and land, thus preventing their encroachment on wetlands," he added.

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