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Land and water grabbing in an east African coastal wetland: The case of the Tana delta

Stéphanie Duvail
UMR 208 'Patrimoines Locaux', Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France ; and National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya; stephanie.duvail@ird.fr
Claire Médard
UMR 205 'Migrations et Sociétés', Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, France ; and Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda; claire.medard@ird.fr
Olivier Hamerlynck
Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Wallingford, OX, UK; olivier.hamerlynck@gmail.com
Dorothy Wanja Nyingi
National Museums of Kenya, Nairobi, Kenya; dnyingi@museums.or.ke

ABSTRACT: The delta of the Tana river in Kenya, an important wetland in Eastern Africa, is at a major turning point. Key decisions regarding its future are on the verge of being made, some of which may dramatically alter its characteristics. At present, in a landscape that is a mosaic of floodplains and forests of high biodiversity, small-scale farming, fishing and livestock keeping are the main activities practised by the local communities, all relying on the occurrence of floods in November and May. Private investors with the backing of governmental bodies or parastatals, including the river basin authority, have planned the conversion of the lower Tana into irrigated sugar cane and Jatropha curcas plantations for biofuel production. In this paper, we discuss the land and water grabbing aspect of this new biofuel production trend, 'grabbing' being defined as cases of land acquisition or water abstraction where established user-rights and public interests are disregarded. We focus on two case studies: a planned large-scale sugar cane plantation in the central floodplain and a large-scale Jatropha curcas plantation on the floodplain terraces. We demonstrate through a water budget analysis that their potential impacts on the water balance and quality, on the environment of the Tana delta and therefore on the flood-dependent livelihoods have been not been adequately addressed in the Environmental Impact Assessment documents.

KEYWORDS: Land grabbing, water grabbing, sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya, biofuels, floodplains, ecosystem services, water balance, Environmental Impact Assessment