The Dakatcha Woodland fiasco continues unabated. As an internationally important forest for biodiversity conservation and as an area that is a marginal agricultural area due to poor soils and low rainfall, you would have thought it a no-brainer for the Government to put its money where its mouth is when it has talked very eloquently about both conserving biodiversity and, (take note of this) increase forest cover in Kenya from where it stands currently at c.1.5% cover to “over 10%” – and therefore set aside this area of existing forest for conservation rather than clear fell 50,000ha of forest, woodland and scrub that holds globally important populations of threatened wildlife let alone is a major water catchment area and carbon sink.
However that is not the case and instead the Government is prepared to:
# Give away c.1/3 of Marafa Divisions land surface to a foreign company (Italian, called ‘Kenya Jatropha Energy Ltd’ here, but according the EIA, “100% owned by Nouve Iniziative Industriali sri (NIIsri) of Italy”), an area of land that according to the EIA is 40% an Important Bird Area (Dakatcha Woodlands) and 70% occupied by local communities
# Allow 500 square kms (that is 20% larger than Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, mainland Africa’s 2nd most important forest for bird conservation that lies only 15kms south and with which Dakatcha shares much of its biodiversity) to be clear felled
# licence a project that has broken the law and continues to do so
# support a project that has evidence showing that it will impoverish the existing communities living in the area
# approve a project for which the EIA is scanty, was carried out in a very flawed, non-transparent procedure with none of the major stakeholders consulted including the majority of the community living in the area
# approve a project which has never been discussed and passed by the District Environmental Committee – where all and any projects of any significance must be passed by first.
# The EIA once finally produced was then not easily available to the public. People we know who went to the NEMA offices in Nairobi to get a copy were refused the chance of copying it and told if they wanted to read it they had to stay there and read it. No soft copy was made available and only through some other means did NatureKenya manage to get hold of a pdf of the EIA and circulate it some days after the notice was put in the newspaper as required by law.
# approve a project for which not even the government’s own local conservation and forest management authorities were consulted – and in fact to date have yet to receive any official communication regarding the project: the Malindi Zonal Manager (previously known as the District Forest Officer until government madness split the country into too many districts to make it viable to govern… but that’s another story!) for the Kenya Forest Service said today that he had only heard rumours and through information in the public domain regarding the project and had been waiting to receive a communication from the project proponents or at least the County Council in Malindi but did not get anything. It was when he heard that the forest was now being bulldozed that he then wrote to the County Clerk in the Council requesting clarification – but has yet to have a reply from him. KEFRI (Kenya Forest Research Institute), Kenya Wildlife Service and National Museums of Kenya furthermore had not been consulted during the EIA process, institutes in whose hands the welfare of our environment has been placed for management on the ground.
# Allow this destruction for a commercial plantation of a crop which:
- has now been shown categorically to be completely uneconomical to grow in commercially (see next blog)
- where the carbon cycle balance for the project is actually negative (i.e. it will release more carbon in the making of the biodiesel than will be saved through the mitigating effect of the fuel being used as opposed to normal fossil fuels)
- not a single large plantation of jatropha has been shown to be viable in East Africa
- in Tanzania a jatropha biofuel project by Bioshape, a Dutch biofuel company, has just gone bust (reported in our meeting today by WWF rep) and in so doing has destroyed a significant area of hardwood forest
To underscore all of this, reports have it that our Minister for Environment apparently has stated that “so far he has not seen one good reason not to give the project the full green light”…
Early in 2010, therefore, bulldozers were brought in (as previously reported on a blog) and an area of c.10ha have been clear felled of trees. Apparently the project proponents had told the villagers that they wanted to open up the road to their project site, but once they got going, the breadth and scale of the clearing was clearly more than a road and the community members insisted the destruction stop. Thankfully no more has happened since then but this public hearing would appear to be an attempt to ‘open the way’ again and given Mr Michuki’s comments about green lights, there is a serious need to make it very clear that there are many very good reasons why the project should get the full red light.
So tomorrow (Thursday 20th May 2010) the County Council are organising a Public Hearing where in theory all and any stakeholders can attend and give their opinion and where majority concensus should lead the day. It was very interesting today to learn that members of the County Council had admitted to the NatureKenya manager that they were not calling people to the public hearing because they were afraid of too many stakeholders coming to the meeting and being the majority and thus able to do more to stop it. They are basically planning to threaten and intimidate stakeholders into agreeing on the project. However they hadn’t reckoned on the NatureKenya manager who is a tough fighter and a good man and who has garnered a lot of support to fight this project!
We (A Rocha Kenya) are going to take a good crowd of our team to attend the meeting as many of them are passionate and concerned about the outrage of this project and want to lodge their outrage. It’s crucial that we have as many people there as possible so since our landcruiser is currently dead in the garage waiting for a new ‘heart and lungs’ which we’re trying to find US$2,500 to fix, we are having to hire a matatu minibus. The trip is going to cost us about Ksh 7,000 (c.$95) – if any reader feels able to assist towards the cost of this, we would really appreciate it as we don’t have a budget at all for it. If so, please donate via the A Rocha International website and where it gives ‘Designation’ select ‘Kenya general fund’. If possible put a remark so we know what the gift was for. This will make a real difference. Any additional funding to what the trip costs will be put towards other costs for the Dakatcha work and campaign. THANK YOU in advance.
Today we had an Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Management Team (ASFMT) meeting with a particular focus on the public hearing tomorrow but also to bring all the government partners up to scratch on what is happening in Dakatcha. In the meeting it was pointed out that the Dakatcha land has apparently already been leased to the Italian company for a period of 33 years. Strictly speaking, if a company leases the land, they become the ‘owner’ of it meaning all people living there will legally be ’squatters’. They are planning to ‘buy out’ the land owners but many are not / will not be interested to sell. They are therefore going to try and have them as ‘out growers’ of jatropha but legally speaking they will be squatters… It all sounds very messy.
Overall, with the increasing evidence that Jatropha is not a viable crop for plantations (I’ll write more in the next blog on this), then the project is doomed to fail from the start. And yet it continues. Why? Word on the ground has it that the proponents of the project are after the extremely valuable timber in the form of Brachystegia spiciformis which is already used hugely (and 100% illegally) in Malindi by mainly the Italian market for furniture production.
It will be very interesting to see how the public hearing goes tomorrow and I’ll try my best to blog a report on it for those of you who are interested. I promised to put up a template letter to assist people to write and complain – and still plan to do so. Please write anyway. Whatever noise can be made to stop this madness is necessary and very appreciated.
ASFMT meeting at Kipepeo offices earlier today
Report Courtesy of Wildlife Direct