June 12, 2012
Kenya's wildlife is proving to be a serious problem for some local farmers, endangering the lives of residents and negatively impacting the country's food security and economy.
The magnitude of the problem varies from farmer to farmer, but a majority say their cropland is invaded by wildlife every season and 70% reported property damage, a recent report by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) found.
"The human-wildlife menace explains why many households face serious food insecurity. Many farmers have to rely on external sources of support, such as remittances and relief food, in order to cater to their household needs," the IPAR report said.
Amos Kareithi, 41, a part-time farmer in Nyahururu County, said farmers in parts of the Central, Rift Valley and Coast provinces worry that they may not bring in any harvest as a result of animals encroaching on their land and destroying crops.
"I do not own a big piece of land but I have equally suffered the wrath of these animals," Kareithi told Sabahi. "A one-acre farm can provide up to 25 [50-kilogramme] bags of maize, but many farmers can hardly get that. I used to harvest over 20 bags of maize, but today I hardly get more than 15 bags because these animals visit my farm every season."
Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that Kenya will exhaust its domestic maize supply by July.
"My neighbours used to get over 20,000 cabbages in their one-acre farm, but these animals continue to frustrate them every season. Today, they can only think of getting 50% of that," Kareithi said, adding that once the animals discover there is food to eat at a particular farm, they return regularly for more.
Kareithi and his neighbours are not the only farmers counting losses as a result of encroaching wildlife.
Simon Chege, 72, a farmer in Kinangop in Nyandarua County, told Sabahi that farmers can no longer predict their harvests.
"Some farmers used to harvest 80 bags of potatoes for every acre of farm, but today, we can no longer register that kind of harvest," Chege said. "Many of us get between 40 and 60 [80-kilogramme] bags per acre and we have stopped thinking about the losses occasioned by these animals. This is a war we cannot win and the Kenya Wildlife Service is unable to help," he said.
To ward off animals in these areas, peasant farmers have devised ways to protect crops. "We are now forced to use battery-powered torches and firebrands at night to scare away the elephants, which grow bolder and more desperate every day," farmer Shadrack Githinji, 48, told Sabahi.
Like hundreds of other farmers living on the fringes of Rumuruti Forest just outside Nyahururu in Kenya's Central Province, Githinji relies on farming as the only source of income to feed his family.
In mid-May, a herd of 15 elephants raided Rwathia and stormed Githinji's farm, feasting on his bananas, sugarcane and sweet potatoes before they trooped into his home compound.
"We do not know peace or sleep. Every night, a herd of about 50 elephants has made our farms its home. We farm during the day and guard our farms at night," Githinji said.
Farmer Duncan Wamugi told Sabahi he invested heavily in surrounding his 10-acre plot of land with a solar-powered electric fence, but the elephants snapped the high tensile wires by breaking the support poles.
"The elephants have become bolder and are not easily deterred by simple fences erected around homes by peasant farmers. They seem to have learned new tricks to circumvent these hurdles," said Eston Maina, senior chief of Rwathia in Laikipia County.
After they destroyed the fence, the elephants then destroyed the farmer's cabbages, tomatoes and fishponds, ruining an investment of millions of shillings, Maina said.
"This invasion has really affected food production in my location. Farmers are afraid to invest heavily in their farms for the animals wreck the crops and even follow up with a visit to the granary to finish off the remnants," he told Sabahi.
The conflict is also straining the budget of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). "We have to foot a huge bill amounting to millions of shillings in terms of compensation," KWS community wildlife Assistant Director Michael Kipkeu told Sabahi.
Kipkeu said KWS has identified four areas as hot spots for human-wildlife conflict: Laikipia and Rumuruti in Central Province, Narok and Transmara in the Rift Valley, Tsavo East and West (Taita Taveta, Rombo, Njukini), and Lamu (Mpeketoni and Witu) in Coast Province.
Government efforts to restrain animals by constructing barriers such as electric fences and trenches are very costly, says Kipkeu. "We have already erected a 1,300-kilometre fence by the Aberdare Forest," he said, adding that it cost 50,000 shillings ($590) per kilometre to build it.
KWS also incurs high costs due to human death and injury compensations. Last year, the organisation paid 66 million shillings ($780,000) to settle death and injury compensation cases, which amount to 15,000 shillings ($177) for injuries and 30,000 shillings ($354) for deaths caused by wild animals, Kipkeu said. He said 52 deaths and 425 injuries were reported last year.
He said Kenya is the only country in Africa that still compensates people injured or killed by animals, but that could change soon. A wildlife bill has been introduced to parliament, which, if passed, would revamp compensation guidelines, Kipkeu said.
Climate change, population growth in protected areas and demand for land cultivation are some of the factors contributing to increases in human-wildlife face-offs, Kipkeu said, adding that these conflicts will continue until long-term solutions are found.
Private organisations, such as the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), have partnered with KWS to undertake measures to contain wildlife.
"We collared nine more elephants in Tsavo last month -- so in total, we are tracking 12 elephants, mainly for management purposes to address conflict and security," IFAW's communication officer Elizabeth Wamba told Sabahi.
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