It’s been nearly two years since I was last in Kwale County in Kenya but, as I sat (slowly baking) in the queue of traffic waiting for the Mombasa car ferry, it felt very familiar. The ferry terminal is a fascinating place – as a gateway between the city of Mombasa and the bustling towns and villages of Kwale, it’s absolutely teeming with life and an incredible snapshot of the diversity and ingenuity of the people living in this part of the world.
Having navigated the Mombasa ferry, I headed south to the town of Diani where I was met by Elias Kimaru (WWF Kwale Programme Manager) and John Bett (WWF Boni-Dodori Programme Manager, who was visiting from the North of the coast) and other colleagues from WWF-Kenya. In the age of technology, there are lots of ways in which we can keep in touch with each other, but nothing beats face-to-face interaction – especially when the team are as enthusiastic and dedicated as those on the Kenyan coast and there’s a plate of ugali to share!
With a few days of budgets and proposal writing behind us, I was keen to get out into the field and see first-hand the work that’s going on. As you will have likely gathered from Elias’ blog, work in Kwale has so far largely focused on habitats on land. WWF-Kenya is however scaling up its efforts in Kwale, and neighbouring county Kilifi, and part of this work will include developing a marine aspect to the programme. WWF-Kenya already works on the Kenyan coast in Lamu and staff from this programme joined my trip to offer their expertise and to help guide establishment of Kwale-Kilifi marine work.
Our first stop was Kisite-Mpunguti Marine National Park, south of Wasini Island which is nearly as far south as you can get in Kenya – you can see the coastline of Tanzania when you’re there. Our journey there took us past a newly established large scale irrigated sugar plantation – the scale of which was immense. The use of water for projects such as this, and the effect it has on habitats and ecosystems that depend on water, is another area that is becoming a major focus of WWF work on the coast.
Once at the coastline, we travelled by boat with Kenya Wildlife Service to see some of the incredible marine wildlife in the Park (I didn’t think I was much of a dolphin fan but they were undeniably excellent!) and then to meet some of the communities living on Wasini Island to better understand the challenges that they face. The use of illegal and unsustainable fishing gear was clearly an issue, but so too was the community’s ability to have a voice in discussions about how the area’s natural resources get used. As on land, finding ways to help people use natural resources in a sustainable way, and ensuring that they benefit from this, will be top of our agenda going forwards!
At the same time as developing these new strands of work, existing work continues. During my trip I was also lucky enough to meet some community members who had benefitted from the clean energy initiative which WWF Kenya has been piloting in Kwale and is now hoping to roll out in other areas of the coast. It was evident how something seemingly simple – the provision of solar lamps – is changing lives. Fatuma was a particularly inspirational woman – whose entrepreneurial skills could give any contestant on The Apprentice a run for their money – and she showed me how having solar lamps has saved her money and allowed her earn more money by working longer hours at her multiple businesses , all while also being better for the environment. Like many others, Fatuma used a loan from the community bank to help pay for the solar lamps that she now considers so vital. I visited the bank last time I was in Kwale and it was great to now see real life application of how the bank is helping people and the environment.
All too soon I was back at the Mombasa ferry heading for home, but looking forward to the next time I get to visit Kwale. It’s an incredible place – I urge you to visit!
WWF’s work in Kwale, Kenya is supported by Size of Wales.