Objective Data Brings Peace

Pressure on land pits residents against each other

Local resident

The area around the mouth of the Tana River in Kenya is special.

Its variety of grassland, forests, marine wetlands and the river itself means it is a biodiversity hot spot. A hot spot that is used for many purposes: from small-scale cattle breeding to extensive crop cultivation. The region has many different ethnic groups and inheritances mean the land is becoming increasingly divided. The population is increasing which means that eventually the Tana River Delta will no longer be able to supply enough food for those that live there. On top of this, the delta is affected by the annual flooding of the Tana River. This combination leads to increasingly bigger problems. Every land-owner and every business in the area demands access to resources such as drinking water and protection against floods.

How do you get everyone on the same page without imposing solutions?

Local resident

The only way to break the impasse seems to be a coordinated Land Use Plan (LUP) for the whole region.

A Land Use Plan that is totally objective and widely supported. Local policy officials realised such a plan must be built on facts. For this reason, a unique approach for Kenya was selected: a LUP combined with a Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). This involves an assessment of the situation in the Tana River Delta with an analysis of possible future scenarios. The way in which the Strategical Environmental Assessment is set up is in line with the method for projecting the environmental effects of land development plans in the Netherlands. On this basis, as much data as possible are gathered. Via measurements and diagrams, but especially through discussions with all the stakeholders in the area.

Is the problem too much or too little water?!

Local resident

The fact-finding exercise led to surprising insights.

For example, residents had the feeling that flooding was the biggest problem in the region because of the disruptive surge of water they face every year. They look accusingly at the communities upstream of the Tana River which they believe are partly responsible for the floods. However, an assessment and analysis of the situation concluded that a water shortage would be an equally serious problem in the long term. To meet all the wishes and activities of residents and businesses, much more water will be needed than is currently available. Growing and irrigating sugar cane, for example, needs relatively large amounts of water and this is directly at the expense of cattle breeding, nature conservation and other land uses. The SEA not only collects facts but shows how everything in the region connects with each other. And this was exactly the breakthrough needed to get all stakeholders on speaking terms.

This means the Land Use Plan really is for everyone

Local resident

Everyone joined forces and were willing to compromise to create a broad framework for the SEA and LUP to allow decisions about the region to be assessed. A hybrid scenario which combines traditional practices with modern technology was selected.

One in which nature conservation and protection against natural disasters go hand in hand. This framework is now imbedded in laws and regulations, for example regarding the management of the Tana River, flood protection and the extraction of drinking water. It obliges everyone, including governments, to carry out an environmental assessment for new plans. For the first time, the cohesion of plans in the long term is considered. But the most important element for success is widespread support. All parties were involved in setting up the SEA and the LUP from the start. From the owner of the smallest piece of land to the highest civil servants in the national government. Decisions are made together, based on objective criteria. And this means everyone stands behind the approach.

Nevertheless, in practice, changes are taking place slowly but steadily. The new approach requires far-reaching adjustments, for example for groups that must abandon their traditional ways of working. They need time to do this. But the fact that they are doing so is the result of the data that has convinced them that everyone benefits from the Land Use Plan. Meanwhile, various parties have already invested millions of dollars in the region because of the security now offered by the LUP. The general standard of living is improving step by step. The Tana River is no longer a volatile area but a future-proof region where residents understand each other’s needs and look for the right balance. This obvious proof of its success means the innovative approach has already been adopted in west Kenya and used by the United Nations as an example of best practice.