THE good news is that some villagers living near Mara River are now engaged in alternative activities aimed at improving the quality and quantity of water in the river that forms a great part of the Serengeti eco-system.
The activities include tree-planting, beekeeping, cultivation of bananas, oranges, mangoes and cassava which are resistant to diseases. This has happened following establishment of six water users associations in villages with the support of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).
For several years, WWF has been working with government, communities and other key players along Mara River Basin to ensure that the value of the ecosystem is realised. The associations are Tobora, Somoche, North Mara, South North Mara, Lower Tigithe and Upper Tigithe.
The Tobora water users association in Serengeti District has made remarkable progress in establishing different projects aimed at protecting Mara River. Besides planting thousands of trees, the association is currently building 10 biogas plants with the support of the Ministry of Energy and Minerals, according to its chairman, Lameck Nyasagati.
“We are introducing the use of biogas as an alternative energy instead of firewood which is the cause of deforestation,” he said recently. The Tobora Water Users Association, made up of about 24 villages, has also taken part in planting 16,100 trees at Tobora prison and 20,400 more trees at Mara River police post.
“The tree farms are also being used for demonstration in the district,” Nyasagati explained. The association has also established 58 beehives and engaged in orange, banana and mango farming.
Its outstanding performance enabled it to win environment conservation and management of water resources award provided by the Lake Victoria Basin Commission in 2015. The award was presented by former Vice-President Dr Mohamed Gharib Bilal during the commemoration of Mara Day celebrations held at Butiama on September 15, 2015.
“To us, the award was one of our greatest achievements and the secret behind our success is the capacity building programme provided by WWF,” Nyasagati said. WWF Project Officer for the Mara Fresh Water Programme, Kanuni Kanuni, said the water users associations were provided with technical and institutional training.
“There was technical capacity in areas of lobbying and advocacy and environment conservation that involved restoration of river banks and tree planting,” he said. The capacity building training further involved areas of collaboration and networking with other key stakeholders like District Councils, he said.
Institutional capacity training involved leadership, governance and conflict management within an organisation. “The alternative activities you are seeing is a result of the capacity training and members of the water users associations are also working to protect and conserve Mara River Basin,” he said. The Mara River Fresh Water Programme is designed to improve the quality and quantity of water in Mara River which is shared between Tanzania and Kenya.
WWF is implementing a similar programme at Ruaha and Kilombero rivers. Tanzania and Kenya commemorate Mara Day every September 15 each year on rotational basis. The latest Mara Day celebrations were held in Kenya last year.
The event coincides with the migration of wildebeests from the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania to Maasai- Mara Game Reserve in Kenya. Mara River runs through Masai Mara in Kenya and Serengeti National Park before discharging water into Lake Victoria on the Tanzanian side. Conservation and protection of the river is essential for sustainability of the Masai- Serengeti-ecosystem and the development of tourism in the two East African countries.
The livelihoods of thousands of people in the two countries rely on the river basin covering 13,750 square kilometres. However, human activities such as farming, livestock keeping, deforestation and pollution caused by artisanal miners are reportedly threatening the existence of the river.
WWF is also making interventions aimed at preventing artisanal miners from polluting the river with mercury under the Mara River Fresh Water Programme. Kwinya Mining Cooperative Society, a group of 21 artisanal miners living at Murito village in Tarime District, is being assisted to build a special pond for gold refining. The group has welcomed the support hoping that WWF’s interventions would not only help conserve the environment but will also improve their working conditions.
“We have been doing our job without knowing the effects of mercury… WWF has made us realise the bad effects of using mercury,” said Robert Marwa, the chairman of Kwinya Mining Cooperative Society.
Apart from being trained on environmental conservation, Kanuni said the artisanal miners were helped to build a mercury retention pond. Murito village government officials said the majority of the artisanal miners in the village were women. “Although they (women) complain of “difficult work” they have no other option of making a living,” Marwa said.
Said Tatu Mwita, an artisanal miner¨ “I have been a small-scale miner for more than 10 years but the largest amount I have got is 100,000/-. It is a difficult job.”
Joseph Ntora Patrice, the Murito Village Executive Officer (VEO), said the village government supports efforts made by WWF to prevent pollution in Mara River. “Mercury is also a poison and that is why we are working together with WWF to intervene,” he said.