Biodiversity Conservation in Kenya


General Information 

Project type:
Biodiversity Conservation

Yala Swamp, Siaya County, Kenya

Traditional vegetables, fish

17,500 hectares

March 2015 to August 2016

Local communities

Partner organizations:
Nature Kenya, Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Water Resources Management Authority, Pathfinder International, Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Regional Development, Ministry of Water and Irrigation, the National Land Commission, the County Governments of Siaya and Busia, the National Museums of Kenya, People Living with Disabilities and members of the Yala Ecosystem Site Support Group

USAID-Planning For Resilience in East Africa Through Policy, Adaptation, Research, And Economic Development (PREPARED)


About the project

The growing demand for land in the Yala Swamp has resulted in the conversion of part of the swamp area in Siaya and Busia Counties to other land use activities. The main causes of this conversion are demand for agricultural land, land for human settlement, and cutting of trees for fuel wood and construction. Pressure on the swamp intensified in the past few years from international corporations in search of arable land.

The growing interest for Yala resources, particularly land from large-scale investors threaten the sustainability of this important resource. Often decisions on land allocations are taken without good knowledge of the capacity of the swamp to accommodate new investors and on the potential impacts on the environment and society. Weak frameworks for stakeholder and local communities’ participation has created suspicion and tension among various interest groups. Other challenges include the impacts of the proposed dams upstream, declining water levels, soil erosion and silting of the dams and water pans, as well as low agricultural productivity.

In this context, this project was designed to carry out a Strategic Environment Assessment (SEA) and develop a Land Use Plan guided by SEA as strategic frameworks to guide present and future investments in the Yala Swamp. In addition, the project aimed to develop a clear evidence-based ‘business case’ for the sustainable management of the Yala swamp, to restore vital wildlife habitat and enhance protection partly with returns from ‘Payment for Ecosystem Services’ scheme, and to empower poor people living around the Yala swamp to improve their livelihoods.

The ‘business case’ for the sustainable management of the Yala swamp was developed based on a pre-existing ecosystem services assessment. After in-depth assessments, the ecosystem services assessment recommends that Yala Swamp land use and management policies and plans adopt a balance between development and conservation, so as to improve the socio-economic well-being of the local residents while protecting the diverse biodiversity, and ecosystem services that the site provides.

A total of 8,404 hectares were identified as community conserved areas within which lie 443.8 hectares of degraded areas. Through the Yala Swamp Ecosystem Site Support Group 300 hectares were planted with papyrus in the degraded areas.



The project left an important legacy at both the local and national levels. At the local level, it resulted in the creation of a balanced, long-term vision for Yala, and in the endorsement of this vision by Dominion, statutory bodies, and local communities. The aim was to secure the future of Yala as a source of agricultural products and jobs, a reservoir of natural resources such as fish and Papyrus, a home for an extremely wide variety of plants and animals (many of them globally threatened), and a provider of ecosystem services such as carbon storage. Specific changes were realized such as the creation of fishponds, the enhancement of Papyrus processing and marketing skills, the planting of trees and bamboo, and the designation of Community Conservation Areas, all of which have long-lasting beneficial impacts on both people and wildlife.

At the end of the implementation period, this project Improved participatory decision making and the community livelihoods through fish farming, production and sale of high value papyrus products and tour guiding. The project implementation strategy included an inbuilt sustainability strategy where proceeds from income generating activities will be divided among the individual beneficiary, wider community and to support conservation work through the site support group. These activities started as a result of the project are still ongoing.