The Tana River Delta in Kenya has received temporary reprieve after the High Court stopped a controversial $370 million sugar and biofuels project. Mumias Sugar Company intends to convert 20,000 hectares of the Tana Rive Delta to plant sugarcane. BirdLife International, NatureKenya (BirdLife in Kenya), the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) and local conservationists within Kenya have vehemently opposed the proposal as it threatens biodiversity and the livelihoods of local communities. Tana delta is home to over 350 species of bird, and a large assemblage of globally threatened wildlife including nine plants, five fish, two amphibians, two primates and two reptiles.
“This is a very welcome move”, said Paul Matiku the Executive Director, Nature Kenya. “It is victory for the local communities that took the government to court. Nature Kenya and institutions under the umbrella of Kenya Wetlands Forum will now fight even harder to have the sugarcane project permanently stopped”, Matiku added.
In June this year Kenya’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) cleared the sugarcane project and issued an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) license. This move was criticised by environmental groups as biased because of its failure to balance arguments from both sides of the debate. “An independent economic study showed that the project was heavily overvalued because the costs of water, land and loss of community livelihoods were ignored” said Serah Munguti, the Communications and Advocacy Coordinator at Nature Kenya. “Yet, NEMA ignored this information. At the same time the conditions in the EIA licence issued by NEMA were too weak”, she added.
Among other things, the new court order stops Mumias Sugar Company from making any further decisions regarding implementation of the sugar project. It also halts the Tana River County Council from taking any action in respect to the land which is the subject of the suit. Furthermore, it bars Kenya’s Commissioner of Lands from issuing a title deed for the land and the Water Resources Management Authority from issuing a water permit to the Tana Integrated Sugar Project.
BirdLife International welcomes the new development and fully backs Nature Kenya and other environmental groups in Kenya calling for a stoppage of the Tana Integrated Sugar Project. "We believe that the implementation of the project is not likely to lead to the improvement of the lives of the local people but will leave a trail of damage to the ecosystem and biodiversity", said Ken Mwathe from BirdLife's Africa Partnership Secretariat.