BUSIA, Kenya, April 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed
with a hoe and Wellington boots, George Wandera planted bamboo
seedlings in neatly dug holes along the banks of a stream on
his farm that feeds a nearby lake in western Kenya.
"I've never tried this on my farm before but it's the first
step in protecting the stream," he said. "Before the last
downpour a few days ago, the water source had completely dried
Large swathes of Kenya - including parts of Busia county
where Wandera lives - are experiencing severe water shortages,
which have damaged crops and left 2.6 million people in need of
The country's wetlands too have suffered in the drought,
putting at risk communities who depend on them for fishing or
irrigation, and who rely on them to act as a buffer from floods
"Wetlands such as lakes and floodplains act as natural
safeguards against disasters, by absorbing excess rainfall
during floods, with the stored water then available in times of
drought," said Julie Mulonga, programme manager at Wetlands
International Kenya, a conservation charity in Busia.
During the current drought, farmers and herders have been
drawing water from the wetlands, and streams feeding them have
Unpredictable rainfall is not the only reason Kenya's
wetlands are under threat. Local communities have also been
draining them to grow crops, Mulonga said.
Wandera remembers when large parts of the Sio-Siteko
wetland, near the border with Uganda, were drained to make way
"We never thought our activities were harmful until we saw
the consequences – that is, more floods during the rainy season
and less water during the dry season, leading to a decline in
vegetation and animal species," he said.
In February, the Kenyan government launched its first
wetlands management policy, to help protect the country's
"If well-managed, wetlands can make communities more
resilient in the face of extreme weather," said Mulonga.
Charities like Wetlands International Kenya, with support
from the government, are working with communities in Busia to
protect their wetlands, while helping them develop alternatives
to farming like beekeeping and eco-tourism.
They are also planting indigenous trees and bamboo, and
using papyrus - a wetland plant - to make baskets and sandals.
"We need to strike a balance between the population's needs
and the need to preserve natural habitats," said Robert Sanya,
head of Eco Green, a Kenyan charity which campaigns on
"Bamboo for example can absorb large amounts of carbon from
the air – which helps mitigate against climate change – while
its extensive network of roots prevents soil erosion, thus
making it ideal to conserve the banks of rivers and streams,
which feed into wetlands," Sanya said.
Wandera said some farmers are building greenhouses to
cultivate vegetables like yams.
"The greenhouses are expensive to build – at least $400," he
"But they ensure the farmers can grow vegetables using less
water and land, thus preventing their encroachment on wetlands,"
(Reporting by Justus Wanzala, editing by Zoe Tabary and Alex
Whiting. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the
charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian
news, climate change, resilience, women's rights, trafficking
and property rights. Visit news.trust.org/climate)