An initiative by local communities in Kilifi County to protect
mangroves from destruction has had a double blessing blending
conservation and economic benefits.
In some areas, conservation groups have come up with
unique ways that ensure food on the table while at the
same time securing the environment for posterity.
Elvis Ndundi from Majajani quit his hotel job in Lamu to
join a group of young men and women venture into fish
farming just adjacent to the ocean breaking the long
held tradition that nature would always provide.
Today Mr. Ndundi who leads a conservation team of about
20 members by the name Mtangani Conservation and
Eco-Tourism does not regret the decision to leave a
gainful employment to soil his hands in the mangrove
“When we dug our first pond here, people thought we
were out of our minds.
“They would not understand how we could possibly
start fish farming next to the ocean.
Reducing pressure on mangroves has led to introduction
of alternative sources of livelihood including bee
keeping. Mtongani conservation and ecotourism group is
minting money from honey in mangrove forest
“Little did they know that our initiative did not just come
from the blues but responding to the need to reduce pressure
on the sea whose fish stock were slowly dwindling through
over-fishing,” said Mr Ndundi.
With the support from technical staff from different agencies
like the Fisheries Department, Kenya Forest Service, the Kenya
Marine and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) and other
organizations, the group started off on a journey for
alternative sources of livelihood.
AKMFRI Director in charge of Mariculture Dr. James Mwaluma said
mariculture, has the potential to turn around the fortunes of
many Coastal communities.
There are different types of mariculture done on shallow
coastal-marine areas but with distinct environmental and
For instance, crab farming and oyster farming require areas with
Whereas seaweed farming requires lagoons and sheltered bays with
shallow water at low tides but with enough tidal lush and
temperatures ranging between 20’C and 32’C.
“Most of the artisanal fishermen cannot go beyond one
nautical mile where there is plenty of fish because they
lack the equipment to do so.
“Overconcentration on the shallow waters and use of bad
fishing gear has had adverse effects on the fish breeding.
“Uncontrolled cutting of mangroves for timber and wood fuel
has compounded the situation because this forest provides
the habitat for different fish species,” said Dr Mwaluma.
In one of the rare but successful venture, a group of men and
women in Dabaso in Watamu area are making money while at the
same time keeping a close watch on the environment protecting it
Boasting of some 20floating bamboo cages the Members of the
Dabaso Creek Conservation Group can generate over Sh3 million in
a year from fattened crabs that end up on the plates of the
hundreds of guests who patronize their restaurant.
At first, their main preoccupation was to protect the Mida Creek
from further degradation of the habitats as a result of wanton
cutting of mangroves for timber and wood fuel and to larger
extent over- fishing.
But today, their effort has been rewarded.
What started as a mere conservation campaign over 15 years ago
has turned out to be a lucrative business enterprise that
combines crab farming and Eco-tourism in the beautiful mangrove
One of the founding members of the group, 50 year old Stephen
Mramba Mweni has every reason to smile as he helps usher in
visitors mainly comprising of tourists from the Watamu tourist
circuit through the picturesque boardwalk in to the restaurants.
With a team of about 30 young people drawn from the local
village, they started cleaning the creek and planting mangroves
to rehabilitate the degraded areas.
Mr. Mweni said at this point in late 1990s, they had no business
idea but their efforts earned then recognition of some
individuals and organizations within and outside Watamu.
He said the biggest challenge then was that there was no income
and since the work was voluntary some of the members left in
search of gainful employment.
Their first breakthrough came from the Kenyan Government when
they were selected as beneficiaries of Njaa Marufuku initiative
under the Ministry of Agriculture and that was when the idea of
crab farming was mooted.
“Our initial project was a mere trial after learning a few
tips on crab farming.
“This was disastrous because we used very crude permanent
cages that suffocated the crabs.
“With no technical knowhow, we started off on a wrong
footing designing pens using nylon nets and mangrove poles
only to realize that that type was not suitable to the area
as the crabs either died or were washed away during high
tides.” he said.
“It was at this point that we got help from the Kenya Marine
and Fisheries Research Institute (KMFRI) in an initiative
that brought a research scientist to Dabaso leading to a
successful journey to serious studies on crab farming,” said
Mr. Kahindi Charo.
When Dr. Mwaluma came, said Mr. Charo, experiment on floating
cages made from bamboos proved a success in the area.
“It is easy to manage and monitor because the crabs are
placed in individual compartments,” said Dr. Mwaluma.
Later, they got another funding to the tune of Sh80,000 from
Toyota Japan money that was used to build a boardwalk into the
forest where planting and monitoring of mangroves was taking
The boardwalk was also meant to give the members easy access to
the crab cages.
The boardwalk came in handy for gaining access to the cages for
feeding and monitoring the crabs.
“Some of our members and villagers who were working in
tourist hotels helped us with the marketing and within a
short time, the demand for crabs soared and we could not
“Given the proximity of the hotels to Dabaso where we were
doing crab farming, an idea sprung up that in fact we could
start some value addition instead of selling them fresh to
the hotels,” he said.
The Dabaso creek is a beautiful site for bird watching and sun
setting and it soon became popular with tourists jamming the
place for lunch, dinner and sight-seeing- and that’ show the
restaurant business came up.
Crabs are a delicacy and cost up to Sh1, 500 a meal.
Mr. Charo said they devised other cuisines like crab samosas,
crab salad and crab kebabs which make them earn more than when
they sold the crabs directly to the hotels.
“We have 20 cages with small chambers where we keep the
crabs for fattening for a period of between two to three
“But the demand has created a big shortage of seeds and we
have to go all the way to Marereni to buy them for stocking
in our cages,” he said.
According to Dr. Mwaluma,a Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research
Institute KMFRI Assistant Director in Charge of Mariculture, the
culture of farming crabs is a common practice but fairly new in
East Africa and Dabaso is one of the model projects.
“This team comprising community members most of whom used to
work in the hotel industry has taken crab farming to new
levels thus debunking the myths that conservation does not
“This practice is very common in many Asian Countries,” said
He said that through sustainable utilization of the resource the
local people have started enjoying a rejuvenated ecosystem that
is home to fish breeding grounds.
Dr. Mwaluma said the project that now boasts of a well equipped
kitchen, bar, restaurant bandas that can seat up to 100 guests
and a conference facility goes to confirm that fish farming can
“But even with the successes, we have not lost focus on the
seriousness with which communities have to undertake
“All the activities are carried out within the parameters of
strict environmental protection because only then can we
guarantee secure and sustainable livelihood.
“But even with strict adherence to conservation, the area
has a capacity to hold up to 200 cages,” said Dr. Mwaluma.
Dr. Mwaluma acknowledges the challenge of seeds saying with the
success of the project and the quest by other groups to start
crab farming, there is a great need to start a hatchery for seed
and even feed.
He said KMFRI is looking for funds to put up a hatchery in
Shimoni where 25 acres of land is already available for the
project that is estimated to cost over Sh100 million.