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Conserving Biodiversity Through Sustainable Farming & Fishing Practices On Mount Kenya


The Sagana Women’s Group was formed in 1977 by a group of women who wanted to address basic issues that affected them and their families, such as housing, water supply, education and poverty alleviation. The group also wanted to engage the local community in environmental conservation activities, and improve livelihoods by establishing a sustainable environmental conservation enterprise. The Sagana Fish and Bee Keeping Women Self Help Group started the 'Sagana Fish Farming Project' in 2003, with the financial support of the GEF. The project was active from December 2003 – December 2005, and from August 2008 – March 2010. The project goal was to protect the forest resources of Mt. Kenya by providing women groups with additional alternative income generating opportunities and alternative sources of protein through the improvement and scaling-up of the group’s tilapia fish farming enterprise.

Through the establishment of a tree nursery and a tree-planting initiative, the group is rehabilitating degraded sections of the forest as well as helping to monitor human settlement and the extraction of timber from the forest. The group has also established additional fish ponds in a leased section of forest to rear tilapia as a conservation enterprise, and constructed a Community Training Center to educate the local community on environmental conservation issues.

Government officers, donors and community groups recognize the Sagana Women’s fish farming project as one of the most promising community fish farming projects in the country. Consequently, many groups have organized exchange visits to learn about it and be inspired by the project. It has also been featured on radio programs and featured on national TV stations.

Problem, challenge or context: 

Mainstreaming gender into NBSAPs introduces a greater degree of accountability and credibility into their governance.

The case study addresses four broad goals that planners aim to meet to make their NBSAP processes and products gender responsive:

  1. ensuring women’s participation in decision-making and in action;
  2. preventing negative impacts on women and men;
  3. promoting benefits for women and men; and
  4. promoting gender equality. Biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to present and future generations.

Recognizing this, women in the Sagana Group supported reforestation efforts to help preserve forests and all of the benefits they provide, such as maintaining a healthy ecosystem and water quality. Women have played a key role in managing local biodiversity to meet food and health needs, including as the primary savers and managers of seeds. Furthermore, they have also been responsible for the control, development and transmission of significant traditional knowledge. Women have played a central role in the conservation and management of natural resources in this area.

Specific elements of components: 

Located approximately 200 kilometers to the northeast of the capital city of Nairobi, Mount Kenya is the second tallest mountain in Africa. The ecosystem is home to a variety of flora and fauna, including several endemic species. As a result of its impressive landscapes and outstanding ecological processes, Mount Kenya National Park and the surrounding forest reserve was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. In the last two decades, the Mt. Kenya ecosystem has experienced considerable environmental degradation as a result of deforestation from over- exploitation of timber and fuel wood, conversion of forests into farmland, and water pollution due to the lack of proper sanitation and waste disposal facilities. These issues have led to widespread poverty, food insecurity and a lack of clean drinking water. The Sagana Women’s Group came together to address these basic issues.

The action taken: With support from UNDP’s Small Grants Project Community Management of Protected Areas Conservation (COMPACT), the District Fisheries Office and the local community forest association, the Sagana Fish and Bee Keeping Women’s group implemented the following key activities:

  • Establishment of a tree nursery to supply seedlings to plant over 60,000 indigenous trees in the Hombe Forest to rehabilitate degraded forest and riparian areas.
  • Improvement and expansion of the group’s existing fish farming enterprise from three unlined ponds to ten concrete-lined ponds.
  • Construction of a lined channel to provide water to the fish ponds from the Sagana River.
  • Improvement of the fish market and construction of a cold storage facility to store the harvested fish before it is shipped to customers.
  • Construction of fencing around the ponds, and overhead netting above them, to keep predators (e.g., rodents and birds) away from the fish ponds.
  • Construction of a community training center for seminars related to fish farming, water use, forests, agriculture, HIV/AIDS and other health-related issues.
Key lessons learned: 
  • Local communities can sustainably use protected forest land through lease agreements with government authorities to establish conservation enterprises such as fish farming, which generate income that benefits local households and creates jobs.
  • Conservation enterprises in rural settings can generate benefits such as increased income for rural households, as well as act as a catalyst for the conservation of World Heritage Sites and environmentally sensitive areas.
  • This project demonstrates that even in dense highland settlement areas, communities can engage in communal land-based conservation enterprises in a profitable manner.
  • In many cases, government authorities alone cannot fully protect the entire area of UNESCO Heritage Sites. Success depends on collaboration between the site’s neighboring communities and other local actors, and the active participation of the government by incorporating the site’s conservation management into national policy, as a priority.
  • The community reversed its view from one that is apathetic towards environmental conservation to one of understanding and active participation in conservation activities, due to the increased income generation opportunities.
  • A well-defined management structure, strong governance, relevant knowledge and experience are all important elements to ensure sustainability of natural resource enterprises and related conservation efforts. The positive impacts of the project on the community are expected to sustain themselves over the long term. This is the result of a well-defined management structure, strong governance, and the fish farming knowledge and experience acquired by group members. The Group is able to operate in a sustainable manner by reinvesting a substantial portion of its income from the sale of fish and tree seedlings back into the enterprise and conservation efforts.
Impacts and outcomes: 

Environmental Impact:

  • The tree nursery supplied indigenous tree seedlings which have been planted in degraded areas of the nearby Hombe Forest and in riparian areas along the Sagana River.
  • From 2004 to 2010, project participants planted over 60,000 trees.
  • Rehabilitation efforts have improved the condition of the forest and water catchment and have also reduced soil erosion, which resulted in improved water quality, necessary for the fish rearing enterprise.
  • Over the last five years, the fish stock has increased from 600 to 33,000 annually, through the expansion and upgrade of the group’s fish farm, located on a communally managed plot of land leased from the nearby government forest.
  • To build the capacity of the local community and increase awareness, the Sagana Women’s Group also built a Community Training Center, which has already hosted over 20 training seminars and events, and provided a venue to educate group members, local community members, and visitors on environmental conservation issues and fish farming.
  • The project has demonstrated that by establishing strong linkages between conservation activities and livelihoods, communities living near forests can create income-generating activities and improve their livelihoods, while also utilizing natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Socio-Economic Impact:

  • Community members have additional income from the sale of fish and tree seedlings, as well as improved water quality as a result of forest rehabilitation efforts.
  • 50% of the profits from the sale of fish and tree seedlings are reinvested to support the group’s conservation activities, while the rest is divided among the member households as dividends.
  • The community training center provides another method of income, as other community groups pay a nominal fee for the usage of the facility. These sources of income improve member households’ livelihoods in a number of ways, including helping to pay school fees, investing in livestock, upgrading housing, and purchasing household goods such as bedding and cooking equipment.
  • Harvested fish provides a source of protein and nutrients that improve the diet and health of the local community.
  • The water quality within the community area improved as a result of the group’s reforestation efforts in the degraded riparian and forest regions. These efforts reduced soil erosion and improved water quality in the Sagana River, which is used for domestic use as well as for the fish ponds.

Policy Impact:

  • The local community engaged the Kenya Forest Service in co-management of the forest resources and development of a forest management plan for the nearby Hombe section of the Mt. Kenya Forest.
  • The management plan, launched in April 2010, and the collaborative management style it promotes, serves as an example and roadmap for other communities living near the Mt. Kenya Forest who are facing similar environmental issues.
  • The Sagana Women’s Group is also working with the government authorities to integrate fish farming into Kenya’s National Poverty Alleviation Policy.
  • The project supports Millennium Development Goals One, Three and Seven.

Women’s Empowerment:

  • The project is geared towards raising the capacity of the Self-Help Group, composed exclusively of women, to engage in conservation and income-generating activities. It has introduced several ways to support women to achieve these goals, including:
  • Training the 40 group members on fish farming, fish preparation, marketing of fish products, and project management;
  • Supporting the group to expand their tree nursery and conservation efforts through tree planting in degraded areas of the Hombe Forest and riparian area of the Sagana River;
  • Construction of a Community Training Center has created more opportunities for local women to access training and information sessions related to fish farming, conservation, agriculture, HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

Replication: The Sagana Women’s fish farming project has been replicated by many groups around Mt. Kenya, including the Fruitful Fishers Youth Group (31 members), the Nyanjara Fish Farming Group (30 members), Thuita Forest Network project (80 members), and the Jitunze Youth Group Fish Farming project (20 youth members). Through mentoring and trainings held at the Community Training Center at Sagana, these groups have learned important knowledge and skills related to fish rearing, harvesting, and preparation, and have further developed their capacities to manage their own projects. COMPACT supports several groups to promote and emphasize different elements of fish farming enterprises. The Sagana Women’s group is also helping to promote fish farming nationwide by working with government authorities to integrate fish farming into Kenya’s National Poverty Alleviation Policy.

Contact details: 
The GEF Small Grants Programme I 220 E 42nd Street, 21st Floor New York, NY 10017 I Phone: + (646) 781-4353 l Fax: + (212) 906-6568 I Email: l Website:
NBSAP step: 
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