Dynamics of Agricultural Developments Impacting on Biodiversity Conservation in Meru National Park, Kenya
Nyamweya, Nelly Bosibori
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Meru National Park has witnessed a steady immigration of agricultural households from nearby high potential agro-ecological zones into its buffer zones. The situation has subjected natural habitats that formerly served as communal grazing lands and wildlife dispersal areas to fragmentation and alteration. To date, the most affected zones are wetlands of the western and southern buffer zones. These zones are most critical for livestock and wildlife, particularly as dry season grazing areas. The main objective of this study was to determine the impacts of agricultural development on biodiversity conservation in Meru National Park. The specific objectives were to document land fragmentation and subdivision trends and changing crop types, to determine the impacts of land use changes on the approach used for community-based conservation and to determine the size and extent of human-wildlife conflicts. The study applied qualitative, quantitative, descriptive and exploratory research approaches. Primary data was obtained from household questionnaires, key informant interviews, high resolution google earth images and Geographic Information System imagery of the study area. Secondary data was obtained from published and un-published reports. Both qualitative and quantitative techniques were used to analyse the collected data. The quantitative techniques were done through coding the data from questionnaires. This was followed by analysis using the Statistical Package for Social Science. A substantial part of the analysis was based on descriptive statistics such as frequencies and cross-tabulation. Spatial analysis was used to explore the land use and land cover changes of the study area using four time-period data sets (2000, 2005, 2010 and 2016). Photographs were used to document the current situation on the ground. Spatial analysis indicates that the area under rain-fed shrub vegetation reduced significantly by 66.69 km2 between 2000 and 2016. This is majorly attributed to clearing of shrub vegetation to covert these areas into farmland. 76% of farmers in the study area are using irrigation to increase their farm outputs and to farm all year round. The water used for irrigation is abstracted from rivers and streams that drain from the base of the Nyambene Hills and flows into the park. This increased irrigation has resulted in lower water volumes and in some cases leading to no water flowing into the park. Between 2014 to 2016, The total annual number of human-wildlife conflict incidences in 2014, 2015 and 2016 increased from 367, 526, and 540 respectively. These conflicts affected maize and bananas farmers the most with baboons, elephants, buffaloes and monkeys being involved in the conflicts frequently. Whereas traditional land sizes were 20-35 ha in 1990s, the current farm sizes are medium scale ranging between 1 ha and 5 ha, an indication of the rapid land fragmentation in the study area. Meru National Park has increasingly witnessed complex interactions between conservation and socio-economic needs and pursuits of households occupying its buffer zones. This study therefore recommends implementation of sustainable biodiversity conservation strategies that do not hinder socio-economic development. This should be implemented by Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with community-based groups and key stakeholders.