Joy as electric fence keeps away wildlife, men at home

A 60-kilometre solar-powered barrier helps families sleep better, gain more from their farms

In Summary

• The researches found that before the fence was erected, 30.7 per cent of residents did not spend the night with spouse and children.

• Sixty-one per cent said they were less productive during the day while 94 per cent said there was inadequate sleep in most days.

An Automatic gate in Lower Imenti. Image: Gilbert Koech
An Automatic gate in Lower Imenti. Image: Gilbert Koech

Until 2016, many households in Chuka, Chogoria, Ruthumbi, Lower Imenti and other areas of Meru and Tharaka Nithi counties dreaded nighttime.  

As dusk set in, families had to decide whether to sleep in and leave their crops — their sole livelihoods — to be destroyed by wild animals, or go out to the farms and stand guard. 

Eight out of 10 chose to send a family to watch over crops at night. Most times, the man left his family bed for the cold. Where the children were older, they would take over duties. 

Some people made noise using debes and sufurias to scare away lions, leopards and hyenas which marauded the areas. Others lit bonfires and stood guard. 

But things changed for the better when a 60-kilometre solar-powered wildlife barrier was constructed in the Mt Kenya ecosystem stretching from Thuchi to Thingithu rivers. 

The Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project erected the fence in collaboration with Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Rhino Ark Foundation and Mt. Kenya Trust between 2014 and 2016.

A new study published by the Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project shows the tremendous impact the fence has had on the residents. 

The researches found that before the fence was erected, 30.7 per cent of residents did not spend the night with spouse and children.

Sixty-one per cent said they were less productive during the day while 94 per cent said there was inadequate sleep in most days.

Some 17.8 per cent said their matrimonial rights were impacted negatively while nine per cent said the quality of family life diminished.

Another 1.7 per cent reported family separation was because of venturing out to protect the crops while 0.3 per cent stared at divorce.

“Discussions with community members both at household and focused group discussion levels in the fenced areas, however, indicated that the above were things of the past and families enjoyed more peaceful nights,” part of the study said.

Those interviewed in Chuka, Chogoria, Ruthumbi and Lower Imenti indicated that the erection of the fence has greatly positively impacted on the family union.

Before the erection of the fence, 81.8 per cent of the respondents made noise with debes and sufurias to scare the animals.

About 78.4 per cent of the respondents watched over crops at night and 65.3 per cent made fire.

But parents can now spend time with family and men are no longer accused of spending the night outside their homes in the pretext of guarding crops against wildlife.

Overall, a drastic reduction in the number of human-wildlife conflict incidents was reported across all the fenced areas.

“This corroborated project reports which showed drops in the number of human-wildlife incidences. This was evidenced by the reduced human-wildlife conflicts incidences by 97% (from an average of 117 per annum (between 2004 – 2014) to an average 3 per annum (2015-2018) after the fence .”

The study found that human deaths in fenced areas dropped from an average of one annually (between 2007 –2014) to zero, human injury from one annually to zero.

Livestock predation by leopards, lions, and hyenas dropped by 80 per cent from an average of about 10 per annum before the fence to two cases annually after the fence.

"The total costs associated with human death, human injury, damage to property and crops went down from Sh67 million (2004-2014) translating to Sh6.7 million annually before the fence, to Sh246,500 (2015-2018) which translated to Sh61,625 annually representing a 99 per cent reduction," the report said.

On the contrary, the situation was very different in the unfenced areas based on discussions with community members in these areas.

In Mbeu, Lower Imenti for example, the invasion of farms by elephants was nearly a daily occurrence.

Findings from household surveys with community members in the unfenced areas showed that 92 per cent lacked adequate sleep with most of the time in the night being utilised to guard crops, livestock and households.

Another 65 per cent reported that they were unproductive during the day while half or 49 per cent indicated that they were not spending enough time at night with their spouses and children.

Fifty-two per cent indicated that there was not enough time to fulfil the partner's conjugal rights.

Forty-two per cent said that in general, the quality of family life had diminished, with about four per cent indicating that some families had even separated as a result.

Men lost much of their sleep chasing away wildlife, particularly elephants.

Children felt insecure, while women accused their husbands of neglecting them.

Wildlife was equally at risk of attacks, some fatal, from the agitated villagers.

"Community cohesion was at risk as community members further from the forest line accused those next to the forest of not doing enough to contain wildlife."

The study also noted a change in natural forest cover of 461.3 acres (0.68 per cent increase from 48.7 per cent) due to regeneration.

Annual cropland for maize, bananas, vegetables increased by 12 per cent (5050 acres), whereas perennial crops such as tea and coffee farms declined by 7 per cent (1444 acres).

This is attributed to the trend of farmers reverting to annual crops for subsistence and sale, owing to the security being provided by the presence of the electric fence.

The value of the land appreciated upon fencing with an average appreciation of 86 per cent from an average of Sh917,000 per acre to Sh1,703,421 per acre.

Some 88.8 per cent of the household respondents indicated an improvement in human health as a result of the fence.

The health benefits may be due to a reduction in risks arising from wildlife attacks, reduced exposure to unfavourable weather conditions when guarding against wild animals, food security and availability of a variety of food crops.

"The education environment has also improved with 91.6% of respondents reporting that children go to school in peace. Another 65.3% said that children could now play freely, while 51.3% reported that children can read in peace."

Another 43.6 per cent said that children can now concentrate on their homework. As a result of these factors, 48.2 per cent of the respondents felt that education performance had improved.

"This is as compared to the non-fenced area where human-wildlife conflicts resulted in lack of children safety 88.2%, poor school attendance 70.0%; poor performance in school 47.3%; and interrupted study 31.8%."

Revenues from tourism also increased by 41 per cent from an annual average Sh730,000 before the fence to an annual average Sh1,026,000 after the fence was erected.

Reports from all the areas visited indicated that the fence had effectively managed to reduce human encroachment into the forestland as well as drastically reduce any illegal activities such as logging, poaching and general biodiversity destruction.

In Ruthumbi Forest Station, it was reported that illegal logging had dropped from 13 cases per month (before the fence) to 1-2 cases in a month (after fence) representing 84.6 per cent reduction since the fence was erected.

The study said wildlife control fence is a worthy investment and should be extended to other areas especially in the Lower Imenti Forest where incidences of human-wildlife conflict are currently high.

"The fence has proved to not only alleviate poverty but also improve conservation. For sustainability, fence maintenance should continue to use local communities and engage them. There is also a need to create a trust fund for fence maintenance which will complement available resources."

The study sampled 495 households in the fenced and unfenced areas. Field visits were undertaken between May 13 and 25 last year.

The area covers six counties of Murang’a, Nyeri, Kirinyaga, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi and Meru and is home to 5.2 million people.

Upper Tana Natural Resources Management Project (2012-2020) was funded by the government, International Fund for Agricultural Development, Spanish Trust Fund and the Local community.

The project area is the Upper Tana catchment which covers an area of 17,420 km 2 and includes 24 river basins and the tributaries of four river basins under the Mount Kenya East Pilot Project for Natural Resources Management that drain into the Tana River.

Its goal is to “contribute to a reduction of rural poverty in the Upper Tana River catchment”.