Bunyala Rice Scheme is in Busia District, Western Province in Kenya. It is actually located at the border to Siaya District which extends southerly and easterly of Busia district.
The area is a flat expanse with characteristic scrubland and savannah conditions. This vegetation is scanty and poor short grasslands around homesteads whereas the grazing fields are a mixture of tufted grasslands with thick bushes and scrub whereas there is reed vegetation where water floods during the rains mostly resulting from the River Nzoia (a major river that drains into Lake Victoria) bursting its banks rather than from the rains flooding the plains.
A photo showing some of the vegetation typical of Bunyala plains. The tufted grass is typical of its grazing fields(also note the almost bare area used in baiting birds using furadan)
Significance of the rice scheme
These conditions clearly define the area as one with low agricultural productivity. Livestock keeping is still the dominant human activity though the growing human population has shrunk the grazing fields thereby reducing livestock herds significantly. It is however not uncommon to find herds of over 50 heads owned by a family and these herds mix at the communal grazing field into super herds of indigenous animals. Even with such many animals, dairy production is low and milk is for domestic consumption and local sell. It is not wrong to state that these animals are mostly kept for prestige rather than livelihood sustainability.
A boy herding livestock (some of the sheep he is looking after in the mixed herd cut out at the top of photo).
Poaching, also an old practice carried down the generations still goes on in the area though the hunting grounds are now confined to the hills such as Wanga hill where wild game, especially antelopes have retreated following habitat destruction and terrorism by man’s aggression to them for meat mostly to trade in. Laughing hyenas in the distance in the night is a usual thing and claims of leopard visits in the dead of the night is an occasional but known possibility in the area. The fabled ogre in the traditional folklore according to my grandfather may have been the lion. The mighty strength, hairy body with tail, unpleasant odour (typical of beasts) and tendency to strike in the night (may be just as the man-eaters of Tsavo or an old lion with a high affinity for easy to catch human prey. This may have accorded this beast the description that it attacked in the night when in reality the younger, robust individuals may have been hunting normally in the wild) all befit the King of the jungle, the Lion. But now there is no more of the ogre/ (might be) lion.
The wife to the lion; lioness.
Crop farming (maize, millet and sorghum alongside a number of tubers), a revolutionarily acquired practice like in many livestock keeping communities also goes on at painfully minimal levels of zeal, the result of which the harvest is almost always zero. This is aggravated by the irregular and low levels of rainfall in the area, needless to mention the flooding calamity which always strikes and chokes the crops dead while in the field.
The Bunyala Rice Scheme established in the 1960’s in the area therefore brought some relief to the situation. Paddy did just well and everyone in the above activities was soon doubling up as a paddy tender, earning some daily income besides a portion of the rice crop in their holdings to supplement their starch requirements at home.
A section of Bunyala Rice Scheme
In the early 1980’s Furadan made a debut in Kenya and Bunyala Rice Scheme like many other local rice schemes benefited from this awesome reliable nematicide pesticide. Birds were flocking the rice scheme to gorge on the grain and organisms that thrive in water when the floodgates are opened to supply water to the rice scheme. Grain-eating and wetland birds therefore flocked in such large numbers as any native had ever experience. Man’s desire for bird protein given the dwindling wild herbivore population shifted to the grain-eaters and wetland birds. Catapults by youngsters and herdsmen became common (These are no more since Furadan took over). Hunters quickly snatched the opportunity and shifted their focus to birds from wild game. With a wild instinct on boosting catch bounty they discovered Furadan as an effective bird-killing substance. Man’s bird meat consumption therefore rocketed and has been a normalcy to date.
Significance of Furadan to wild animals and birds
Birds are poisoned in such horrific numbers. Domestic and wild animals including snakes are known to have died from feeding intoxicated birds. Biologically, man is also an animal and from his wild, primitive, feeding behaviour, I must painfully say a wild one. He gets a dose of his intoxication by feeding on the poisoned birds. What may also become disastrous is the status of raptors in the area. Raptors target the smaller birds’ flocks which increases their chances of getting food while conserving their energy for hunting periods during the times when the fields are harvested, but the situation is more worrying even then. Smaller birds flock in smaller numbers and while poisoning progresses on, it means a large proportion of birds in these smaller flocks gets to eat the poison-laced food. In my survey in the area 3 months ago, I saw 7 species of raptors in 5 days, 3 of which are Accipiters, otherwise ‘shortwings’ in the temperate countries and which feed mostly on the smaller grain-eaters. Naturally, the easier, sluggish bird will be caught and predated upon by a bird of prey. These weaker, less sleek subjects to escape are poisoned individuals. Since the raptors go for the soft tissues first, the entrails of their quarry are the first to be eaten, exposing the raptors to high possibility of getting poisoned by eating Furadan contaminated entrails from the just ingested Furadan-laced food. Not so far from Bunyala area is the Lake Victoria where a number of cases have been reported of Furadan poisoning on fish which again the Banyala (People of Bunyala) and their Luo neighbours eat lavishly.
As site of our interest for education and awareness in the Stop Wildlife Poisoning Campaign at Wildlife Direct, such is the status quo in and around Bunyala Rice Scheme.