Humans are dependent on the biodiversity and services provided by key ecosystems such as forests. Sustainable management of these important ecosystems is therefore critical for our survival. What better way to safeguard these ecosystems than to actively engage local communities in their conservation?
In Mt. Kenya forest, for instance, local communities are increasingly getting involved in biodiversity conservation. Through community forest associations (CFAs), local people have not only been restoring degraded forest areas but also monitoring biodiversity in their respective areas. All this is thanks to a series of ongoing trainings that seek to enhance the CFAs’ capacity to sustainably manage and conserve forests using a participatory approach.
Mt. Kenya forest is an irreplaceable biodiversity hotspot with unique flora and fauna of conservation importance, which underpins its Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) status and the extant government protection. The forest is a cornerstone of Kenya’s economy through provision of varied socio-economic and ecosystem services; Mt. Kenya forest is a major carbon sink and a major water tower. However, the forest is continually experiencing serious degradation mainly due to deforestation. Building the capacity of forest adjacent communities (CFAs) in Mt. Kenya forest to develop and adopt locally driven conservation initiatives and forest disturbance monitoring can leverage a rollback on the adverse impacts of the human-related threats.
In February, Nature Kenya conducted site-based training for seven CFAs (Chehe, Ragati, Hombe, Kabaru, Naromoru, Gathiuru and Ngare Ndare Trust) stationed in Mt. Kenya West. The training’s main aim was to build the CFAs’ capacity on participatory biodiversity and forest disturbance monitoring by enhancing members’ monitoring skills, creating a positive attitude towards biodiversity monitoring and empowering the communities to detect and report trends in forest threats. Common threats identified by the communities during the training include forest fire outbreaks, illegal logging, overgrazing, pollution of water bodies, illegal game hunting, degradation of riparian areas and over exploitation of forest products.
At each site, participants were engaged in developing a monitoring protocol, setting up of a monitoring transect and practicing on the filling of data capture forms. A total of 35 people from the CFAs participated in the training. The participants agreed to be conducting biodiversity and forest disturbance monitoring twice a year (in May and September).
Promotion of participatory forest and biodiversity monitoring in Mt. Kenya is anticipated to enhance the local community’s ability to detect and report changes and threats to forest and wildlife populations for appropriate remedial action. This was recently witnessed during a forest fire outbreak in Mt. Kenya. Members of various CFAs in the region were at hand to offer assistance in containing the inferno. Kenya Forest Service (KFS) acknowledged the CFAs’ support in fighting the forest fires, noting that without them things would have been much worse. According to KFS, more that 90 CFA members were actively involved in fighting the fires.
Nature Kenya, with support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) and the Darwin Initiative, has partnered with the private sector and CFAs to plant 100,000 indigenous trees to restore degraded sections of the Mt. Kenya Forest KBA. This initiative seeks strategic commitment and support from the business sector to enhance the quantity and quality of water flowing from Mt. Kenya.