Safeguarding Kenya’s sites of global biodiversity conservation importance – Key Biodiversity Areas – is crucial to the country’s well-being. The ecosystem services and goods provided by these sites are invaluable. Forests for instance, supply us with timber, food, fuel, and bioproducts, not to mention provision of ecological functions such as carbon storage, water storage and release, soil protection and nutrient cycling. Wetlands purify and replenish our water, reduce the impacts of drought and flood, and provide us with food and fibre. Putting in place good mitigation strategies to conserve these sites is key to their survival.
Local communities residing around such important sites play a big part in sustaining them. Engaging these communities positively in conservation activities is a sure way of ensuring ecological sustainability of these areas.
The site support groups (SSGs) model being promoted by Nature Kenya is an approach aimed at enhancing community engagement in conservation at site level. This model entails working closely with groups of local volunteers at Kenya’s Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs). Currently, there are 26 SSGs spread across the country. These groups act as an entry point for wider community engagement in the conservation and management of biodiversity. The SSGs are actively involved in site patrolling, policing and monitoring, habitat management and restoration, and environmental awareness and advocacy. These groups employ simple, inexpensive tools and methods to collect vital data through citizen science initiatives. This level of engagement underscores the value of voluntary public participation in conservation.
In 2013, a monitoring team comprising of members of the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group (the Dakatcha Woodland KBA site support group) discovered the nesting site of the endangered Clarke’s weaver, a bird found only in Kilifi County, Kenya. This discovery was a major milestone for conservation of this threatened bird, warranting international attention. No known account of the species’ breeding grounds had been reported prior to this discovery.
Late in 2017, some members of the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest KBA site support group) went public to decry unabated illegal logging activities in the forest. Their exposé triggered a chain of events which culminated into a national logging moratorium. Through their voices, these community members drew national attention to a serious threat facing one of Kenya’s iconic coastal forest.
Last year, a local community member stumbled upon a dead hyena somewhere in the Maasai Mara. Suspecting the wild animal to have been poisoned, he immediately alerted relevant authorities. Through his swift action, hundreds of secondary wildlife poisoning deaths, including those of critically endangered vulture species, were averted. Several other wildlife poisoning incidents in the area have been reported by community members and promptly addressed, leading to fewer deaths.
These are just a few examples of the important role played by local communities in the conservation of key sites and biodiversity in Kenya.
A healthy environment means a better life for people. As such, conservation and human development need to be mutually reinforcing. Linking community livelihoods with conservation is another way of incentivizing people to take action. Establishment of nature-based enterprises such as beekeeping, butterfly farming, ecotourism, among others, has provided opportunities for local communities to sustainably harness available natural resources. The Kipepeo butterfly project in Gede near Malindi, for instance, is enabling hundreds of local community members to earn livelihoods while conserving the Arabuko-Sokoke Forest.
There is no doubt that community-based approaches have the potential to spur conservation action at key sites. The recently released Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services by the UN Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) acknowledges this point. The report recognizes contributions by local communities in limiting deforestation. These local governance regimes, IPBES notes, have been proven to be effective in mitigating habitat loss, at times even more effective than formally established protected areas.
Local community engagement in the protection of nature needs to be encouraged. Communities need to be empowered to effectively take conservation action. Conservation policies also need to take into account the needs of local communities by providing some form of benefit mechanism for the locals. At a time of increasing pressure on the world’s biodiversity, community-based conservation approaches deserve full support.