KBA in Focus: Kaya Gandini

By Joshua Sese

Kaya forests are sacred sites revered and cherished by the Mijikenda community living on the Kenyan Coast. Kaya forests served as important social and spiritual centres for the community, where they conducted rituals, ceremonies, and communal gatherings, while also using them as burial grounds for esteemed ancestors. One such site is the Kaya Gandini Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) in Kasemeni ward, Kinango Sub County, in the vast Kwale County. The KBA is of great cultural and historical significance to the Duruma ethnic group of the Mijikenda community.

Kaya Gandini is a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) and a national monument listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It hosts organisms of conservation concern, such as the endangered Sokoke Pipit, the vulnerable Spotted Ground Thrush and the near-threatened and CITES-listed Fischer’s Turaco, among others. The habitat is characterized by semi-arid conditions with mixed lowland vegetation of woodland, forest and scrub vegetation on sandy, loam to clay soils.

Despite its biodiversity and cultural importance, Kaya Gandini faces threats to its existence. These include overexploitation through logging, poor land use practices, encroachment, and climate change-induced adversities such as prolonged severe droughts. These threats contribute to biodiversity loss, forest habitat degradation and food insecurity. Further, there is a significant decline in respect for conventional Kaya management systems and practices and a lack of awareness regarding the significance and values of Kaya forests. Lack of knowledge about cultural and traditional practices, especially among young people, is alarming. Many perceive these practices as outdated, increasing the Kaya’s vulnerability to biodiversity loss, habitat destruction and cultural erosion.

In efforts to address the challenges, in the year 2021-2022, Nature Kenya implemented a project funded by GEF Small Grants Program (SGP), aimed at enhancing the capacity of grantees to effectively deliver projects towards the conservation of the Mijikenda Kaya Forest landscapes. Fifty-two individuals from 16 organizations based in Kilifi and Kwale counties were trained. The 52 trainees then trained 95 individuals from 10 additional SGP grantees. Among those trained were community members from the Kaya Gandini KBA.

To further the conservation actions, a biodiversity survey in the neighbouring Kaya Mtswakara was recommended. This will support the delineating the Kaya as a new KBA, or extending the current KBA boundary to include the two Kaya forests as one KBA. Nature Kenya looks forward to directly engaging the local community in the area to enhance their capacity to continue safeguarding this invaluable relict as its custodians.