Communities embrace Participatory Forest Management (PFM) in Tana River Delta

 By Milka Musyoka 

In the heart of the Tana River Delta lie lush expanses of terrestrial and mangrove forests. These forests are treasure troves of biodiversity and are a source of sustenance for the local communities. Over the years, these vital landscapes have undergone massive degradation, resulting in habitat and biodiversity loss. In response to the forest degradation threat, communities in Mpozi, Chara, Kilelengwani and Kipini in the Delta are embracing participatory forest management (PFM). The PFM entails the legal transfer of forest resources (use rights) from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to community forest associations (CFAs). This transfer is enabled by, and dependent upon a negotiated and documented Forest Management Agreement (FMA).

The PFM process is not just a bureaucratic procedure but a collaborative effort that places the destiny of the forests in the hands of those who call it home. Community members actively involved in this transformative process have witnessed firsthand the positive impact it has on their well-being.

“The journey began with a series of community consultations and workshops where the diverse voices of the forest-adjacent residents were heard. This inclusive approach ensured that the PFM process truly reflects the aspirations and concerns of our community,” says Said Nyara, the chairperson of Mpozi CFA.

Through lively discussions and shared insights, the communities collectively identified the unique ecological features of their forests, acknowledged the resources they offer, and resolved to address the challenges they face, adds Nyara.

Nature Kenya, in collaboration with Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and Kenya Forest Research Institute (KEFRI), organised training workshops for the communities to equip them with the requisite knowledge and skills for effective forest management.

“These training sessions have empowered us with the necessary skills to manage and conserve our forests. From gaining insights into sustainable harvesting practices to developing the ability to identify signs of ecosystem distress, my community is steadily growing more proficient in its role as guardians of Ozi forest,” says Nyara.

In October 2023, Mpozi, Chara, Kilelengawani and Kipini CFAs signed forest management agreements with KFS. The signing event took place in Chara and marked a transformative move toward locally-led initiatives for sustainable forest conservation and management. This shift is crucial for mitigating climate change impacts on local communities. It also holds the potential to improve living standards through the sustainable use of forest resources such as firewood. The PFM process extends beyond environmental concerns, signalling a devolved approach that empowers local communities to plan, seek financing and implement sustainable development livelihood options.

“Signing these agreements is a strong affirmation of our dedication to conserving forests in recognition of the fact that their health is inseparable from the well-being of our communities,” says Nyara.

The four CFAs have also developed PFM plans to guide their engagements. As an ongoing process, the PFM plans are envisaged to adapt and respond to the changing community and forest needs. Through continued collaboration, monitoring, and adaptation, the process will contribute to the resilience and vitality of the forest.

Nature Kenya supported the development of the PFM plans by helping to mediate potential internal conflicts that could have hindered their implementation. The collaborative effort between the communities, county and national government agencies, and conservation organizations is a testament to the positive outcomes that can emerge when stakeholders unite for a common cause. The journey towards sustainable forest management in the Tana River Delta is a beacon of hope, demonstrating the potential for harmony between human development and environmental preservation.

KBA in Focus: Dunga Swamp

By Joshua Sese

Located about 10 km south of Kisumu City on the shores of Winam Gulf, Lake Victoria, is the Dunga Swamp Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). The KBA is at the mouth of River Nyamasaria, traversing through the extensive and populated Kisumu city. As the water trickles into the lake, the swamp filters it, regulating pollution. The swamp is an important fish breeding ground, and a favourite fishing spot for fishermen.

The KBA is a carbon sink and a significant habitat for rare species such as the nationally threatened Sitatunga antelope (Tragelaphus spekii) and the Vulnerable bird Papyrus Yellow Warbler (Calamonastides gracilirostris). Papyrus reeds dominate the swamp. Local communities use papyrus to make baskets, mats, brooms and to thatch houses. Given its proximity to the city center, the KBA is an ideal tourist destination.

The KBA faces many threats. These include pollution (disposal of solid waste and sewerage from surrounding estates), unregulated tourism activities, over-harvesting of papyrus and encroachment for farming and settlement. Infestation of water hyacinth due to eutrophication in the swamp has rendered some areas impassable by boat, affecting the fishermen’s livelihood. Affected fishermen have opted for alternative livelihood methods such as papyrus harvesting and farming. The KBA currently has no official protection, making the Sitatunga and other animals dependant on the papyrus swamp habitat more vulnerable to illegal hunting.

Friends of Dunga Swamp Site Support Group (SSG), a local community group, is at the forefront of ensuring that the swamp is valued and conserved. The group regularly conducts bird and biodiversity monitoring, restores degraded swamp areas by planting papyrus and runs conservation awareness creation activities. Friends of Dunga Swamp SSG owns and manages a boardwalk – a raised walkway that stretches over the swamp. Tourists visiting the wetland can observe its beauty and mystery and embrace nature through the boardwalk. The group also actively participates in international environmental days such as World Wetland Day, World Environment Day, and World Migratory Bird Days, among others.

Site Support Groups mark 2023 National Tree Planting Day

By David Odhiambo 

Through the Jaza Miti presidential campaign, Kenya plans to plant more than 15 billion trees by 2032. The initiative encourages citizens to actively participate in tree growing to meet the 15 billion trees target. This ambitious bid is also an effort to restore Kenya’s degraded forests and increase tree cover from 8.83 per cent to above 10 per cent by 2032 to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Following the declaration of 13th November 2023 as a National Tree Planting Day, President William Ruto was at the Kiu catchment area in Makindu, Makueni County, where the Chyulu Site Support Group and other organizations hosted the national tree growing event. More than 100,000 tree seedlings of different species were planted.

Community members from 26 Site Support Groups (SSGs) for the the following Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) collaborated with relevant County Governments and national government agencies to plant over 155,344 trees to mark the day: Mutitu Hill forest, Lake Elmenteita, South Nandi Forest, Mida Creek, Dunga Swamp, Tana River Delta, North Nandi Forest, Ruma National Park, Sabaki River Estuary, Kakamega Forest, Lake Ol’ Bolossat, Lake Bogoria, Dakatcha Woodland, Mukurwe-ini valley, Kikuyu Escarpment, Kinangop Plateau, Busia grasslands, Mumoni Hill forest, Mt. Kenya Forest, Arabuko-Sokoke Forest, Yala Swamp and Taita Hills forests.

While celebrating the achievement of the National Tree Planting Day, we need to remember that protecting existing forests is the most important for biodiversity, the climate and our future.