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.