Promoting conservation in Mount Kenya Forest through nature-based enterprises

By Martin Kiama

Mount Kenya – a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) is in the limelight for several reasons, from being the second-highest volcanic mountain in Africa to being a World Heritage Site, a major catchment feeding the Tana and Ewaso Ngiro basins and a tourist destination attracting about 20,000 local and international visitors annually.

The mountain’s unique montane forest offers a range of essential ecosystem services valued at US$220 annually. These include the provision of water, energy, food, medicines, timber and habitat for biodiversity. Mount Kenya Forest helps to conserve soil fertility, regulate the climate and store carbon dioxide. The forest also provides livelihoods to adjacent communities.

One of the many community groups reaping ecosystem benefits from Mount Kenya Forest is the Mt. Kenya Biodiversity Conservation Group (Mt. KEBIO). Mt. KEBIO, the Site Support Group (SSG) for the Mount Kenya Forest KBA, is engaged in eco-tourism and other nature-based enterprises. The group organises hikes to the forest and bird-watching excursions. Thirteen of its members are professional tour guides trained in mountain climbing, map navigation, first aid and rescue, and ornithology, among other skills. Local and international tourists make up Mt. KEBIO’s ecotourism clients. Neighbouring hospitality facilities like the Mountain Rock Hotel also contract the group for tour guiding and birding services.

In 2023, Mt. KEBIO held 12 monthly bird walks in different forest and wetlands habitats within Mount Kenya. The group participated in the May and October Global Big Days, conducted two Abbott’s Starling monitoring surveys at Castle Forest and two biodiversity assessments.

Mt. KEBIO also operates three tree nurseries, namely Tumaini, Mazingira and Gathiuru, that currently have 11,400 indigenous and exotic tree seedlings. Last year, the SSG distributed 7,400 tree seedlings to schools, churches and community members. The SSG collaborated with other conservation groups to support restoration of Nanyuki River through the planting of indigenous trees and construction of gabions to control degradation of the river banks. So far, 1200 trees have been planted and six gabions constructed through an initiative dubbed `A Tree for My River`.

To ensure the sustainability of the ecosystem benefits, the group conducts awareness creation activities to promote environmental conservation knowledge in Mount Kenya, reaching 240 pupils from local primary schools. The group also hosted several conservation clubs from institutions, including Thika Technical Training Institute and Red Cross members from Laikipia County. 

KBA in Focus: Nairobi National Park

By Brian Otiego  

Amidst the hustle and bustle of city life, about 7 km from the centre of Kenya’s capital city, lies a unique gem, the Nairobi National Park Key Biodiversity Area (KBA). Tucked within  the city’s southern border, Nairobi National Park is separated from the busy Nairobi metropolis by an electric fence on the northern, western and eastern borders. The southern border of the park is open, marked by the Mbagathi River and serving as a gateway for wildlife dispersal to the Athi Kapiti plains that connect the park to the Amboseli ecosystem. The park is one of the world’s most unique wildlife reserves due to its vicinity to a major urban centre. Local and international visitors have the opportunity to witness Africa’s iconic wildlife against the backdrop of Nairobi’s skyline.

The KBA stands right on the line between two great ecosystems: the forested hills that rise toward the Aberdare range, and the grasslands that stretch all the way to Kilimanjaro. The park’s distinctive landscape, encompassing upland forest, open grasslands, rocky outcrops, acacia (now Vachellia) woodlands, dams and other wetland habitats host a remarkable array of biodiversity.

The park is a haven for a diverse range of wildlife species, featuring iconic large mammals such as lions, giraffes, zebras, buffaloes and rhinoceros. Rare plants bloom on rocky outcrops. Also found in this park are the charismatic but critically endangered obligate scavenging birds of prey: White-backed vultures (Gyps africanus) that breed inside the park, and Rüppell’s and Lappet-faced vultures that visit to feed. Other resident raptor species are Martial, Tawny, Long-crested and Crowned eagles, Bateleur, and Secretarybird, among some 500 other bird species.

Nairobi National Park faces several conservation challenges, primarily stemming from its proximity to the capital. Nairobi City is at the epicentre of rapid infrastructural development. Human-wildlife conflict, land use changes and associated fragmentation, pollution from liquid and solid wastes and degradation and loss of wildlife corridors and dispersal areas are key, escalating issues. Encroachment by the expanding city infrastructure have led to increased pressure on the park’s boundaries, posing threats to its biodiversity.

Navigating the challenges of conservation and urbanization requires a multifaceted approach that brings together Kenya Wildlife Service in collaboration with civil society organizations in conservation, researchers, community members and key decision-makers to sustain the delicate balance between urban development and wildlife preservation.

One of the noteworthy elements of such engagement is a vulture study project funded by The Rufford Foundation Small Grant. The study aims to establish the breeding population of vulture species within Nairobi National Park and its dispersal habitats and to raise community awareness on the plight of vulture conservation. Through such efforts, community engagement, and sustainable tourism practices, Nairobi National Park KBA stands as a beacon of success in the realm of urban conservation, offering a blueprint for other metropolitan areas facing similar challenges.

National Site Support Group Workshop Update

Nature Kenya works with 30 Site Support Groups (SSGs) to implement biodiversity conservation actions in 27 Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) stretching from the coastal, eastern, and central to the Rift Valley and western regions of the country. Every year, Nature Kenya organizes a National SSG Workshop where representatives from these community groups meet to share their experiences and learn lessons and best practices for biodiversity conservation.

In 2023, the National SSG Workshop took place in December in Nairobi. Under the theme Local Actions Safeguarding Nature and Livelihoods, the workshop focused on how SSGs are undertaking conservation actions within their localities while improving the livelihoods of communities. Sixty representatives (18 women and 42 men) from 28 SSGs attended the workshop. The 4-day engagement saw the SSGs share their experiences in forest and landscape restoration, site monitoring, locally-led advocacy, participation in policy and legislation formulation and Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) processes, promotion of green value chain and climate-smart production, leadership and governance, resource mobilization, communication and marketing.

The 28 SSGs represented at the workshop made presentations about their 2023 achievements and challenges. The SSGs also used the workshop to set conservation targets for their sites for the year 2024.

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.