Among practices that are emerging in the conservation of Kenya’s forests is the participation of communities in forest management. Although the communities are at the moment being involved at a minimal level, many communities living next to forests now want to make decisions and benefit from sustainable use and management of forests.
This desire for participation has been fueled by provisions of the soon to be enacted Forest Bill that will replace the current Forest Act, as well as the work of non-governmental organizations such as the Kenya Forests Working Group (KFWG).
Kenya’s forests fall under different management and have different legal status. However, the majority of the closed canopy forests are gazetted forest reserves under the Forest Act managed by the government’s Forest Department, to the exclusion of other stakeholders including local communities.
Exclusion from forest affairs has resulted in communities’ perception of forests as belonging to the government. This has led to increased illegal activities in forests, as communities look the other way. At the same time the Forest Department is limited in resources to manage forests on its own.
The challenge of rapidly declining forests has thus necessitated rethinking of the best approaches to forest management. This has led to the thinking that forest adjacent communities and other stakeholders should be involved in forest management and conservation. This is what the new Forest Bill now supports.
The Bill however still considers the Forest Department or Service as the forest authority and requires that a stakeholder wishing to participate in forest management should have a management plan to accompany an application to the Chief Conservator of Forests (CCF). The Bill has gone through all stages of development and is awaiting publication for enactment in Parliament.
In anticipation of the enactment of the Bill, KFWG has been working with forest communities in five forest areas to prepare participatory forest management plans to guide future conservation efforts in these forests. Forest adjacent communities in Eburru, Kereita, Rumuruti, Ngangao and Kitobo have benefited from this assistance. Ford Foundation has supported the work.
The management plans seek to involve the communities and other stakeholders in forest management and to facilitate the improvement of community livelihoods through improved forest management and building of social capital. The plans are jointly prepared with the communities involved, putting the local needs in the forefront and making use of local resources. The vision and objectives of forest management are set by involving the community and the process requires that there is consensus on the proposed activities.
The plans are now at an advanced stage. As the Forest Department is in the process of developing guidelines for participatory and collaborative forest management, agreements have been drawn in line with these guidelines – to be effective once the Bill is passed- to enable these communities to participate in forest management.
One outcome of this process has been the formation of cohesive local communities institutions that did not previously exist to manage forests. There is also a marked reduction in illegal activities in the forests with communities willing to participate more in their protection. Although the delay in enacting the Bill has sometimes discouraged the communities involved in planning, as a whole the process has led to both forest authorities and communities considering community-based forest management as an alternative to the single authority management of earlier days.
It is hoped that the plans will assist to manage, conserve and utilize the five forests in a sustainable manner, while furthering the concept of community-based forest management. Small steps perhaps compared to the strides made by neighbouring countries such as Tanzania, but steps nevertheless.
By: Liz Mwambui, Kenya Forests Working Group, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org , http://www.kenyaforests.org