Emerging need to protect forests from destruction to promote sustainable environment in Kenya has pushed communities into conservation activities as they focus on long-term benefits.
Simon Sururu is the chairman of Logoman Forest Station Scouts, which constitutes of 20 young men from Ogiek community monitoring and rehabilitating 20 hectares of the Logoman Forest, a sub-station of the larger Mau Forest Complex, spanning five counties in Kenya’s Rift Valley region.
“My children will suffer in the future if I don’t take care of the forest,” said Sururu who lives on the fringes of Logoman forest in Nakuru county.
In the last decade, Mau Forest Complex has attracted local and international attention due to its exposure to extensive destruction from illegal harvesting of trees for firewood, charcoal and timber.
Although there have been relentless efforts from the government to save the forests, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), state entity responsible for protecting forests, still reports of the existing challenges of degradation.
Review of the forest laws in 2007 brought in a new aspect of community involvement in conservation activities, which created an opportunity for raising awareness on necessity of environmental conservation.
The new drive, which has given way to the establishment of the group of community volunteers in the Mau, now called for forest champions.
“I have seen rivers dry and droughts hit us so badly but I didn’t know it had a connection to the forest until I received training on forest conservation,” Sururu said.
KFS, together with a community representative organization, Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program, trained them four months ago on the significance of forests to mitigation of climate change and community development.
“We depend on rain to grow crops and if there is none, everybody will suffer. Trees bring rain, prevent soil erosion and keep the air clean,” Sururu said.
KFS allocated the Ogieks the section of the forest to conserve as part of the process of community participation in safeguarding the natural resource.
Ogiek is a minority community living within the Mau ecosystem, and has, for centuries, lived on forest resources, including wild berries and honey from bees reared on hives mounted on nectar producing trees.
While the community, through forest associations, takes role in replenishing the forest with indigenous trees as agreed with KFS, the scouts working for free.
“It’s challenging to achieve a 10 percent forest cover without community engagement,” Daniel Kobei, executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program said.
According to him, communities living adjacent to forests must be actively engaged in conservation activities since their livelihoods are directly dependent on their existence.
He said communities should not only be educated on benefits accrued from forest conservation but also be engaged in every aspect of rehabilitating natural resources, including making decisions on how to utilize them for efforts to control environmental degradation.
He said a lot of work has to be done in creating awareness among Kenyan communities on relative impact of deforestation on climate change.
Sururu said he has started to nurture his children to respect the environment through tree nurseries and planting trees in his homestead, a habit which Kobei emphasizes as a strategy towards creating an environmental-friendly generation.
“It is a good thing to see people willing to protect the forest for free which is what the scouts are doing. That means they know the importance of the forests,” said Kobei.
Joseph King’ori, KFS officer in charge of the Logoman Forest, says an empowered community is an informed society indispensable to creating and maintaining sustainable environments.
“We need communities to create a Participatory Management Plan which will guide on how they engage in conservation of the forests,” he said.