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Conservation is priceless for Kenyan forest

External Reference/Copyright
Issue date: 
21 February 2012
Publisher Name: 
Daniel Sitole
Author e-Mail: 
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The conservation of forests in Kenya has been a challenge to policy makers. The majority of the rural population rely on charcoal and firewood for domestic use. Illegal logging, land grabbing, and human encroachment are some of the challenges facing the whole country. There's one area that is an exception: Arabuko Sokoke, where the people of Kilifi County have conserved the largest indigenous coastal forest in East Africa.

Arabuko Sokoke is the remnant of the largest block of coastal indigenous dry forest on the continent, which once stretched from southern Somalia to northern Mozambique. The forest, which covers 420 sq km and measures 41,765 hectares, is in Malindi, 110km north of Mombasa. It borders the Indian Ocean.

The forest was first declared a crown land in 1934.

"The people of Kilifi value conservation," says Blessingtone Maganga, of the Kenya Forest Service (KFS). "There is no logging, charcoal burning, illegal fuel wood collection, mining or poaching." Blessingtone adds that Somalia, Tanzania and Mozambique have destroyed parts of their share of the forest due to human settlement.

The forest consists of three ecosystems: mixed forest, Brachystegia (tropical timber) forest and Gynometra forest. Arabuko is a designated Unesco Biosphere Reserve, and believed to contain titanium deposits.

"Yes there is a lot of it here. It is visible on the surface, especially in the western side of the forest," says Blessingtone, adding that many private investors have shown an interest in starting mining, but "the community and the government don't want it, because the forest is for conservation".

The name Arabuko Sokoke derives from words used by the Waata tribe that lived in the forest: arbi meaning elephant, huk'o meaning thin, and sokoke "short (trees)". It therefore means, a "forest of the thin elephant". The story goes that Waata men found a thin elephant in the Gynometra region of the forest, where typically trees are about 50cm in diameter and less than seven metres high.

The local community has conserved their forest despite pressure by land grabbers and loggers. "Arabuko is our heritage, and we have fought tough battles to protect it," says Hamis Juma, 46, a volunteer scout. "Sometimes we camp in this forest for months, armed with machetes and bows and arrows to flush out loggers and to protect it from land grabbers."

Arabuko has a rich biodiversity, and is home to endangered flora and fauna. It is considered the second most important area for bird conservation after the Congo rainforest, and is home to 230 bird species, of which six are globally threatened. Fifty-two mammal species have been recorded in the forest, among them three groups that are in danger as well as the golden rumpled shrew, of which 90% of the known population live in Arabuko Sokoke. There are also 150 elephants and 250 butterfly species.

"I'm a member of the Waata, the indigenous tribe of this forest," says Peter Mashauri, 53, of the Friends of Waata Association. "We were hunter-gatherers, and lived near trees and wildlife. We hunted the most aged animals, and killing of young animals was an offence under our tradition."

Together with the Waatas, the Giriama tribe make up the majority population in Kilifi County. The two tribes have conserved forest for nearly 80 years.

The community, under the Arabuko Sokoke Forest Adjacent Dwellers Association (Asfada), comprising 152,000 members from 52 villages, manages the project in collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service.

Asfada, an umbrella body of three community forest associations (CFAs) – Gede, Jilore and Sokoke – manage different parts of the forest.

The community has also set up several income generating projects. These include butterfly farming (Kipepeo Project), which exports live butterflies and other insects to Europe, the US and beyond. There are also other user groups for bee-keepers and for those who practise herbal medicine. Asfada has also set up a guesthouse, the Arabuko Jamii Villa, about 20kms from Malindi town.

The people of Kilifi have kept their forest intact despite high level of poverty. According to figures released last year by the Commission of Revenue Allocation, 71.4% of the people in Kilifi live below the poverty level (less than $1 a day). "It is true that our people are poor, but in terms of natural resources Kilifi County is an island of millionaires in a sea of poverty," says Charo Ngumba, chairman of Gede CFA.

Charo says unlike in other forests, there is no human-wildlife conflict in Arabuko Sokoke because the Community Development Trust Fund, a project of the EU and Kenyan government "funded the fencing of the forest to the tune of 14m Kenyan shillings (kes), the community contributed 4m kes ($50,000)".



Extpub | by Dr. Radut