Forestry conservation in East Africa. Community based forestry is the answer.

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Forestry Conservation in East Africa. Community-based forestry is the answer. 


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Forestry conservation in East Africa. Community based forestry is the answer.

 By Kunga Ngece, East African Ecotourism Development and Conservation Consultants, Nairobi, Kenya. January 2003.


East Africa’s forests are rapidly declining due to pressure from population increase and clearing of forests for other land uses. Although most of the three East African states have enabling climatic systems for forest growth, only about 10% of all the land is forested. This puts so much strain to forests, that are supposed to support over 87 million people, all depending on the natural resources and ecological benefits coming from them. FAO’s Forestry Resource Assessment of 1990 puts Uganda as one of the countries with reasonable forest cover (15%) compared to its East African neighbors. However FAO warns that Uganda’s forest cover is quickly dwindling due to demand for more farmland and or the increasing populations and the need or forest resources to maintain both urban and rural lives. With huge forests like Budongo and Mabira and tropical rain forests extending to the Congo basin, Uganda is lucky, although forest disintegration is quickly engulfing most of them. Tanzania is less lucky, although it enjoys a big-forested area from the Miombo woodlands. Kenya’s situation is the worst. FAO, 1990, through the Forest Resource Assessment report states only 2% closed forest cover for Kenya, way below the standard. Reduction of the forest cover is severely impacting on the climate, water, wildlife and human populations. These issues need to be dealt with in a coordinated way by ministries involved in family planning, agriculture, water, forestry, power and others. One area that needs to be addressed is the way forest reserves in private and government tenure systems are managed.


Conservationists are coming to terms with the fact that individuals, NGO’s, government agencies and other concerned institutions working in partnership(s) are a key to successful forest conservation. There is now a high regard for effecting institutional frameworks, where both local people and the authorities have a say in forest management. Local people are the key to forest conservation.


It is understood that financial resource are needed to make the approach work. Highly trained people need adequate pay and equipment to get the job done.


This paper looks at the role of stakeholders in determining the success of forest resource conservation. It shows that local communities should really be involved in forest resource management by highlighting some case studies.


The Kaya Forests of the Kenya’s coast.

Kaya forests are patches of the once expansive lowland forests of Zanzibar –Inhambane Regional Mosaic, each averaging about 10-200 ha in an area of about 250 km. These floral and faunal diverse forests occupy the coastal plain and hills of Kenya as studies by the National Museums of Kenya (NMK) and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) have revealed. Their botanical potential is regarded as the highest in terms of holding endangered species, found in few other areas of Kenya.


The Kaya forests have withstood being wiped out due to the sacred nature the coastal people accord them. The local tribes (MijiKenda) beliefs, history and culture that these forests sheltered villages over three centuries ago from being pursued by enemies make these forests unique to them. However, belief is that after the warring time elapsed, the people abandoned the shelter of the forest, and began cultivating them, hence the present high destruction. Some patches were however left and the Kaya elders had to have them protected. These served as burial grounds and places of worship. Today, a decline in traditional values and a rising demand for forestland to be converted to agriculture, mining, fishing and other forest products have put the forests in danger. Widespread poverty has increased the rate at which these forests are being lost.


This prompted concerned conservationists and scientists to make an effort to enhance protection of the forests, leading to them being declared as protected as National Monuments.


Although this drive by the NMK has born some fruits, it has not succeeded wholly as was the case when the people managed the forests themselves through the elders. NMK has failed to take into consideration the laws and institutions in regard to the local council of elders viz a viz those of the government. There was no effort to look at the policy, values and perceptions of the local community. Those could have helped in determining how the local people were able to protect the forests, and what the central government could do to ensure traditional values are incorporated into management of these forests. Critical areas that also need to be addressed are the ownership and access to the Kayas. The local people have viewed them as personal property, and may not be happy to have other institutions manage what they have depended on or decades. Finally, the NMK needs to look at the economic impact of the Kayas to the people, what these forests provide to the people and what they could provide with institutional management.


The Mau Forest Complex in Rift Valley, Kenya.

The Mau forests are the largest remaining block of moist indigenous forests in East Africa., covering some 900km2. First gazetted in 1932, many changes in its management policy have resulted in excisions, boundary alterations and fragmentation. Prior to 1932, the forest was intact under the management of the about 20,000 Ogiek, a hunter-gatherer community of forest dwellers who depended on the forest for subsistence and shelter. The community divided the forest among their clans using natural features like valleys, rivers and hills as boundaries.


The Ogiek depended on the forest for their livelihood. Collection of wild fruits and nuts, hunting, honey harvesting were a daily routine. At no time was a patch of forest cleared for farming. The Ogiek had sound management systems that ensured that there were no forest fire outbreaks. Only the experienced elders were allowed to make beehives and harvest honey to avoid harming trees. Harvesting of trees such as Olea euro and Dobeya goetzeni, mainly used for honey harvesting and herbs was prohibited. The elders only allowed the use of Juniperus procera for making hives. The forest was also divided into blocks, each given to a clan, which divided them according to family lines. Each family was supposed to take care of its block. The elders had a sound management plan that ensured these forests remained intact.


Problems began in 1930 when parts of the Mau were cleared to pave way for forest plantations using exotic trees. This pushed the Ogiek deeper into the natural forest. Soon saw millers were issued licenses for logging at very low fees. This led to intense logging. In 1943, the government introduced the shamba system to facilitate plantation establishments and food production for the local people. Problems continued further for the Mau with other peoples being allowed to settle into the forest and the Ogiek being forced to settle by the government. The Ogiek do not like the idea, and the government has been continually evicting them from the forest, while at the same time settling in outsiders into excised land. No consultations were done with the Ogiek, neither were alternatives provided.


The Ogiek recognize that they have been the “owners” of the forests and used indigenous knowledge to sustainably utilize the forests. The Ogiek note that forest destruction in form of charcoal burning, timber harvesting, farming, commercial plantations and grazing is being done by outsides, and this impacts on their use of the unaffected forest areas. They state that traditional forest management systems need to be incorporated into the management criteria for Mau forest. They advocate sustainable forest management, and promotion of activities that reduce pressure off the forest such as sericulture, butterfly farming, farm forestry and bee keeping. Although these could be solutions, no other form of management of the Mau could work as the Ogiek traditional management system did.


The Mgori Forest in Tanzania.

The Mgori forest is a 44,000 ha woodland managed as five village land forest reserves, with each village recognized as the common owner of their respective reserve. Before 1995, Mgori forest was Government land. When the Forestry and Beekeeping Division demarcated the forest, the community demanded the western part be excluded for their use. This was granted but it was soon realized that neither the Forestry Division nor the Singida District Council could manage the reserve.


The government then allowed the community (five villages) and the Singida district council to manage the forest through the 1995-1997 using collaborative management approach. Since the District did not have enough officers to send to the forest, the villages recruited one hundred village forest guards. Fires, illegal harvesting and clearing for short term millet production ceased. Illegal hunting of elephants was also contained.


Villagers achieved this through dividing the forest into five Village Forest Management areas, each demarcated and protected by their own youth. The boundaries were perceived as extensions of the villages, and defended by respective communities. During time for surveying village areas Singida District Council acknowledged the existence of local interests and confirmed each Village Forest Reserve as within the boundaries of the Village Areas. Village by-laws are in place regarding management of these forest reserves, and thus the communality has protected the reserves well.


Mpanga Forest in Uganda.

Mpanga forest is in Central Uganda, and was gazetted in 1932. It covers 453 ha, and was part of a parcel of land belonging to the Kabaka of Buganda. The forest is part of what is today called the Guineo-Congolian rainforest, scattered across Uganda, Zaire and Kenya. The forest has remarkable biodiversity of plants, insects, birds and mammals not found elsewhere in Uganda.


Mpanga is one of the few forests in Mpigi district (the district hosts about 40 small reserves) that is still intact and little encroached. The forest has been able to maintain its condition because of the management system that has been in place since pre-colonial times. Under the management of the Kabaka, the Fumbe clan controlled the forest. They used the forest as a burial ground for the clan members. The traditional beliefs that go hand in hand with respect for the dead reduced encroachment into the forest. No cutting of big trees was allowed by the clan elders, although the 5 villages living around the forest were allowed access to protected streams, firewood collection, wild fruit and nut collection, mushroom harvesting, hunting for small mammals and collection of other products as herbs and reeds. The elders controlled these activities.


In 1932, upon gazettement of the forest, the crown government converted it into a research area, and the Fumbe clan was shown an alternative area where to site their burial ground. Conversion of the forest into research land, and denying local people their rights soon led to forest destruction. When management of the forest was taken away from the Fumbe clan and the Kabaka, other people saw a loophole in which to harvest forest resources. Soon, pit sawing became a daily activity, while billet cutting was rampant. Charcoal making started at an alarming rate. Soon the drum making business thrived along the road, endangering the softwoods in the forest. The government soon had to find a solution to this rampart destruction of the forest.


In 1997, the Forestry Department introduced Collaborative Forest Management (CFM) with the village communities around the reserve. The process was supposed to ensure that all stakeholders in Mpanga forest (those with a stake in the forest) were involved in management of the forest, although ownership of the forest still rested on the government. Staff at Mpanga did surveys for CFM, and negotiations took place. During this time, forest destruction declined as the community now felt involved in forest management.


In 2000, the process stalled, and wanton destruction began once again. Charcoal burning took a renewed twist, while some forest areas were encroached on by farmers. Drum stores started doing a booming business.


In 2002, representatives from the Forest Department and the local community held consultative meetings, and one of the things that came out clearly was that the people felt cheated by abandoning them in the CFM process. The people also wanted a share of the revenue generated from Mpanga Ecotourism Site situated within the forest. Although the site employs only local people, villagers feel that management of the forest should be restored to them. Some argue that they know the people who destroy the forest, and placing management among the locals, the culprits would shy away from being denounced by fellow community members.


The way forward.

From the above case studies, it is evident that involvement of local people in forest management is a key factor for success in forest conservation to be achieved. Although some governments have maintained that they ought to manage natural resources themselves, this has proven difficult, and often brings conflict between government officials and local people. There is no way government s can deny local people access to a resource they have lived with cohesively for decades, and expect to succeed in its management focus. The case of the Ogiek in Mau Forest, the Kaya forests, the Mpanga forest are but some of the many examples where community involvement of forests has been assumed. In South Africa, the Dukuduku state forest in Kwazulu Natal, inhabited by local communities has had violent outbursts of crisis whenever the government wants to have control over it. In Tanzania, the Sukuma pastoralists have been able to control communal grazing areas through restriction of cattle from grazing during particular times of the year. In Zimbabwe, the Karanga people use sacred controls to govern access and use of certain trees and woodlands. Guardians of some protected areas are installed and endowed with power over other would be users. The Loima mist forest in Turkana, Kenya is an important dry season grazing area for the Turkana people. They have designed a management system whereby utilizing this forest only during the dry season, utilizing only dead wood for cooking, no cutting of large trees and use of water supplies from the hill in a sensible manner. This has helped control the forest as a dry season grazing area, without any interference by the government. Kipumbwi and Sange Villages committee in collaboration control the Msangasi Mangrove Reserve in Tanga, Tanzania with a forest officer. Villagers needing building material for domestic use require written permission from their respective village subcommittee, which spells out harvest conditions. A member of the committee supervises the harvest. The protection of rhe reserve is the responsibility of every villager. Two villagers accompany a committee member on each patrol in rotation. This form of management has enabled all local people gain access to the forest resources equitably. The local people also participate in replanting mangroves in areas that have been harvested.


For effective conservation of forests to be achieved, communities need to be considered as contributors to the management system. Although natural resources in any country belong to the people of that country that are represented by their elected governments, mechanisms should be put in place to ensure local people benefit most from them. This is the best way to protect forests for all the people of that country. Governments ought to respect and safeguard local livelihoods dependent on forests, otherwise having an impoverished community around a resource will not spare it from destruction. Tenure rights over lands need be bestowed on communities, who in turn need to put in place a clear mechanism of resource use control. Community power and decision-making as far as forest management is concerned should be respected. If the local people are protecting water supplies and catchments for hydropower plants, some money from the sale of those products should come back to the people for conservation activities.



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The study was funded by the East African Ecotourism, Development and Conservation Consultants (Http:// . Comments on the article could be directed to the authors on email, Tel 254 (0) 733 735863 or PO Box 2044, GPO, Nairobi, 00100, Kenya.

TEL 256 (0) 77 580935/ FAX 256 (0) 41 510090.

Copyright 2003, Friends of Mpigi Forests Conservation and Development Organization. All rights reserved.