conservation in East Africa. Community based forestry is the answer.
Kunga Ngece, East African Ecotourism Development and Conservation
Consultants, Nairobi, Kenya. January 2003.
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.
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
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
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.
Forest in Tanzania.
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
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
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
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.
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
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://www.ecotourism.8m.net
. Comments on the article could be directed to the authors on email firstname.lastname@example.org,
Tel 254 (0) 733 735863 or PO Box 2044, GPO, Nairobi, 00100, Kenya.
SECRETARIAT. C/O VSO UGANDA. PO BOX 2831. KAMPALA. UGANDA.
256 (0) 77 580935/ FAX 256 (0) 41 510090.
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Conservation and Development Organization. All rights reserved.