Community wants a greater say in Kakamega forest fencing

Kakamega forest is only remnant of the Equatorial Rain Forest in the country

In Summary
  • The local forest association says it has been left out and outsiders have taken over sensitisation and other community roles
  • Officials and KFS say the forest must be protected from encroachment, logging, charcoal burning and agriculture
KFS rangers survey the magnitude of damage caused by windfalls in one of the forests in Kakamega County. Image: Hand out.
KFS rangers survey the magnitude of damage caused by windfalls in one of the forests in Kakamega County. Image: Hand out.

Communities living around the Kakamega forest want to be involved in the ongoing fencing.

The Muileshi Community Forest Association expressed anger at not being consulted since they have been guardians of the forest.

They rejected the fence entirely and say it was imposed on them but at least want to be involved in the project.

KFS says the area must be protected and conserved. Illegal felling, charcoal burning, logging and encroachment for farming must be stopped.

“We advocate transparency. We want the financial aspects of the project to be communicated clearly to the community through the CFA channels to feel part of the project ownership,” Mbai said.

Aspects such as sensitisation ought to be handled by the community through the CFA but some organisations have taken over the role.

The community has been instrumental in protection of the resource through the CFA and their role in the project should not be limited to consultation. They want a more active role.

Environmental justice activists from the Defenders Coalition, an umbrella body of human rights defenders, have raised objections to the project.

The fence around the forest will disrupt animal migration corridors and potentially separate the vital connection between the forest and its surrounding community.

“These fences will interfere with the freedom for animals and people. It will impact the ecosystem in a sense that it will interfere with the migration corridors,” Grace Oloo said.

The fencing will also alienate communities from the forest and make them feel they are unwelcome yet they are the ones who have been protecting the forest.

Oloo said the fence should be removed so that people living around it can better care for it.

“It is imperative to observe ecological justice in our struggle to find justice in our country,” she said. 

Bonface Akach proposed an alternative approach, focusing on community awareness and economic empowerment to protect and conserve the forest.

The United Nations Development Programme and the Japanese government earlier signed a Memorandum of Understanding on fencing and conservation with the national government, Vihiga and Kakamega governments and communities living around the forest on the fencing and conservation of the forest to conserve the resource.

The agreement commits the Ministry of Tourism and the two county governments, development partners and communities living near the forest to protect and conserve it.

The first phase was launched by environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuiya on February 24 last year. It covered 15 km of the 117 km perimeter fence.

The second phase set to start in April will cover 35 km. The remaining 68 km will be fenced in the third phase.

Kakamega forest is home to several hundreds of species of birds, snakes, monkeys, bushbucks, duiker antelope, numerous tree species and natural glades. 

They include: more than 380 species of trees, 330 species of birds, 27 species of snakes, seven primate species, more than 400 species of butterflies and several mammals.

Kakamega Governor Fernandes Barasa revealed on Friday his administration had raised Sh9 million for the second phase.

The funds include Sh60 million from the Safaricom and M-Pesa Foundation, Sh10 million from the government of Vihiga, which has part of the forest, and Sh25milion from Kakamega county.

"We are set to start fencing the second phase of our forest in around April to conserve the tropical forest and mitigate the effects of climate change. We also want to prevent encroachment such as charcoal burning and logging,” Barasa said.

He said that his administration will set aside Sh50m annually towards the fencing.

Last year, Kakamega received Sh200 million from the World Bank in climate-resilient investment grants under the Financing Locally-Led Climate Action programme.

Vihiga Governor Wilbur Ottichilo said it is high time the country had an affirmative action to restore water towers to mitigate the effects of climate change.

"Overall nationally our water towers like Mau, Cherengani and Mt Elgon, which are major towers have been severely destroyed and degraded to a level whereby we need affirmative action to restore them," Ottichilo said.

"We have a crisis as water is essential and life,” he said. “If we do not restore the water towers we stand an eminent risk of water scarcity yet Kenya, is a water-scarce country according to World Classification.”

Ottichilo said the country needs a collective effort to protect wetlands, which are the main source of water for most rivers.

"There were deliberate moves by powerful people in the government to destroy our wetlands by either selling and partitioning and cultivating them with the help of corrupt officials from the Land registry which issued fake title deeds," the governor said.

"We need to have a law that prohibits people from planting eucalyptus trees near the river banks and in wetlands areas which dry up most of our rivers."

"In Vihiga we have drafted a law which criminalises planting of eucalyptus trees near our riverbanks and in wetlands and I will be presenting it to the county assembly for approval," Ottichilo says.

"Ottichilo and Barasa called for smart agriculture which requires less land and it is environmentally friendly."

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