When people living next to forests protect them

In the participatory forest management model, residents earn from farming around the forest, while protecting the forest's tree cover

In Summary

• Kenya plans to increase forest cover from 7.2 per cent to 10 per cent by 2022

• This calls for partnership with communities living next to the natural resource

Dundori CFA takes part in a tree planting drive.
Dundori CFA takes part in a tree planting drive.

The first sign of trouble was poor harvest from his farm. Then there was no water in the river.

By the time Joseph Kamau knew something was wrong, authorities were already kicking out the illegal encroachers from Mau Forest Complex.

"People had encroached the forest from all sides. Before we knew it, rivers had dried up. Also, the fresh air we used to enjoy had all of a sudden started being polluted," Kamau, the chairperson of Masuri Cofa Community Forest Association, says.


Before his CFA was started in 2005, food production in the area was very poor, he says. "In one acre, one could harvest five bags, a far cry from the 45 bags supposed to be harvested.”

Kamau says 13,000 acres of forest in Mau Narok had been destroyed due to encroachment, a destruction that caused a major blow to livelihood.

He says the government kicked out encroachers from the forest in 2006-07, paving the way for the community forest association to be formed.

Kamau says massive benefits have arisen as a result of the CFA. As a chairperson, he now has tree nurseries and is selling tree seedlings to the Kenya Forest Service. Other CFAs also come to buy tree seedlings from him.

Besides seedlings to KFS, CFAs also help to plant them, opening the door to more earnings.


“I sold 10,000 seedlings last season, earning me Sh200,000,” Kamau says.

He is deriving his livelihood from tree seedlings such as cedar, Ndombea, Croton and Rosewood.

Blossoming indigenous trees in one of the nurseries managed by the CFA.
Blossoming indigenous trees in one of the nurseries managed by the CFA.
I sold 10,000 seedlings last season, earning me Sh200,000. I also have 10 beehives
Masuri Cofa CFA chair Joseph Kamau


The Mau Forest Complex, with an area of over 400,000ha, is the largest forest in the country.

It is a source of at least 12 major rivers, which flow into and sustain the fragile ecosystems in lakes Victoria, Nakuru, Bogoria, Naivasha, Natron, Elementaita and Turkana.

The sprawling forest complex straddles seven counties, which are home to nearly seven million people. These are Baringo, Bomet, Elgeyo Marakwet, Kericho, Nakuru, Nandi and Narok.

Over the years, a large chunk of the Mau Forest Complex was excised to pave way for human settlement.

Kamau says it is the responsibility of communities adjacent to the forest resources to guard them jealously.

“People should not destroy forests. They are our source of livelihoods, the fresh air we breathe and the clean water we drink,” he says.

Apart from raising tree seedlings, the CFA also engages in other activities, such as beekeeping, a venture that earns them more money. Kamau has 10 beehives, which supplement his tree nursery.

Kamau, whose CFA has 250 members, urges other communities surrounding the forest to form CFAs and help the government increase tree cover.

The government wants to increase the forest cover from 7.2 per cent to 10 per cent by 2022. Some 1.8 billion trees will be planted to this end.

Aware of the enormous task ahead, the state has been banking on various stakeholders, among them the CFAs, which are now emerging as some of the best players to bolster the government's efforts.

In Nakuru, for instance, the communities have organised themselves such that they can benefit from the immense forest resources available as provided for under the provisions of Forests Act. The Act envisages a situation whereby local communities draw tangible benefits from the adjacent forests.

The forest cover in Nakuru is 6.9 per cent. Another CFA in the county is Mugumo B, domiciled in Dundori forest and helping the government fulfil its mandate.

Alice Kariuki says her 17-member CFA is also immensely benefiting from their work as they use money from their nurseries to earn a living.

“Some of our children have gone up to university level,” she says, adding that some of her members have acquired plots and motorcycles, while others are now plot owners courtesy of raising tree nurseries.

“We at times get people to come and help in our nurseries as we have over 100,000 tree seedlings,” she says.

Their indigenous tree seedlings have been used to restore some of the degraded forest lands.

“When the Kenya Forest Service runs out of cypress and pine, they come and purchase them here,” she says.

Kariuki says some environmental organisations, such as the Green Belt movement, have also been buying tree seedlings from them.

A man helps KFS Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau to plant a tree
A man helps KFS Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau to plant a tree


Dundori CFA vice chairman Nelson Ndung’u says they help protect the forest, while at the same time farming crops that supply various markets.

“Without our partnership with the KFS, this forest (Dundori) would not be the way it is,” he says.

They get food from the Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Improvement Scheme (Pelis), he says, a move that gives them an extra coin.

Pelis is a system whereby KFS allows forest-adjacent communities, through CFAs, the right to cultivate agricultural crops during the early stages of forest plantation establishment.

Cultivation is often allowed to continue for three to four years, until tree canopy closes, to improve the economic gains of participating farmers, while ensuring the success of planted trees.

Pelis has been used to establish forest plantations in Kenya since 2007.

Ndung’u says CFAs play a critical role in not only protecting the forest but also complementing the government’s efforts.

He says the Dundori forest has four protection zones: Dundori, Wanyororo, Kabatini and Murangine.

Ndung’u said before their involvement, the forest was in bad shape as it used to be encroached from all sides, increasing pressure on the vital resource.

Nakuru County Ecosystem Conservator Francis Misonge says the community should be onboard during tree-planting initiatives.

“The role of CFAs is the protection of forest resources as well as the actual planting,” he says.

Misonge says degraded areas will be rehabilitated through the planting of indigenous trees.

As a result of tree planting initiatives, rivers in Nakuru county have massive volumes of water.

Misonge says planting thousands of trees without involving the community amounts to nothing.

"They are the first line of defenders in all our forest resources," Misonge says.

Nakuru County Ecosystem Conservator Francis Misonge
Nakuru County Ecosystem Conservator Francis Misonge


Misonge says the community will jealously guard areas where they have put some efforts.

He cites instances where KFS bought seeds from CFAs before engaging them as casuals to plant trees.

“You use that as bait for them to protect planted trees,” he says, adding that KFS is always happy to engage other stakeholders in tree planting, even if it is in their farms.

“We are very happy when stakeholders, such as banks, environmental groups and organisations call us for tree planting in some of their huge tracks of land because it is helping us meet our target of increasing tree cover.”

The participatory forest management model in Kenya was adopted through the previous Forests Act, 2005, as a forest management tool.

KFS Chief Conservator of Forests Julius Kamau says the aim was to engage forest-adjacent communities and other stakeholders in the co-management of forests in a way that communities benefit.

“The framework was later enhanced in the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016, to promote equitable community participation in forest management,” he said.

The communities form and register CFAs and develop a Participatory Forest Management Plan that is executed through the signing of a Forest Management Agreement between the Service and the CFA.

The engagement of CFAs has helped to increase the forest cover in some of the counties.

Forest laws also allow CFAs with various forest user rights, such as firewood and controlled grazing.

The CFAs are also involved in re-afforestation and rehabilitation programmes, which entail as the establishment of tree nurseries, planting and other silvicultural operations through contractual engagements.

Kamau says well-organised and structured CFAs have employed community scouts, who complement KFS rangers in protecting forest resources and in the process, they earn a living.

To date, there are 255 registered CFAs across the country, with 163 having approved Participatory Forest Management Plans and 102 signed Forest Management Agreements between KFS and CFA, he says.

Additionally, KFS has signed two concession agreements.

A waterfall in Nakuru county.
A waterfall in Nakuru county.