Try our conservation model, say Kaya elders

Mrima Hill Forest
Mrima Hill Forest

The involvement of community in the conservation and management of natural resources is one of the most important ways to protects forests.

According to Amini Tengeza of National Museums of Kenya Coastal Forest Conservation Unit, this model has been initiated successfully at the Coast.

“We brought together the Kaya elders to learn about each other, about the Constitution and how to manage their meetings,” he says, adding that they got the Kaya conservation group registered so that they could carry out their activities without any problem.

This was a good way for the Kaya Elders to engage with the people at the forest about issues that the museum may not be aware of.

“In the end, the community-owned the resource and came up with initiatives towards the management of the resource instead of waiting on the government,” Tengeza adds.

Mrima Hill forest is the largest mineral deposit in Kenya and could be the largest producer of rare earths in the world. To the locals, the project would come with negative impact not only to their lives but to the surrounding environment.

Mzee Juma Swaleh Suya, a member of the Mrima Forest and Conservation Management, is concerned about the impact of mining in the forest.

“The process to get the machines into the hill will mean destruction of the environment through cutting down of trees and destroying the undergrowth,” says Mzee Juma, adding that this would in turn cause health problems to the people due to contamination of air.

For him and the other members of the group, the project would mean the destruction of the Kaya grounds as well as destruction of herbal medicine that they use daily. Bird life will also be negatively affected, especially the birds that are endemic to the area.

The project would also mean the displacement of people from their homes. Mzee Bakari Ali Kasram was born and has lived in Mrima all his life, just like generations before him. His main concern is beginning life afresh in a different place if the project ensues.

“Where would I call home? And in my old age, how would I start life afresh in a new place?” he asks.

While development is important, Mzee Juma feels there is need to work on it without destroying people’s homes and animal habitats.

“There should be an alternative way that will not destroy people’s homes and that keeps the forest intact. Otherwise, the forest is beneficial to us as it is,” he adds.

For community-based civil society groups such as Kwale County Natural Resource Network and the Kilifi Natural Resource Network, such incentives by the people could not happen without a form of education or training. With the help of organisations like World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), they carried out a series of sessions to highlight the importance of conserving natural resources in their respective counties.

Goodluck Mbaga, the chairman of the Kilifi County Natural Resource Network, believes that such sessions have empowered people to not only protect the environment but also to contribute to policies that do the same.

However, some of the problems that have come across include lack of knowledge.

“Most of them are not well-educated, thus they wait upon the government to make decisions and policies on conservation. Others do not know the steps to take to stand up for their rights, while some still think they are in the old form of government as they are still very afraid to engage with the government,” he says.

He adds that as a network, they have had a tough time getting to some parts of the county such as Dakacha, which are quite a distance away from the main road and quite inaccessible. Such inability to access these people makes it easier for developers to take advantage of them.

The community involvement has been successful in some areas of the coast such as the villages surrounding the Arabuko Sokoke forest, according to Blessington Maganga, the station manager at Gede Station at Kenya Forest Service.

“The people’s perception of the forest has really changed. The community is more aware now that the forest belongs to them. They have taken part in providing intelligence information to KFS and even carried out citizen arrest in some cases,” Maganga says.

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