Category Archives: Conservation

Youth groups receive Equator Award

On Wednesday 18 March 2009, the Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports Professor Helen Sambili presented the Equator Initiative Award to two community groups – Kijabe Environment Volunteers and the Kwetu Training Centre from Kilifi at a colourful event at the KENVO resource centre in Kimende. The prize – awarded globally to a total of 25 winners – was given to the two groups to recognize and celebrate outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation of biodiversity. Kenvo provides local communities with the information, education, and resources they need to advance environmentally friendly businesses, while Kwetu trains local community members of the Kilifi District in conservation activities that also generate income, focusing on unemployed youth, women, and fishermen.

While lauding the efforts of the groups Prof. Sambili asked other youth to follow their example, adding that mankind has a short time to convert what has been destroyed within our environment. The Minister was accompanied to the festivities by Mr Aeneas Chuma UNDP Resident Representative and Dr. Chris Gakahu also of UNDP, and the MP for Lari, and was received by the local community, youth groups from the area and past winners of the Award. The Award carries a monetary value of USD 5000 each, which the Ministry of Youth Affairs boosted with Kshs 50,000 for each group. Mr Chuma said that the groups had made Kenya proud by being part of the twenty five winners drawn from 310 nominations globally.


David Kuria of Kenvo (right) shows Prof. Sambili (centre) round the exhibition. In the picture is Mr. Chuma UNDP Resident Rep. (to the left of the Minister) and the MP for Lari (extreme left).

Below, part of the exhibition.


Paradise in peril

If one went into the Baawa part of Kirisia forest in Samburu, on would be tempted to think they are in paradise. Hardly five minutes into the forest, we encountered a herd of elephants (one is barely visible in the photo below). We were told that had we stayed longer into the evening and waited for the herders to leave with their animals, the elephants would have moved closer. We would also have seen buffaloes, and, if we were lucky, leopards. Earlier on a member of the community group we had been meeting with excitedly described the forest as paradise. I could see he had not exaggerated.


But we could see that this paradise might not last.

As we left, hundreds of domestic animals (sheep, goats and cattle) were leaving the forest. The Samburu have traditionally depended on the forest for grazing. But the herds have multiplied and the population has grown exerting a lot of pressure on the forest. The Kenya Forest Service is currently not charging any fee for grazing, unlike in other forests in Kenya, for instance in the Aberdares where communities there have been forced to reduce their cattle and collect grass for zero grazing instead of letting the animals into the forest.


Nevertheless, Baawa seems to be one of the most intact parts of Kirisia forest. In other areas such as Ngari and Tamioi the forest is very degraded. In the 1980’s, a forest fire destroyed large parts of the Kirisia. The area was not closed to grazing and was not allowed to regenerate. There has also been illegal poaching of the African Pencil Cedar, the dominant species in this forest, for charcoal. The KFS reported spending a lot of time and resources to contain the destruction.

Now, communities surrounding this forest have organised themselves and are in the process of forming a CFA to help in management and conservation of the forest. Hopefully this will go some way in keeping this paradise alive.


Perfumery sends Sandalwood numbers down

Kenya is losing the Sandalwood tree (Osyris lanceolata) to illegal harvesting. The harvesting – initially reported in the Chyulu hills – seems to have escalated and has now been reported in Kajiado, Taita, Amboseli and surrounding ranches, Samburu, Koibatek, and Kikuyu Escarpment and many other areas. In most areas it’s being harvested without much control.

Sandalwood is exploited for its essential oils used in perfumery. The heartwood of the trunk, main branches and roots contain an essential oil. The oil blends so well and with many fragrance materials that it has become a common blender-fixative used in countless perfumes.

The problem first existed along the Kenyan-Tanzania border, with most of the exploitation occurring in the Chyulu hills where the tree still grows in abundance compared to the other areas.

The tree grows to a height of 1-6m, but it’s the roots that are most favored. The essential oil concentration is highest in the roots, followed by the trunk. The tree is dioecious (male and female on separate trees) and the female is most preferred as it is said to have a better quality of heartwood.

Under normal conditions young trees grow slowly, only gradually developing a core of heartwood. Uprooting the tree is therefore seriously depleting its numbers. As the tree is also parasitic and regenerates via shoots from exposed roots, this mode of harvesting will undermine regeneration.

It is believed that the tree is being traded in Tanzania. The sharp rise in extraction in Kenya is linked to over exploitation coupled by strict surveillance in Tanzania. The tree is being harvested in Kenya and exported through various undisclosed routes to Tanzania. After value addition (semi processing) the products are re-exported to Indonesia, India, South Africa, France, Germany and eastern Asia countries for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industry.

A taskforce of government institutions was formed to look into the harvesting and trade of sandalwood. In its preliminary survey report it says that poverty in the areas where this species occur is an underlying factor that might make the fight against the illegal trade difficult to win.

Communities in these areas are living under extreme poverty and are ready to undertake any kind of business to earn a livelihood, even when they are being exploited. For example, communities around Chyulu National Park earn KShs 4 to KShs 7 for every kilo harvested, which the middleman sells at Kshs 80 Per kilo. Successful intervention measures therefore would have to address poverty, and other sources of livelihood.

Propagation of the tree is also being researched at by the Kenya Forestry Research Institute. For now surveillance is being stepped up and appeals have been made to relevant authorities, such as the Kenya Ports Authority, to block the points of exit.

This post first appeared in an issue of KFWG’s Misitu News.

KENVO wins Equator Prize

Kijabe Environment Volunteers a long time member of KFWG is one of the 25 winners of the prestigious Equator Prize for 2008. The Equator Prize is awarded biennially to recognize and celebrate outstanding community efforts to reduce poverty through the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity. The winners were selected from a total pool of 310 nominations from 70 nations.

For more information on the Award see the Equator prize website 

“Pass my congratulations to KENVO”, said a KFWG member in an email on learning about KENVO’s win, “It is quite encouraging to hear of such recognition. This shows that they have made an impact which is well above the normal performance. We would like KENVO to share [information] on the initiatives that have rendered this. Well done and keep it up.” Peter Kiptanui, a member of a South Nandi bidoveristy group added, “you are not alone in this moment of joy, so many of us are following in your footsteps and this is [just] a big footprint”.

The Equator prize is a fitting recognition of KENVOs work in and around the Kereita forest. KENVO has been largely responsible for educating the public on the usefulness of the forest and other forests in the Kikuyu escarpment. They have rehabilitated parts of the forest, organized annual tree planting events that involve schools, churches and the community in addition to core projects that the group carries out. You can read more on KENVOs activities on their site here

We add our voice to that of our members and say, “Hongera!”, well done…


Correcting an Imbalance

Translocation of “predominantly females” to Chawia forest will help avert imminent local extinction of the Taita thrush population there, conservationists say

I remember last year when someone remarked rather dramatically, “I hear they have a shortage of females in Taita”. Seeing the confusion on our faces he added, rather cheekily, “The birds, the Taita Thrush”. I chuckled, thinking, “The birds and the bees didn’t prepare us for this!”

Later, I learnt that the females of Taita Thrush had not been seen or captured in the Chawia forest fragment of the Taita hills for the past four years – despite intensive mist netting – posing something of a problem for the thrush subpopulation there. I filed that fact away, until today when an email announced a translocation initiative to re-stock the forest with females.


Photo: Thrush with transmitter and inset, being ringed. Courtesy of Mwangi Githiru (species guardian)

The Taita Thrush, Turdus helleri, is a forest-dependent endemic bird confined to three forests in the Taita Hills (in the south east of Kenya): Mbololo, Chawia and Ngangao. The forests cover a tiny 342 ha. BirdLife International, which championed an IUCN red listing of the species says in its fact sheet: “The bird is considered Critically Endangered because it has a tiny occupied range, within which its montane forest habitat has been severely fragmented and continues to decline in both extent and quality”. Conservationists are using birds – with the thrush as the flagship species – to champion the conservation of the Taita Hills forests.

According to a previous study by Edward Waiyaki and others (unpublished) on this thrush, Chawia forest was estimated to have a population of 38 individuals, while Ngangao and Mbololo had 250 and 1,060 individuals respectively. Another analysis based on molecular work by Galbusera and others in 2000 gave effective population size estimates of 3-30 in Chawia, 15-150 in Ngangao and 75-750 in Mbololo. In addition to a genetic bottleneck, Chawia’s population shows what ornithologists call “a highly male-biased sex ratio” – only 10% of birds were found to be female.

Now a team is correcting this imbalance by translocating several individuals of the thrush (predominantly females) from Mbololo, which has a larger population – and even sex ratio – to Chawia. Since 2005 the Critical Ecosystems Partnership Fund (CEPF) has been funding conservation projects in Taita Hills, which involved rehabilitation of the forest by the local communities and the government. Optimism is high that the ongoing reforestation and planned improvements of connectivity with other fragments and populations of the Taita Hills forests will improve Chawia. However, given the current trend, it is unlikely that the thrush subpopulation in Chawia will survive long enough to benefit from these restoration efforts, making this translocation both necessary and timely.

I have also since learnt that the birds are likely to suffer from genetic inbreeding if they don’t have more numbers of mates. Amazing what you can learn from the birds!


The East African Wild Life Society (EAWLS) has been running a Taita Hills Project which is focusing on conservation and management of the Taita forests through community participation.

Post election violence: Impact on forests in western Kenya

We are involved in mapping the impact of post election violence on forests in western Kenya. This is part of a project funded by the Finnish Embassy in Kenya, through the WWF East Africa Regional Programme, that is being carried out by five NGOs – WWF, KFWG, Nature Kenya, IUCN and Forest Action Network – and the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

Last month we traveled to North and South Nandi forests and parts of the Cherengany ecosystem where the impacts were most felt. There we witnessed destruction of forests plantation through illegal clear – cutting and burning. There were also instances of burning of forest stations and displacement of forest staff. Things are more or less back to normal. However, KFS still has to deal with lack of housing and offices for some of its staff.


Photo: What remains of the Cerengoni forest office

After the mapping, the team will embark on community forums and peace building efforts.


Kieni Forest’s Huruma village needs attention


In the early nineties about 521 families who had been stopped from farming in the Kieni forest near Thika in Kenya were moved onto a plot within the forest as a temporary measure. More than a decade later the temporary settlement, with its desperate inhabitants, is still in place. It’s called Huruma, the word for pity in Swahili.

The group had fled political unrest in the Rift Valley in the early 90s. They were allowed by Forest officials to participate in the Non Residential Cultivation (NRC) programme, also called the Shamba system – which allows farmers to plant crops and trees on forest land while tending to the young trees – until it was banned by the government. All farmers were asked to leave. Being landless the families had nowhere to go. They lived on the roadside near Thika until the government settled them within the forest while awaiting resettlement elsewhere. They have been here since.

A recent visit by KFWG to Huruma found the squatters still living in hope of re-settlement. Many promises have been made in the past, but none have come to fruition. Politicians have visited and shed tears. Human rights activists have promised immediate action. But the squatters are still here. They can’t farm and are dependent on odd jobs from their neighbors and relief food.

The one thing I learned about the residents of Huruma is that they don’t want to be pitied. They don’t want handouts. They do want to farm and feed themselves. Its time the government looked for alternative settlement for the people of Huruma. And indeed for others elsewhere living as squatters in forests.

Postscript: Modern technology failed us completely in the past few months, hence the scarcity of news on this blog. We have however been visited by the technology fairy and all seems well in forestland for now (well at least on the www). Please feel free to also stop by our brand new website in the next couple of days. And if you find the fairy hasn’t completed the magic of uploading it yet, go back again the following day, and the next and the one after. It will be up. Promise.


Making conservation just a little be more “sexy”

That’s what Kijabe Environment Volunteers have been doing!

KENVO as they are more popularly known is a group of young, totally into the environment youth that works around the Kijabe escarpment, with a focus on the Kereita forest. Kereita forest is the southern most part of the Aberdare ranges of Kenya. The group came together in 1994 as Kijabe Young Volunteers to address environmental and forest degradation and other wider social issues such as poverty and HIV.

But its their novel way of approaching environmental conservation that has earned them admiration of their peers and the community in general.

Among the activities that KENVO carries out is celebration of the annual World Environment Day (June 5). But unlike many organizations, KENVO has found ways to involve the public in these celebrations in ways that are not connected to the traditional tree planting and clean-ups. Those do eventually take place, but amid much more excitement.

First it was a marathon. For the past couple of years, members of the community have been encouraged to run in a World Environment Day marathon while also taking part in other activities like music, dancing, exhibitions, tree planting and clean-ups.

This year KENVO introduced a beauty contest – the Miss Environment from Kijabe. I couldn’t believe my ears when team leader David Kuria told me this. But whatever works, this group will use it. I am yet to get pictures of the event but as soon as I have some, I will be sure to post them.

Meanwhile, go on over to the KENVO site and read up on this interesting group.


More on the Mau

KFWG would like to show its support for government efforts to save the Mau. We hope this resolve will not wane.

Read more on the developments in the Mau here and here

KFS and communities can learn from Duru Haitemba

A community member explains how CBFM is carried out

As part of a Natural Resources Management and Governance course I am attending in Tanzania, I have been fortunate to visit the Babati area to see how communities are managing forest resources. Unlike in Kenya where Participatory Forest Management (PFM) is just being formalized under the Forests Act 2005, Tanzania is way ahead in this area. In Babati we witnessed forest areas that are under full management of communities and those that are under joint management with the Government.

It’s the nature of people to resist change. Although PFM in Kenya has been met with a high degree of enthusiasm, there have been cynical quarters – those people who are convinced that communities are not good managers. I wish everyone had the opportunity to visit Babati. Although there are still challenges, the communities are a good example of what benefits can come out of entrusting a community with the responsibility of looking after its own resources.

Duru Haitemba Community Based Forest Management was the first initiative we visited. Duru Haitemba is one of the few remaining Miombo woodlands in the Babati District. They are located approximately 20km from Babati town. In the early nineties the forest was earmarked for gazettement. The local community representative explained that the forest had become degraded and the forest authorities decided to take action. However, the gazattement caused discontent among the locals. After much dialogue, the situation was resolved by allowing eight (currently nine) villages to take the responsibility of managing the forest.

What we gathered from the local representative was that the community took responsibility for the state of the forest then. However, they collectively decided to look after the forests once they were given authority. This positive attitude caused the government to suspend gazettement. It is also this positive attitude that has resulted in the good the progress made by the community. They came up with structures that have helped them to exploit and reap benefits from the forest while at the same time protecting it. The Tanzanian Government was also willing to devolve powers. The community was empowered and motivated to become the managers of their own resource. This is what PFM in Kenya is proposing and I hope it takes root as it has in Babati.