|Kijabe Environmental Volunteers (KENVO), Nature Kenya|
|Community Empowerment in Habitat Conservation for Sustainable Development at the Keretia Forest, Kenya|
|Location: Kikuyu Escarpment Forest, Kenya|
|Focus: Canopy Forests|
|Abstract: The objective of this project is to involve the local community in biodiversity conservation while improving their livelihoods at Keretia, one of Kenya's closed canopy forests, in the Kikuyu Escarpment Forest Reserves. Keretia is designated as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and listed by Nature Kenya as the highest priority category for conservation action. Awareness about the forest will be promoted through use of traditional dance and folk tales.|
This project was carried out by the Kijabe Environment Volunteers, (KENVO) to help in conservation of the Kereita forest in Kenya. One of the major findings of the project was that contrary to the belief that the local community is not concerned with conservation, there exist a number of individuals and groups within the community doing micro conservation activities but they have little capacity. Most of these community groups are hindered from achieving their conservation goals because of limited information and resources. On the other hand, the central government does not have a good policy framework for community participation in natural resources management. From the workshops and open discussions with members, it emerged that the local community is aware of the problems facing the Kereita forest, but have little power to act. The management of the forest lies within the forest department, which itself has limited resources. The community has the will and an unexploited potential to contribute to the conservation of their local natural resources.
The wide acceptance of the project by the community demonstrated the need for more community oriented approaches to addressing local conservation problems in Kereita and elsewhere. It also emerged that traditional songs, apart from their entertainment value, could be successful tools of passing information to the community. The songs and other forms of traditional knowledge, if integrated with convectional knowledge, could lead to success in conservation of forests and other natural resources.
During dancing sessions and pre-survey sessions within the forest, it emerged that traditionally, local people held forests of high value. In the past, people within the community would not purchase land which did not have trees. Having a treeless farm was a symbol of a boring lifestyle. More trees on one's land, indicated closeness to nature and God. Certain trees in the ficus family were considered sacred; they were never cut for any reason. Protection of such trees prevented over exploitation. Local people believed that spirits lived in the forest, and those spirits could cause calamites if the forest was not respected. The local community depended on the forest as a food source. They would gather fruits, roots and leaves, and hunt wild animals for food. The dead were often disposed of in the forest under the belief that their spirits would keep a watchful eye on the forest, and cause harm to any who disrespect it.
Today, local practices have changed. The forest and other natural resources are no longer valued as in the past. Modern generations are slowly disregarding traditional beliefs. The baseline survey revealed that a high number of forest poachers were young people who have dropped out of school. The lack of awareness contributes significantly to the destruction of the forest. There is a high demand for forest products such as charcoal and timber.Forest destruction has led to inadequate food supplies, reduction of rainfall, and a change in climate from cold to warm. Water has become scarce, as this forest is the main catchment area. There is also a shortage of firewood. The area now experiences strong winds, increased wildlife conflicts and competition for forest products.