Involving communities in forest management planning in Kenya

Local community participation in managing forest and water resources is key to reducing degradation trends and improving livelihoods, but a key challenge in Kenya has been achieving joint management for forests and water by regarding them as linked resources.

Overcoming this is one of the central goals of Water Towers of East Africa: Policies and practices for enhancing co-benefits from joint forest and water conservation, an ongoing project led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR). The Water Towers project aims to strengthen local forest and water resource governance regimes to enable equitable management of linked forest and water systems and to minimize forest degradation.

Presently, the Water Towers project is reviewing the outcomes of four Participatory Forest Management Plans (PFMPs) developed and implemented by forest-adjacent communities in Kenya’s Mau and Mt. Elgon forest areas over the period 2012–2016. In particular, this meeting covered the launch of the participatory forest management planning process for the Londiani Community Forest Association (LOCOFA). Through a Forest Management Agreement signed with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), LOCOFA was given legal mandate to participate in forest management.

LOCOFA’s plans are the first beneficiaries of a Water Towers review process, which CIFOR began on 7 November, 2017 in Londiani, Kenya, with the support of partners KFS and the Integrated Forestry Consultancy and Management Services (IFCMS). The review process is being undertaking in accordance with Participatory Forest Management Guidelines, developed by KFS.

Importance of the ecosystems

The Mau and Mt. Elgon forest areas are vital ecosystems. The Mau forest is the largest indigenous forest in Kenya and the main catchment area for 12 rivers that drain into lakes Victoria, Baringo, Turkana and Natron. The Mt. Elgon forest, shared by Uganda and Kenya, is an important water catchment for the Suam River, which drains into Lake Turkana and rivers Nzoia and Lwakhakha, which flows into Lake Victoria.

Both forest areas support livelihoods of rural and urban populations, yet are facing threats such as deforestation, conversion to other land uses and encroachment of settlement, creating an urgent need to improve resource governance and reverse forest degradation. The forests play a sizeable role in the national goal of achieving 10% tree cover.

“This is one of the most important meetings we’ve had in our area for a long time,” said Londiani Deputy County Commissioner David Mbevi at the launch of the PFMP review process. “There are areas in Kenya facing water related challenges, such as water shortages. We don’t have to reach that point. Water is linked to forests, and therefore we need to manage our forests.”

A local-led review

The PFMP’s different management programs included indigenous forest rehabilitation activities; utilization and production in plantation areas; wildlife and ecotourism; and infrastructure and human resources. The review process is evaluating the extent to which these programs were implemented.

The fundamental questions that will be answered in the review process include: Which activities were implemented? Which activities were not implemented, and why?

The review will also include any changes in the forest zonation; stakeholders; legal status of the Community Forest Associations (CFA); whether local forest management committees exist; if the committees performed functions; and challenges faced during the last five years, and how they were addressed.

The Local Review and Planning Team (LRPT), composed of community representatives and stakeholders, was formed as part of the review process. The team is mandated to collect relevant biophysical and socioeconomic data, answer fundamental questions and provide feedback in the subsequent steps of the review, including reviewing previous management programs.

The LRPT has 14 members – including six women and one disabled person – from community-based organizations that are part of LOCOFA, as well as from the Kenya Forest Service, the Water Resources Authority, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Ministry of Agriculture. Criteria for selecting members included availability, ability to read and write in English, knowledge about the Londiani forest, honesty and willingness to volunteer.

This review will ultimately contribute to the achievement of one of the Water Towers project’s key outcomes: the revision of at least four CFA and three WRUA management plans to include joint activities between CFA and WRUA. It also marks the first time in Kenya that the PFMP review process is taking into account forests’ effects on water function, including quality and quantity – thus highlighting the need to manage forests and water together rather than separately.

“This PFMP is our guiding document. We want to manage our resources together,” concluded Mr. Soi, the Londiani CFA chairperson.