Story | 16 Nov, 2021

The Restoration Initiative: A Kenya drylands story

Supporting improved management and restoration of the Mukogodo National Forest Reserve in Kenya

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Photo: Laikipia Wildlife Forum

The Mukogodo Region in central Kenya, with its landscape of savannah and dry forest, is a challenging place from which to make a living off the land. Rainy seasons are short, lasting from March to May with shorter rains in September and October, followed by a long dry season in between. The indigenous Maasai, Dorobo and Yaaku communities thathave lived here for generations depend largely upon these seasonal rains to provide fodder for their livestock herds, which comprise the dominant source of income and jobs, alongside subsistence farming.

For local pastoralists, one way of coping against the long dry season is to bring their herds to the Mukogodo Forest Reserve for grazing. This 30 189 ha protected dry forest situated in the centre of a larger landscape of savannah rangeland is an important source of clean water, honey and other natural products, and also contains critical habitat for threatened species including Hinde’s babbler (Turdoides hindei), Grevy’s zebra (Equus grevyi) and the Tigoni reed frog (Hyperolius cystocandicans). However, overgrazing, combined with more frequent periods of drought and heat thought to be linked to climate change are degrading this forest ecosystem. With little in the way of alternative sources of income, both the local communities and nature will lose out if nothing is done to address the problem.

The TRI Kenya ASAL project is helping support local communities in developing a better approach for managing and restoring this fragile ecosystem. One way is by strengthening the local Community Forest Association (CFA) responsible for partnering with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) in managing the forest reserve. While the CFA has been in existence since 2008, many community members, including women, lacked a strong voice among CFA representatives, and there has also been insufficient funding and expertise to support CFA work. With TRI support, a new constitution providing for enhanced participation of local communities in the CFA and forest reserve management was adopted, and a new round of elections for an expanded slate of CFA representatives was held. In addition, the project, through partnership with the Northern Rangeland Trust and Laikipia Wildlife Forum, has provided support for accessing the value of ecosystem services generated by the reserve, and strengthened the capacity for community members to better manage the surrounding grazing land (called “group ranches”). With greater participation and representation of local communities in the CFA, it is expected that revised management plans governing the Mukogodo Forest Reserve will better reflect the needs of local communities whose support is crucial to the success of any management plan.

While new management plans for the Mokogodo Forest Reserve are still being completed, stakeholders have identified the following priorities:

  • A new, participatory grazing management plan that restricts access to what is ecologically sustainable and provides for periodic review by the CFA for adaptive management.
  • Strengthened enforcement of laws to protect the forest’s rich biodiversity, reduce illegal grazing, hunting, tree felling and other illegal activities, and ensure that the forest continues to be a source of important ecosystem services. This will require investment in community rangers, patrol vehicles and communications equipment.
  • Capturing additional income and benefits from NTFPs such as herbal medicines and honey, through the strengthening of local capacity to harvest, refine and market these products, as well as development of ecotourism through, among other measures, developing an ecotourism plan for the Mukogodo Forest.

As noted, one issue facing the local CFA is a lack of funding to support improved management and protection of the Mukogodo Forest Reserve. With this challenge in mind, the project supported an exchange visit with the Hombe CFA, which operates in Nyere County surrounding Mount Kenya Forest Reserve. There, Mukogodo CFA members learned first-hand how the Hombe CFA has put into place an access fee charged to herdsmen for grazing of livestock in the public reserve, with the proceeds used to support management and protection of the forest. They also learned how the Hombe CFA successfully managed to enhance community members’ income through identification and promotion of sustainable income-generating activities. Both these approaches are under consideration and development at the Mukogodo Forest with project support.

Story from The Restoration Initiative Year in Review 2020