Global award stirs passion for forest conservation in Samburu

Time-honored traditions, rich culture, pastoralist lifestyle, and cattle rustling menace, have altogether for decades defined the Samburu region.

The mention of Samburu in Northern-Kenya often conjures images of dry, dusty, and barren arid land.

Bordering the counties of Laikipia, Isiolo, Baringo and Marsabit, Samburu has been plagued by perennial conflicts, largely attributed to competition for scarce resources, be it pasture and water.

And when it is neither cattle raids nor tribal rivalries, the fight for space and resources between man and animal presents another major challenge. Human-wildlife conflicts have become too familiar, and sometimes they occur with disastrous consequences. An unprecedented impact of climate change is fanning this conflict.

Some parts of the country, majorly the ASAL counties including Samburu County, are currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in decades. Its impact is taking a toll on residents. Carcasses of dead animals have become a constant painful sight that the pastoralist communities here have had to endure.

Life has not been easy for the 4.5 million Kenyans here who are in dire need of food aid as a result of four consecutive failed rainy seasons. Their livestock have been wiped out while crops have failed deepening a hunger crisis.

Kirisia forest

But all is not lost in Kirisia, Maralal. The semi-arid county is a budding success story thanks to a community-centered conservation programme that has not only put Samburu West sub-county on the global map but has also set out to eliminate the negative narrative.

Activities taking place 5km away from the County’s capital, Maralal, principally the restoration of Kirisia forest in the heart of Samburu is a clear demonstration that the vagaries of climate change can be curbed amid efforts to improve livelihoods and boost food security.

The once-dry forest that had been encroached on by some 10,000 families is a flourishing water tower and ecosystem that now provides sustenance to the communities therein.

The restoration efforts spearheaded by Kirisia Community Forest Association (CFA) with funding from Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) among other partners under the Global Environment Facility (GEF)) have paved way for natural regeneration of the forest ecosystem which is a major habitat for wildlife and carbon storage.

Through the project, FAO has carried out capacity building in local institutions and CFAs leading to the adoption of an inclusive and sustainable forest management approach whose aim is to protect the ecosystem.

It is a project of a kind in Kenya that has stirred communities into taking a voluntary role in reforestation.

30,000 hectares of the forest also known as ‘Leroghi’ covering about 92,000 hectares had been subjected to severe destruction through human activities such as logging, overgrazing and charcoal burning among other destructive human activities.

Efforts to recover the forest have since assumed an upward trajectory with the community now pulling in the same direction.

The ongoing forest conservation programme is driven by locals who voluntarily vacated the forest in a four-month exercise that started in December 2020. The story of this remote village has inspired the world, particularly a number of countries currently grappling with the deforestation menace.

The community’s passion to preserve the forest was aroused by the never-ending conflicts pitting neighbouring tribes over grazing fields and water. Loss of life and their herds pushed them to embrace an alternative way of life. And they haven’t looked back since.

To date, the Kirisia Community Forest Association has managed to fully restore 11,000 hectares through natural regeneration and enrichment planting.

According to the county forest Conservator Charles Ochieng, scouts and rangers have also provided massive support to the initiative through regular patrols in the conservation area.

So far, 80,000 tree seedlings procured by FAO have been planted. “Plans are on course to scale up tree planting to rejuvenate the forest. We are waiting for rains” he added.

These efforts have not been in vain. Two weeks ago, the little-known Kirisia community which is tucked hundreds of kilometres away from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, was feted in Rome, Italy during celebrations to mark World Food Day.

Indeed, actions speak louder than words. The community forest association chairman Douglas Leboiyare received the achievement award from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) today honored the Kirisia Community Forest Association in Kenya for their efforts towards Kirisia Forest restoration under the FAO Achievements Awards programme

Leboiyare returned home to a hero’s welcome with the community staging an elaborate ceremony with the help of FAOKE this week in his honor. He said the recognition was unexpected and humbling.

Of utmost importance, he points out, is the protection of water resources as a life support system for pastoralists. “Springs and rivers that had dried up have been replenished by high levels of groundwater following frequent rains. Forests are worth protecting. We now have pasture reserves for our livestock”.

FAO Kenya Representative Carla Mucavi hailed the locals for their sustainable efforts towards reversal climate change impacts.

“This is a remarkable achievement at a time when climate change has hardly hit with 4.5 million Kenyans food insecure. Kirisia initiative shows that it is possible for communities to mitigate and adapt to climate change while improving livelihoods” she observed.

She committed to use the Kirisia success story to root for more funding from development partners.

Agnes Yobterik, Director of Programmes, Projects and Strategic Initiatives at the Ministry of Environment and Forestry who graced the occasion described the initiative as a “tested model” that can be rolled out nationwide.

“We want to thank our partners for walking with us in this Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported projected which is an important revenue stream into our country. FAO is one of our GEF agencies in this Kirisia project.  The success we have achieved here is as a result of engaging communities” she said.

“We have a constitutional mandate of a 10pc tree cover that has now been enhanced by the President to 30pc by 2032. We need to replicate this Kirisia initiative countrywide to meet this ambitious target with the help of our partners” she added.

Samburu Deputy Governor Gabriel Lenengwesi, while acknowledging development partners, pledged to extend the conservation efforts to the county’s three forest stations in Wamba, South Horr and Ngurunit.

The three neighbouring Nkarro, Naramat and Nailepunye communities are following in the footsteps of Kirisia and are also working closely with KFS to protect, conserve and co-manage forests in their different stations.

The forest is now home to 230,000 cows from locals and herders from neighbouring counties as such reducing constant conflicts over grazing fields.

Through the initiative, households now enjoy alternative sources of income from commercial tree nurseries, crop farming, honey production, medicinal herbs, and many more.

The livestock farmers have shifted to beekeeping. They are currently harvesting four times a year

Serious threats to the existence of this forest reserve, still remains the high population arising from proliferation of urban centres with some located inside the forest.

“These threats have led to forest degradation in some parts of the forest, hence interfering with the ecological integrity of the forest ecosystem which has affected the species population, diversity, structure, and composition” says Conservator Charles Ochieng.

He hopes the 10-year Legoroghi-Kirisia ecosystem management plan will address the emerging threats.

“FAO has constructed two watch towers. In addition, outside Kirisia gazette forest, seedlings have been distributed under the agro-forestry project which initially started by piloting and now the big rollout programme is ongoing and near completion” Ochieng adds.






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