How Does Forest Conservation Affect Rural Poor People in Kenya?

Who controls the forests in Kenya? Who benefits from conservation? These are some of the questions that EfD-Kenya has been evaluating in 2013.

"In Kenya, as in other developing countries, there has been a trend toward greater local control of forests,” said Prof. Jane Kabubo-Mariara, coordinator of the EfD center, which is hosted by the School of Economics at the University of Nairobi. “We recently completed a survey of the impacts of this trend on the forests and on the people who depend on them."

The 2013 survey built on a 2010 baseline survey. As well as evaluating changes in forest cover, the survey enumerators asked villagers about changes in behavior. “Have you planted trees? Have you changed your fuel source away from woodfuel? Questions of this type tell us how individuals are responding to conservation incentives,” said Prof. Mariara.

One message that emerged from the survey was that community forest associations, or CFAs, need help in planning how they are going to manage local forests. “We learned that the quality of planning, and therefore the quality of outcomes, varied quite a bit from region to region within Kenya.” said Dr. Wilfred Nyangena, Senior Research Fellow. Some former Kenyan Forest Service officers are working in villages now, and this helps CFAs draft plans that will be approved by the Forest Service. “It would be helpful for the government to provide more training, to teach smallholders how to prepare their own development plans at the local level,” he added.

Another theme was the unevenness of distribution of the benefits of conservation. “There are costs to conservation in the short-term,” Prof. Mariara said. “In the longer term, however, the goal of CFAs is to generate income.” For instance, CFAs are able to collect grazing fees from livestock owners. Some CFAs have started tree nurseries and are selling seedlings. But people living farther from the center of CFAs tend to get fewer of these benefits. “We are working with the Kenyan Forest Service to document evidence in order to revise the national Forestry Act with these concerns in mind,” added Dr. Nyangena. “We are encouraging attention to the needs of poor smallholders.”

Balancing local and centralized control is an ongoing issue. “The Kenyan Forest Service had a greater role in managing forests before the devolution to CFAs,” explained Prof. Mariara. “Now there is a process of negotiation between the local and national level, regarding both management practices and distribution of revenues.” As well as grazing fees and sales of seedlings and other forest products, international donations for forest conservation can be earned by good management practices that conserve and even increase forest cover. Because forests are carbon sinks, CFAs can earn payments for environmental services under programs such as REDD+ (the UN’s program to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, “plus” planting more trees). “EfD Kenya’s survey work has been important in measuring both the environmental and economic outcomes of community forest management,” concluded Prof. Mariara.

Story | 29 December 2013