Taboos and ancient traditions help one community protect Kenya's forests
05 September 2016, 21:02
Laikipia (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Deep
within the Mukogodo forest in central Kenya, a community of
traditional hunter gatherers are working with the government to
help expand forests and crack down on illegal logging and
poaching using ancient conservation techniques.
The Yiaaku are hailed a model of collaboration with
authorities, using traditional knowledge to take care of tree
and plant cover while adopting new livelihoods such as keeping
bees and livestock to protect animals from hunting.
Kenya Forest Services Director, Emilio Mugo, said
legislation to allow co-management of forests was introduced
nearly a decade ago but the Yiaaku is the first successful
community to do so, with hopes this approach can be replicated
"Where this community model is practiced we have seen cases
of illegal logging reduce up to 50 percent," Mugo told the
Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"Since we integrated the community's indigenous knowledge
model of conserving forests into our forest policy .. there has
been little friction or tensions with these forest dwellers."
The Kenya Forest Management Act of 2007 aimed to integrate
communities into forest management but also led to the abolition
of long-standing traditions such as hunting and logging for
charcoal to maintain the forests and promote tourism.
It came ahead of Kenya setting a target to increase its
forest cover to about 10 percent by 2030 from an estimated 7.2
percent, according to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
OLD VERSUS THE NEW
Yiaaku leaders say their approach to protecting the forest
from illegal loggers and trophy hunters has not only helped
defuse conflict with neighbouring communities but eased past
tensions with government authorities who want to ensure forests
and animals are protected to encourage tourism.
He said the community's knowledge of the forest meant they
knew which trees had medicinal value and need conservation,
could foresee dry spells so water points could be conserved and
used observation of wildlife - such as bird migration patterns -
to warn of drought or dangerous weather events.
He said the Yiaaku, living northeast of Nairobi, also acted
as fire fighters during the hot season and monitored the health
of seedlings and old trees.
"We don't have to fight with the authorities anymore as
they have acknowledged our system as a powerful tool in
protection and conservation of the forest biodiversity," Simon
Napei, a Yiaaku forest scout, told the Thomson Reuters
"Every activity in the forest is decided by a council of
elders. During drought seasons a council of elders sits and
decides where and when the livestock should be grazed in the
Children are trained and taught by their elders to
understand the value of individual trees for the overall health
of the forest, he said, and every individual will plant more
than 20 trees during each rainy season
"The community has strong cultural beliefs and taboos which
are viewed as sacred," he said.
"These taboos are a set of rules and regulations used to
bring sanity within the community and anyone who breaks
the rules brings a curse to the family."
Mugo said the Yiaaku are now custodians of more than 74,000
acres (29,950 hectares) of forest land and their success has
also earned them security and autonomy.
He said the government had saved "millions of Kenyan
shillings" previously spent on armed personnel to guard forests
and reforesting programs, and the government now hopes to
replicate this approach in 100 other gazetted forests.
"We are targeting communities that are well organized and
have a common purpose of conserving forests," he said.