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Community, agencies in bid to restore forest

By Jeckonia Otieno | December 22nd 2018
Manyagalo village in Meru County benefits from the water project initiated by Lewa Wildlife Conservancy to conserve Ngare Ndare Forest. [Jeckonia Otieno, Standard]

As the afternoon wears on, Nantoiya Parkusat rests after a hard morning work in the farm.

Her home is set on a hill overlooking the Ngare Ndare Forest and Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.

Parkusat’s family farm set on one acre has onions, maize, potatoes and vegetables. There are two oscillating sprinklers irrigating the plants.

“We plant three times a year, because we have water throughout,” she says about onion farming which she, together with her husband Lesaya Parkusat, ventured in after abandoning livestock rearing due to cattle rustling.

The water flows through gravity from a huge concrete tank set on the hill; this tank supplies over 2,000 people in the area and draws water from a river that flows from the Ngare Ndare Forest, a key catchment area that nourishes the conservancy.

The story was never the same a few years ago. Degradation of the forest was commonplace and locals would venture in to get fuel wood, water and pasture. This led to significant destruction of the area that lies in the east of Meru County.

Abdi Mohammed, who has seen the changes over the years states that in the 1990s the forest faced extinction mainly from human activity. Urgent intervention was needed to save locals and wildlife dependent on the catchment.

“Being a resource that is important for communities, livestock and wildlife, something had to be done,” says Mohammed who is chair of the Manyagalo Community Development Group.

The wanton destruction was exerting pressure downstream with the most affected being the Lewa Conservancy and other ecosystems that depend on the rivers.

Ngare Ndare Forest is a corridor for wildlife between Mt Kenya ecosystem and the northern range lands which has conservancies.

The formation of the Ngare Ndare Forest Trust was the turning point in a multi-sectoral initiative by the community, Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Wildlife Service, Lewa Conservancy. Currently, it is supported by Safaricom Foundation, Africa Digna and Northern Rangeland Trust.

Mohammed adds: “The goal was to restore this forest to its state of the 1950s and communities that border Ngare Ndare were involved.”

These communities were from Manyagalo, Ngare Ndare, Ethi, Bujo, Kisima and Subuiga and each has a chairperson in the Trust.

One of the challenges was that locals did not own land near the forest hence no sense of ownership for the natural resources.

“This changed when land was subdivided among people who mainly worked in Lewa Ranch before it was converted into a full conservancy. Lewa played a key role in the subdivision,” he says.

To help reduce unsustainable use of water, the conservancy partnered with government to provide the same to the locals.

Mohammed says the move to create a trust and the setting up of the community water tank reduced cases of encroachment.

So far the Trust has initiated 13 water projects for neighbouring communities. According to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy 2017 Impact Report, there are also community-focused programmes like healthcare, microfinance, youth-empowerment, livestock development and employment opportunities.

In 2017, the conservancy increased its spending on programmes by 33 per cent from about Sh380 million to over half a billion shillings.

Dr Tuqa Jirmo, the chief operating officer at Lewa says that the community is at the centre of conservation efforts.

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