In a nation where indigenous forests are dwindling, Mukogodo Forest stands resolute against the tide of human encroachment and deforestation. Its survival, a testament to the synergy between the local community and the forest, paints a heartening tale.
Standing in the arid and semi-arid are as of Isiolo and Laikipia counties, the forest spans over 30,000 hectares. A jewel in a parched land, it’s a bastion against the ravages of climate change.
Guided by the Kenya Forest and Management Act of 2016, the communities dwelling in its embrace safeguard its existence, weaving it into the fabric of their lives.
Michael Mugo, a former Project Manager of Ilmamusi Community Forest Association, extols its virtues.
“Mukogodo Forest is of critical importance as a dry land forest. It provides dry-season grazing for communities around the forest. The forest provides water for their livestock and also pasture during that spell when it gets really dry,” he says.
For the members of Olingo Lelatia women group, the forest is a lifeline. Together, they protect the forests from encroachment through creating awareness and monitoring all activities in the forest.
“Since I was born, I have been staying here in Mukogodo Forest. It helps us in many ways,” says Margaret Metiani, the group’s Chair.
These women, part of the Ilmamusi community, draw sustenance from the forest such as firewood for warmth and light.
Ilmamusi Community Forest Association, a tapestry of Ilngwesi, Makurian, Kurkur, and Lerkurk communities, thrives on the forest’s resources.
Beekeepers like Nicholas Kodei speak of encroachments and the need for
“Bee farming keeps me busy. I have benefited from it. I sold Sh50,000 worth of bee products to pay school fees for my children. I have not sold any animals as I got the money from the honey,” he says.
“There was a lot of encroachment in the forest. There used to be undergrowth and there was a lot of honey but we don’t have it now. If there are no interventions to conserve the forest, even honey will have to diminish,” Kodei says.
Six groups intertwine their efforts in conservation. Honey harvesters, herbal medicine collectors, ecotourism enthusiasts and more are united by a shared mission to protect Mukogodo’s fragile beauty.
“Bee keeping is one of the enterprises that works well in a forested area because there is a symbiotic relationship between the ecosystem and the bees creating a synergy between the environment and the livelihood of the communities,” says Elijah Mwendwa, a forest restoration and conservation expert.
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Margaret Letiani, a torchbearer for the future, leads the charge in forest restoration. “We conserve the forest by not cutting growing trees. We collect firewood from trees the that have been brought down by elephants,” she says.
Ann Kilobi’s fingers delicately extract medicinal treasures from the forest’s bosom. She’s a guardian of health, serving her village with her ancient knowledge.
“We are very happy with Mukogodo forest because it aids in getting medicine ailments such as joint pains for both my community members and my family,” she says.
The men of the pastoralist community, like Nkiniwa Ledupa, offer their hands in harmony with the women’s efforts. They weave a dance of rotational grazing, allowing the forest to breathe and renew during the dry season.
“We close part of the forest for a period of time...without grazing to allow grass and the other vegetation around the forest to grow,” says Nkiniwa Ledupa, his voice carrying the wisdom of generations.
Ilmamusi Community Forest Association sows the seeds of change. A draft policy on forest and landscape restoration blooms, a testament to their diligence.
“We have come up with technologies that are going to be used in the restoration...six tree planting nurseries have been established,” says James Nduva, Chief Research Scientist at Kenya Forestry Research Institute (Kefri).