October was very exciting and busy month for us here in Kwale, Kenya. We met new people, developed new solutions to ever emerging challenges and hosted WWF staff from across the globe. Staff gathered to learn and share experience about community based conservation work.
Let me share some of these exciting moments with you.
The Mijikenda Kaya forests
The Mijikenda Kaya forest landscape is an area rich in biodiversity. It has significant sacred and cultural value and is also a World Heritage Site. WWF is working with partners to protect these important coastal forests through community-based initiatives.
The landscape is increasingly facing emerging challenges that need new interventions, new partnerships and collaborations to tackle the threats.
It’s important to build strong resilience at the landscape level – targeting both the biodiversity rich forests and the surrounding farmlands to mitigate against the impacts of climate change. In the last five years the landscape has experienced drought and flooding. This has resulted in a loss of livelihoods and properties making people and ecosystems more vulnerable.
This situation is complicated by economic development in the area which is often not compatible with sustainable growth, and is instead driven by short term gains.
Communities and traditional leaders are facing new threats due to increased demand for construction materials to support large scale development projects along the coast. The materials are extracted from productive farmlands, mostly adjacent to key biodiversity areas leading to degradation on unimaginable levels.
Lack of adherence to environmental standards, limited understanding in the communities of their rights, lack of clear land-use guidelines, and high poverty levels among local communities are some of the challenges.
To tackle these threats, WWF is partnering with county governments, local civil society organisations, community groups and the private sector. The aim is to develop local capacity to engage investors to ensure they adhere to environmental standards – that they avoid sensitive areas such as water catchments and sacred places, and there are proper mechanisms to restore mined areas.
The project will also support local community groups, especially women and youth, to improve land use practices, increase land productivity and diversity of agricultural products.
Sharing learnings from across the globe
Hosting more than 22 WWF staff from 14 countries across the Americas, Asia and Africa was very exciting for us here in Kwale. The workshop aimed to share learnings and expertise on community based conservation approaches from around the globe.
The workshops were conducted right in the middle of communities. We spent hours with different groups each day, to learn from them and share experiences from different counties.
Visits included a number of successful community projects which have overcome many setbacks over the years. We also visited some which are still facing challenges. For each, there was plenty to learn and share.
The experience highlighted just how important it is that we share our experiences and learning. More often than not, the challenges being faced by one community have already been faced by another. Sharing these experiences can help us to better tackle the problem.
Of all the projects we visited….a statement from Madam Zainab, the manager of Kaya Kinondo community bank was the most telling:
….We are successful as a community bank not because of government regulations, policies and policing….we are successful because we are first of all a community. When Juma is repaying his loan, he does so not for fear of losing his household furniture, or cattle or land for defaulting….No, no, he does so for he knows his neighbour is on the queue waiting for him to pay so that she can also get her credit…if he doesn’t pay she will not get…and he cannot live with that….
Equally powerful were sentiments were expressed by the visiting WWF staff:
Gilles Etoga from WWF Cameroon: “All projects should have a strategy on how to engage local communities, with significant income generated. I learnt that it can work if the governance challenges are overcome. The projects here in Kenya illustrated it very well”
Matt Erke from WWF US: “What a trip that was. So incredibly fulfilling and memorable, full of deep and rich interaction with communities, with the WWF Kenya programme, and with each other”
Given the opportunity and the right support, communities play a vital role in the sustainable management and protection of our natural environment. It’s critical that we recognise this.