The International Day of Forests is celebrated each year on the 21 March. Here in Kenya, we’ve celebrated every year since it was introduced by the United Nations in 2012. This year, we’re especially happy because the rains have come early.
Before these rains, Kenya had been suffering one of the longest spells of drought. It was so severe that it made the news and the media was full of pictures of dying cattle and dry river beds.
The recent rains have been a very welcomed sight, but they also bring difficult challenges. When they did come, the rain poured down in torrents, flooding cities, destroying property and even causing death.
Impacts of extreme weather events
As episodes of long droughts and intense flooding become more and more frequent, poorly managed natural areas such as forests are no longer able to help reduce the impacts of these extreme weather events. Losing our forests means – when it does rain – that the land is less effective at holding the water. As a result, fertile top soil is washed away into the sea whilst urban and downstream communities suffer flooding. The land then becomes less productive, more prone to dry spells, degradation sets in and desertification follows. And reduced land productivity means that poverty levels rise.
To change this cycle of events, we need to find a balance – a way of meeting the needs of people without sacrificing our precious forests. This way of working would benefit the economy, society and the environment.
Working with communities
Supporting local communities to grow trees is a key step in reversing the trend of forest loss, whilst also helping to tackle the impacts of climate change on vulnerable parts of society. We have increasingly realised that locally controlled and locally managed forests are the way forward if we are to secure forests and contribute to the reduction of rural poverty. Locally-controlled forestry means that the people who live in nearby communities have a say in how those forests are managed and have a right to access the benefits offered by those forests.
In Kwale, we’re supporting a group of forest owners to better manage their forests; both from a sustainability perspective and also in terms of increasing benefits. At the same time, we’re working to reduce dependency on indigenous forests for the production of forests products by. One example of this is encouraging on-farm tree growing.
Keeping it local
The group we’re working with is the South Coast Forest Owners Association – comprising of small to medium forest owners (from 2 ha upwards). They’re driven by the conviction that forestland and forest-product enterprises managed by smallholders, community groups, and forest-dependent peoples can make significant contributions to sustainable development and reduce poverty at local level if done in the right way.
The members of the South Coast Forest Owners Association form a cooperative which is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits. With a total of 2500 ha of mixed forests – exotic plantation and indigenous forests – between them, by working in a cooperative the group is in a much better position to deliver benefits to the members. They work together to improve product development, add value and marketing for the products that they produce – including timber, building poles, and charcoal as well as non-timber products like honey.
We’ve supported the group by helping to improve its management systems and structure; governance; marketing; and links to government agencies, which have helped them to be able to influence policies which threaten the sustainability of their business. Recently, the group signed a contract with Asante Foundation (an agro-forestry company that specialises in forest products for the export market) to supply eucalyptus poles for making veneer products for export. This was a fantastic development as it will provide the group with sustainable markets for their forests products.
As the world celebrates International Day of Forests, members of South Coast Forest Owners Association are celebrating their achievements and milestones – finally their effort are bearing fruits!
WWF’s work in Kwale-Kilifi landscape is part of WWF’s Coastal Kenya Programme, which is gratefully supported by players of People’s Postcode Lottery and Size of Wales. We are very grateful for the continued support.