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Kenyan rural community on frontlines of conserving major forests

by Robert Manyara NAKURU (Xinhua) -- Fredlick Lesingo, a community mobilizer who lives near Kiptunga Forest Station which is part of the larger Mau Forest, knows too well why it is critical to protect it from destruction.

Lesingo is a member of the Kiptunga Community Forest Association that is legally recognized by Kenya Forest Service (KFS), the state agency overseeing management of forests in the East African nation.

He is also one of the ten community volunteer scouts working with KFS rangers to control and prevent illegal activities in the forest including illegal felling of indigenous trees for firewood, charcoal and timber.

"We have already felt the effects of destroying the forests.

"We are almost in May and we are just planting because the rains delayed.

"Even the swamps where cows and sheep would drink water has dried up," Lesingo told Xinhua during a recent interview near Kiptunga Forest.

His daily routine involves surveying forest blocks to check whether there is any destruction that could be reported to KFS officers.

The government in February 2018 imposed a moratorium on logging in all forests as a measure to protect the five water towers and minimize presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as trees serve as carbon reservoirs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in its 2018 State of the World’s Forests report, emphasized the need to protect forests stating that they play critical role in food security, drinking water, renewable energy and rural economies.

"They provide around 20 percent of income for rural households in developing countries - notably more in many areas - and fuel for cooking and heating for one in every three people around the world," said FAO report.

Lesingo said without the forest, grass would be unavailable for livestock and the scenario could be detrimental to household incomes.

More than 30 years ago, Kiptunga Forest was compact with indigenous trees but they have been cleared to pave way for human settlements and agricultural activities, according to the volunteer scout.

Joseph Lesingo, chairman of Kiptunga Community Forest Association, said without engagement of communities living adjacent to the forests, loss of biodiversity would be escalated.

"These communities are major stakeholders in management of forests since they enjoy immediate benefits of the forest products.

"They cannot allow any activity causing degradation of the ecosystem," said Lesingo.

Members of the Kiptunga Community Forest Association take part in restoration activities including planting of trees where they have been either legally or illegally harvested or protecting young trees while cropping in allocated portions of land under plantation establishment scheme run by KFS.

Lesingo said the community and the scouts have been influential in educating the locals on rehabilitating the environment through practicing afforestation, reforestation, adoption of clean energies and exploiting available natural resources in an organized manner.

Akudunyang’ Bento, KFS Mau Conservancy Regional Commandant said deforestation is a driver of climate change which affects availability of essential resources key to survival of rural communities.

Inter-communal skirmishes are bound to arise due to competition for the limited resources, said Bento.

"There would be even worse effects of climate change in days to come if efforts are not made to curb deforestation," he added.

He lauded the community’s involvement in managing Kiptunga Forest adding that such initiatives are central to propelling Kenya’s agenda of mitigating effects of climate change.

As indicated in the Nationally Determined Contribution document Kenya submitted in 2016 as an instrument for Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the leadership envisions cutting down emissions of greenhouse gases by 30 percent by 2030 with protection of forests key to attainment of that target.


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