Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Socio-Ecological Characterization of Forest Ecosystem Health in the South-Western Mau Forest Reserve, Kenya

Academic journal article Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review

Socio-Ecological Characterization of Forest Ecosystem Health in the South-Western Mau Forest Reserve, Kenya

Article excerpt

Abstract: Assessment and documentation of the status of ecosystem health and analysis of the effects of human-induced changes on a Kenyan montane natural forest, characterized by a human-dominated landscape, were done. A socioeconomic assessment of the perceptions and attitudes of the inhabitants about the importance, status and causes of degradation was carried out between August 2006 and September 2007. The provisional capacity of the reserve for goods and services was also evaluated. In order to assess individual local actions at the household level and their effects on the overall health dynamics in the forest reserve, information about the direct and indirect drivers of forest degradation at the forest reserve level was sought from the time of inhabitation until the time of study. The perceptions and attitudes of the inhabitants regarding supply of ecosystem goods and services at the forest reserve scale were evaluated. This was executed using a household survey where one hundred and fifty household heads were interviewed using a semi-structured questionnaire. An integrated approach to defining the health of the ecosystem at the local level was attempted. Results indicated a chronological degradation in the condition of the forest over time. A continued reduction in the number and density of once dominant tree species as well as structural physiognomy was shown. Households in the South-western Mau experience an increasing decline in the supply of once abundant important goods, including fuelwood, timber, medicinal plants and poles. Disappearance of abundant and common wildlife species was also recorded. In the forest reserve, solutions to issues and problems related to encroachment on forestland and related disturbance activities lie in clear land use policy and legislation designating particular uses to particular land categories. This is urgently required to deal with the issues related to unsustainable land use.

Keywords: Socio-ecological well-being, characterisation, South-western Mau, Kenya

1. INTRODUCTION

Kenya is endowed with priceless natural areas including natural closed canopy forests, which serve as habitats for plant and animal species of global importance, including wildlife and birds of migratory importance within the region (Whitemore 1997; Bennun and Njoroge 1999; Brooks, Pimm and Oyugi 1999). The forest ecosystems of Kenya serve as abodes of rare, endemic as well as endangered species. They are therefore, an important element in the national as well as regional economy. For example, the annual turnover from tourism, which is almost completely dependent on natural areas, contributes over 14.9 per cent of the country's GDP (KNBS 2007a).

The forests also provide sustenance of local livelihoods through the use of forest products and services including food, timber, firewood, water, medicines etc (Bleher, Uster and Bergsdorf 2006). However, owing to increased pressure and observed rampant degradation of forest ecosystem in the country, the ecosystems' ability to provide goods and services has been diminished (Mutanga 1996; Bleher, Uster and Bergsdorf 2006). In most forested areas in Kenya including the Mau forest reserve, clearing activities have induced land use changes to the effect that forest products and services are in short supply (Mitchell 2004). Socioeconomic development of native populations in particular and that of the entire nation in general is threatened by these activities (Odubho and Ojwang 2000). There is therefore, an urgent need to provide baseline information concerning the current state of the forests as a basis to estimate forest ecosystem health in order to provide further management interventions.

This study aimed at bridging the gap between the dependencies of previous studies on either biophysical or socioeconomic attributes in defining the status of ecosystems in view of human degradation. An integrated approach to defining the health of the ecosystem at the local level was attempted. …

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