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

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. Assessment and documentation of the status of ecosystem health and analysis of the effects of human-induced changes on the Kenyan Montane natural forest, characterized by a human-dominated landscape, were done.

1.1. Forest Management in Kenya: Policy Framework

The Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (1999) is the umbrella legislation governing the management of natural resources in the country. The Act specifically addresses issues relating to the protection of forests, reforestation and afforestation, energy conservation, the planting of trees or woodlots, and the conservation of biological diversity. An independent authority, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has been established to implement the provisions of the Act providing public involvement in any major development decisions that have a bearing on the environmental. The Act also recognizes the value of environmental conservation by indigenous peoples and provides for the protection of the traditional interests of local communities that had customarily been residents in such areas.

The Kenya Forest Master Plan was developed between 1991 and 1994, to provide a development framework for a period of 25 years. However, the implementation of the plan has been slow, a state blamed on lack of political goodwill and funding. In view of the above Kenya has recently undertaken a major review of forest policy and legislation. The resulting forest policy provides for far-reaching changes in the management of forest resources in the country.

The new policy emphasizes the significance of Kenya's forests to the national economy and recognizes sustainable forest management as an integral component of national development. It addresses farm forestry, dryland forestry, private sector involvement and community participation in forest management.

The management of the natural forests and the forest resource in general is governed by the national forest policy, which is implemented mainly by the Kenya Forest Service, since most forestland falls under its jurisdiction as gazetted forest reserve. …

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