Local conservation action reducing poverty in coastal Kenya
The Dakatcha woodland near the town of Malindi on Kenya’s coast covers a wide tract of dry forests and dense undergrowth interposed with farmland. It is the only site outside the Arabuko-Sokote forest where the endangered Clarke’s Weaver bird is known to occur. The woodland also holds significant populations of the Sokoke Pipit bird and other globally endangered birds.
Dakatcha Woodland’s forest supplies water, protects the soil from erosion, shelters unique animals and plants, and provides environmental services directly beneficial to the local people. However, this Important Bird Area (IBA) is under threat from communities that rely on the forest for livelihood. The growing population in surrounding communities depends on the forest resources for their economic, energy and construction needs. This has put pressure on the forest with many people encroaching on it for arable land – their most valuable resource. The land has also been earmarked for large scale commercial agricultural projects.
In 2009, NatureKenya (BirdLife Partner in Kenya) supported 13 self-help groups to form a larger community group that works to protect the natural resources of Dakatcha woodland in such a way that benefits people in the various communities living in and around the site. The group known as the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group (DWCG) has since worked to preserve the forest resources and improve the livelihoods of the local population.
The group has managed to educate people about protecting their environment and developed project proposals that support livelihood improvement for local communities. They do this through advocacy, institutional development, environmental education, infrastructure development, livelihood improvement, biodiversity monitoring and research.
Fifteen members of the DWCG representing the different self-help groups received training on biodiversity monitoring and have actively volunteered their services to assist researchers and provide data on birds. The monitoring team contributed significantly to the discovery of a breeding site for Clarke’s Weavers breeding in Dakatcha. The community has carved out 10,000 hectares of forest as Community Conserved Areas (CCAs) for biodiversity protection with Clarke’s weavers used as the flagship species being conserved.
Driving local conservation action
With huge support from Nature Kenya, the Kilifi County government and other stakeholders in Kenya, DWCG has initiated and actively participated in several conservation actions. They have used resources from the European Union-Community Development Trust Fund (EU-CDTF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to build the capacity of the 13 self-help groups on leadership and organizational capacity, thus enhancing their role as conservation ambassadors in Dakatcha. Participating households have also used the knowledge gained from the training to improve their day to day lives in the community.
As local leaders in the conservation of natural resources the Dakatcha group drives conservation agendas without much resistance from the community and have been consulted by several stakeholders on environmental issues that touch on the Dakatcha woodland.
The group runs an environmental education programme in communities and have created teams to promote it in schools through wildlife clubs. Ten wildlife clubs are active in Dakatcha now and have been linked to the Wildlife Club of Kenya.
DWCG also manages a resource centre known as the Marafa Resource Centre with a rich library of reading material and films about the environment, as well as a conference hall for meetings. There is also a section for the processing of honey for commercial use.
To reduce the pressure on forest resources and provide alternative sources of income to the local population, the Dakatcha woodland conservation group has modernized and expanded beekeeping with modern langstroth beehives acquired with funding from the EU-CDTF.
They have also trained local ecotourism guides to promote tourism and attract tourists to major attractions in Dakatcha such as Hell’s Kitchen. The Hell’s Kitchen Tour Operators Association secured Kshs 2 million (about US$ 20,000) grant from the Kenya Coastal Development Project (KCDP) and used it to further develop the ecotourism attractions and facilities.
“We are 27 local guides on the site. We generate approximately KES 1,620,000.00 annually from visitors. Part of this money is given to needy children as bursaries, we use part as running costs and the guides get a fraction. I feed my family, pay fees for my five children and take care of other household needs from money earned as ecotourism guide,” said Kazungu Thuva, leader of the Hell’s Kitchen tour operators association.
Earlier this year, on 23 August 2017, the Dakatcha Woodland Conservation Group was nominated and awarded the BirdLife International Nature's Heroes Awards. The Nature's Heroes Awards are given by BirdLife Partners to communities and individuals doing great conservation work locally.
Through the DWCG, the Dakatcha Community Forest Association (DCFA) was formed. This community group was recognized and mandated by the 2016 Kenya Forest Act to be part of participatory forest management. The association has actively advocated against the conversion of sections of Dakatcha woodland into jatropha plantations.