Kenya: Securing Ogiek Lands, Forests and Livelihoods

Donate to this project 178,000 Hectares
Working with our Partner: Working Partner

We don’t conserve. It’s the way we live that conserves.

The Challenge

All across Kenya, forest-dwelling indigenous communities are facing eviction from their lands in the name of ‘forest conservation’ through the ‘Shamba system’. The reality is that without the presence of these groups – who traditionally live in complete harmony with their environment – to protect the sacred lands of their ancestors, the land is vulnerable to activities such as logging and poaching. 

This is the case for the Ogiek people who live at Chepkitale, on Mount Elgon in western Kenya. Despite having proven themselves as the best custodians of the forest, their presence on their own lands was made illegal in 2000 when their land was made into a national game reserve without their consent. They have since faced evictions, violence and even the burning of their homes by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).

The destruction of the forests on Mount Elgon not only causes greenhouse gas emissions, but the degradation of the area’s ability to regulate the flow of water to the farmers in the densely populated lands below. Equally, as availability of their natural resources reduce, it damages the Ogiek’s wellbeing and way of life. They rely on the provision of these resources such as medicinal plants for the community, flowers for bees for their honey and pasture for their livestock.

Project Aims

The overall aim of this project is to support the Ogiek in gaining legal rights for their lands and to strengthen dialogue between the Ogiek and external forces, including conservation agencies and the local government.

Specific objectives are as follows:

  • Train more community scouts and provide them with appropriate equipment to be able to implement the Ogiek’s sustainability bylaws and confront those engaged in forest destruction.
  • Develop a community resource centre and produce teaching materials to ensure the transmission of vital indigenous knowledge primarily to their next generation but also to others. 
  • Develop structures of engagement between the community and others, including conservation agencies and local (County) government, which is informed by continuous community research into the drivers of deforestation and into potential alternative livelihood activities for non-Ogiek forest-adjacent communities

How it Works

This project relates directly to the needs of the Ogiek in securing their land rights. This has involved:

  • training the Ogiek in GPS mapping and the provision of evidence gathering equipment to map and monitor outsiders’ activities that has been driving forest destruction. This has meant that youth who have received the training are learning new skills and are now able to remain in the communities and help to sustain their ancestral lands rather than move to town for employment opportunities.
  • Using this data to inform the community’s discussions with the National Land Commission, KFS and Kenyan Wildlife Service (KWS) and other key political figures including Bungoma County Government. This will not only have the immediate impact of helping to protect the forests and fauna but will help continue to build good relationships with the conservations agencies and local authorities despite the national Government’s lack of recognition of the community’s land rights.
  • Using the research and data to enable the community to provide alternatives for adjacent communities so that they see the forest as a sustainable resource to be protected rather than one to be used up and exploited to destruction.
  • Producing teaching materials and building the community resource centre to preserve their traditional knowledge. The resource centre will involve both documenting and sharing of indigenous knowledge with children and those outside the community. Documenting, valuing and maintaining the knowledge of how to use the land and resources sustainably is key to the community being able to ensure ongoing sustainable use of the forests. 

Place & People

The Ogiek number some 5,000 people. Their territory covers an area of 178,000 hectares of forest and moorland type habitat. They live 3,500m above sea level on Mount Chepkitale, which is part of the Mount Elgon mountain and is known for its outstanding plant diversity, many of which are endemic to these slopes. It also acts as a ‘water tower’ for the region’s settlements below the hills. 

There are about 240 species of birds, larger mammals, insects and reptiles in the Mount Elgon ecosystem and IUCN has identified 22 mammals, 2 insects and 13 bird species living on Mount Elgon that are considered globally threatened.  

Research has shown that elephants spend over 80% of their time on Ogiek land because they feel safer near the Ogiek than they do in the neighbouring National Park where all Ogiek have been forcibly removed and poachers can, in effect, move relatively freely. KWS staff have stated that “if the Ogiek are evicted, you may as well say goodbye to the elephants”.  


Sustainability Goals

Partner Profile


Forest Peoples Programme (FPP) are based in the UK but work with forest-dwelling communities across the globe, supporting them to promote an alternative vision of how forests should be managed and controlled, based on respect for the rights of the peoples who know them best.