We don’t conserve. It’s the way we live that conserves.
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.
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:
This project relates directly to the needs of the Ogiek in securing their land rights. This has involved:
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”.
Video: Chepkitale Ogiek community document their customary bylaws for the first time in order to ensure the continued conservation of their ancestral lands and natural resources. Source: Forest Peoples Programme 26/11/2013
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.