Kenya: Forests of coastal Kenya

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The Challenge

The forests of coastal Kenya are rich in natural resources and are a globally important biodiversity hotspot, home to more than 550 plants and 50 animals found nowhere else on Earth. They provide vital resources for the livelihoods of more than 3 million people. The forests also hold important cultural value, such that the forests and people are historically and spiritually bound – these include sacred sites in northern Kenya (ancestral homes to the indigenous Aweer people), and ‘Kaya’ forests in southern Kenya (ancestral homes of the indigenous Mijikenda people). 

A rapidly growing population, widespread poverty, poor planning and unsustainable infrastructural and economic development are responsible for rising deforestation and degradation of these forests which in turn threatens local biodiversity. The forests also play an important role in carbon sequestration vital in mitigating the effects of climate change. Kenya has suffered from long spells of drought in recent years as a result of our warming planet.

Project Aims

The overall aim of this project is to ensure that the ecological integrity of priority areas and natural resources in Kenya is secured for nature, people and the economy.  

Specific objectives are as follows:

  • Influence key policy and legal frameworks to create an enabling environment for sustainable management of natural resources.  
  • Influence large-scale infrastructure developments in Kenya to minimise adverse environmental and social impacts. 
  • Ensure agricultural and fisheries production systems are based on environmentally and socially sustainable practices. 
  • Secure key terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems, ensuring populations of flagship and priority wildlife species in target places are stable and/or increasing.

How it Works

This project works closely with local communities and indigenous groups, government agencies and the private sector to secure the ecological integrity of coastal Kenya and its forests. This includes:

  • Influencing the development and implementation of policies and plans, which is vital for fostering a legislative environment conducive to the sustainable management of forests and other natural resources. To achieve this, WWF undertake advocacy, using strategic partnerships to build the capacity of local communities, helping them secure a stronger voice in natural resource management and demand for transparency, accountability and equity in order to address issues such as lack of awareness, corruption, weak institutions and lack of coordination that are resulting in weak enforcement of standards are addressed. This minimises the negative impacts of developments on people, wildlife, forests and other habitats.
  • Enhancing the sustainability of agriculture such that the need for forest clearing is reduced, as is encroachment into wildlife habitats and corridors. 
  • Promoting sustainable fishing practices to improve food security and positively impact forest conservation as it reduces the pressure for use of other unsustainable natural resources.
  • Providing small-scale, sustainable opportunities and training in climate-smart agricultural practices such as beekeeping to reduce pressure on the forests and its natural resources. For example, the Village Savings Bank Initiative [hyperlink to case study] provides small loans for individuals to set up businesses. This empowers families and communities alike, increases income and again, reduces the pressures on the forest and its resources. 
  • Identifying and addressing key drivers of forest degradation; such as the demand for key resources like charcoal, fuelwood and construction materials to help to contribute towards more sustainable management of forests and natural resources. The Clean Energy Village Initiative [hyperlink to case study], for example, is helping to address demand on the forests and its resources by providing communities with energy efficient stoves and solar lighting systems. 

Place & People

The forests provide a home for 3 million people, among them a number of indigenous groups such as the Aweer, Mijikenda and Waatha whose culture and livelihoods have coevolved with the forests. Read more about the Waatha and their connection to the land and forest here.

In recognition of their cultural importance, the Kaya forests of coastal Kenya were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2008. More than 60 of these sacred forests are known to exist along the Kenyan coast. 

They are still used as holy places, where the community retreats to commune with powerful spirits that are believed to live inside the forests. In Kaya Kinondo for example, prayers are held almost every month, either for a troubled family, good harvest from the farm, good catch by the fishermen, or even for politicians who request ancestral blessing before vying for elective posts. Kayas are also used as burial grounds for prominent traditional leaders.

In some part of Kenya, more than 80% of coastal forests having been lost in the last 100 years; many species populations are diminishing due to habitat loss and poaching, and the livelihoods of local human communities are also under threat.

In 2014, a bird survey conducted – jointly undertaken by WWF, the Zoological Society of London, Birdlife, National Museums of Kenya (NMK), Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and 15 representatives for the indigenous Aweer community – identified 230 species of birds from 61 families. Fifteen of these species are endemic to the East African coastal forests. As a result of the findings, the area has been recognised as an Important Bird Area (IBA) – a globally important habitat for the conservation of bird populations – by Birdlife International.

More than 550 plants and 50 animals found in Kenya’s coastal forests occur nowhere else on Earth.

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WWF is the world’s leading independent conservation organisation. Their mission is to create a world where people and wildlife can thrive together.
To achieve their mission, they’re finding ways to help transform the future for the world’s wildlife, rivers, forests and seas; pushing for a reduction in carbon emissions that will avoid catastrophic climate change; and pressing for measures to help people live sustainably, within the means of our one planet.