Deforestation the Root Cause of Resource Insecurity in Koitegan Community Forest

Christina Keyser, Intern at RECONCILE

Koitegan Community Forest occupies approximately 700 acres of land in Mogotio Sub-County, Kibomui Sub-Location, which contains six villages. The forest was demarcated in 1977 after the Koitegan community recognized the need to conserve the communally shared resources and prevent misuse of community land.  In 2014, the Community Forest Association (CFA) was mandated to manage the forest, and its management team is now comprised of 13 members.

In the investigation stage of PRM in 2018, RECONCILE and the Technical Working Group conducted a context analysis of Koitegan to understand the challenges community members experience regarding resource access, utilization, management, and sustainability.   It was notable that the well-being of Koitegan Community Forest is under immense stress from deforestation, which has cascading, long-term effects on the entire forest ecosystem, such as resource insecurity, water scarcity, soil erosion, loss of pasture, and loss of biodiversity. Major contributors to deforestation include unchecked logging, charcoal burning, overpopulation, and climate change.

Logging has been occuring with minimal oversight for decades.  Beyond this, insecure livelihoods and poverty have forced community members to rely on charcoal burning as a coping mechanism.

Climate change compounds the problem.  Erratic and scarce rainfall patterns have increased the frequency and intensity of water shortages and drought, leading to dried up pasture, food insecurity, and exacerbation of poverty.

This added stress from climate change induced drought creates a positive feedback loop. When drought forces people to rely even more on charcoal burning, the rate of deforestation increases and causes soil erosion.  Because erosion harms soil productivity and water holding capacity, susceptibility to drought increases, and the cycle continues. This positive feedback loop will only accelerate the environmental degradation of the rangelands if it remains unchecked.

The future security of the forest hinges on effective leadership that will mitigate deforestation and improve resource management.  Although conservancy leadership has made a concerted effort to curtail deforestation by banning charcoal burning, the forest is still dealing with the impacts of this longtime practice.  Peninah, the assistant chief, Kibomui Sub-location ,  “ I believe  that combating deforestation and overgrazing depends on public awareness—leaders must educate community members about the importance of conservation and what is at stake if resources continue to be poorly managed” she said.

In addition to public education, community members and CFA have on their wish-list several interventions that will curb deforestation and improve water availability.  These include afforestation, establishing a seed bed for selling seeds and involving the community in replanting efforts, constructing fencing around germinating seeds, and investing in tourism to diversify the region’s economy and provide an alternative source of livelihood.  Further, the CFA has proposed to petition the Rift Valley Water Service Board to expand the Kapitoi dam and put water tanks in place for irrigating seed beds.

RECONCILE comes into the picture at the most appropriate time—the community is becoming aware of the damaging effects of deforestation and now has a sense of urgency to do something about it.  Through the recently launched Participatory Rangelands Management (PRM) project, whose objective is to improve the livelihoods and nutrition status of pastoralist communities, RECONCILE aims to build capacities of rangeland management institutions to better manage the forest’s resources and achieve the aforementioned interventions Koitegan leaders proposed.  The project also aims to improve rangelands’ productivity through community led rangeland rehabilitation and sustainability efforts.

Through focused leadership of the CFA and PRM’s participatory approach, Koitegan Community Forest can engage all of its members in sustainable use and management of water, trees, and pasture and protect the forest from further environmental degradation.