Devolution and Conservation: Revitalizing Community Forest Associations in Kenya

The promulgation of the new constitution in 2010, heralded a new dawn for Kenyans. The hallmark of this new dispensation was devolution. The constitution professed the principle of self-governance and enhanced participation in decision making. This was to be facilitated by a two-tier government system (national and county governments) and a bicameral parliament. The transition to a new system of governance meant management and conservation of natural resources had to change as well. However, that was easier said than done. This is because the transition period witnessed major power battles between various arms of government. For instance, confusion arose in the county governments as to what had been devolved and what hadn’t. It was during this tumultuous period (2014-2015) that I got engaged in a project being executed by a conservation organization-A Rocha Kenya, geared towards building capacities of Community Forest Associations (CFAs). This was to enable them to substantively engage with the new governance structures.

The project targeted three forests associated with five CFAs. The forests included Arabuko Sokoke Forest (public forest) associated with Jilore, Gede and Sokoke CFAs; Dakatcha Woodland (community forest) associated with Dakatcha CFA; and Ngong Hills Forest (public forest) associated with Ngong Metro CFA. The first and second forests were located in Kilifi County in coastal Kenya. The third forest was located in Kajiado County, west of the national capital, Nairobi. The implementation of the project involved beginning with a baseline survey aimed to establish the status of the CFAs in terms of knowledge and resources required to execute their mandate. The results of the survey indicated the existence of low capacity in prerequisite knowledge in conservation and management of forests plus inadequate financial resources.

Figure 1. A section of Arabuko Sokoke Forest and the associated endemic species (from the top) Golden rumped sengi, Ader’s duiker and Sokoke scops owl (c) A Rocha Kenya

The outcomes of the survey prompted the necessity of training the CFAs in various aspects. This was to enable them to be interpellated, to effectively engage with the county governments. The pieces of training involved the topics: environmental crisis and climate change; group dynamics, governance and leadership; laws and policies governing natural resource management in Kenya; and resource mobilization and advocacy. A total of 150 community members from the 5 CFAs participated in the pieces of training.

To foster the critical role exposure plays in reinforcing what is learned in theory, experience sharing forums were organized. This involved the Ngong Metro CFA visiting the coastal-based Sokoke, Gede, Jilore and Dakatcha CFAs. The four coastal based CFAs in return visited the Ngong Metro CFA. During the forums, it became apparent to them how the two ecosystems (the one down at the coast and the one at Ngong Hills Forest) were intricately interdependent. Thus, collective efforts were needed to realize the conservation of the two ecosystems

After the pieces of training and experience sharing forums, the CFAs started engaging their respective county governments. For instance, in Kajiado county, the Ngong Metro CFA held demonstrations as well as conducted meetings with county government officials. These actions were prompted by quarrying taking place in Ololua forest block.  Due to the demonstrations and the meetings with the county government the license of the company contracted to quarry was canceled. In addition, Ngong Metro CFA and the county government ensured a power generating company that had installed wind power turbines on Ngong Hills Forest had addressed the environmental impacts associated with the exercise. However, the CFA was stilling facing herculean tasks ahead of them. A nuclear waste plant was being set up in Ololua forest block. The construction of the plant allegedly commenced without any public participation exercise (involving the CFA) being conducted as mandated by law. To add insult to injury, there was massive garbage dumping in the forest that needed to be addressed.

Figure 2. One of the quarrying pit in Ololua forest (left) and the site of the plant in the same forest (c) A Rocha Kenya

In Kilifi County, the county government purchased thousands of tree seedlings raised by the 4 CFAs (Gede, Jilore, Sokoke, and Dakatcha) and planted them in various schools’ around the county. Second, they distributed goats to be raised by the CFAs then later locally sold to earn the groups income instead of collecting fuelwood beyond the legal load from the forest for sale. Third, they issued them with brick making machines to reduce overreliance on forest resources for building and construction purposes. Fourth, a county forest officer was employed to oversee management and conservation of Dakatcha Woodland.


Figure 3. Some of the CFA members receiving goats distributed to them (c) A Rocha Kenya

Despite the progress witnessed, Dakatcha CFA needed to engage with Kilifi County government even further to address the charcoal burning menace in the woodland. Plus, they were required to prepare a Participatory Forest Management Plan. On the other hand, the Arabuko Sokoke Forest CFAs were pushing forest officials to strictly enforce the law. This was geared towards curbing increased illegal logging, charcoal burning, and bushmeat hunting.


Figure 4. A section of Dakatcha woodland cleared for charcoal production (c) A Rocha Kenya

The success witnessed in terms of the CFAs engaging with the county governments can be attributed to the pieces of training enabling CFA members to understand what their roles entailed. Also, they were able to better understand forest legislation thus knew the procedures to follow, when it came to engaging the county government. Furthermore, the training sessions and experience sharing forums gave the groups plenty of time to network, know each better and highlight problems facing their forests. This also enabled them to discuss ways to address them. The discussions played a critical role in the success of the CFAs engaging the county governments because prior to the pieces of training they hardly had met for any forms of meetings or deliberations. On the other hand, due to their proactiveness in approaching the county governments, the county governments became more aware of what the CFAs were doing and were able to accord them the necessary support.

The lack of resources due to the project not being considered for another funding cycle led to the momentum gathered by the CFA not being supported further. This is arguably the fate most CFAs face in Kenya, where they are occasionally supported for two or three years and then left on their own. This then begs the question: aren’t we jeopardizing the management and conservation efforts of these forests? Since, the country has a forest governance system that professes joint forest management of these forests but the CFAs meant to facilitate this mode of governance are not adequately being supported in terms of resources or when they are supported it’s only within a short period of time that’s arguably not enough to facilitate their transition to being more self-sufficient.

It would be worth the effort of any organization or the government, to get to work and support the five CFAs for a more longer period such as four or five consecutive years. In addition, these efforts would be greatly boosted if the new framework– Community Forest Association Development and Financing Cycle aimed at guiding CFAs to mobilize resources is actualized.  Also, the Forest Conservation and Management Act, 2016 has the provisions for benefit sharing mechanisms being established that should be put into action as it would go a long way to provide the financial resources the CFAs need.

Being part of this project brought to the fore, the reality of an empowered community who can potentially do more and certainly who I would love to work with again. A community ready to embrace the spirit of the new dispensation despite its shortcomings. A dispensation that professes sovereign power belongs to the people. People who can now directly influence local change in management and conservation of their natural resources unlike in the past where change had to be effected from a centralized, hierarchical system.


A Rocha Kenya 2015. Advocacy and Community Empowerment.  URL  (accessed 09.2.18)

Government of Kenya, 2016. Forest Conservation and Management Act.

Government of Kenya, 2010. The Constitution of Kenya, 2010: Nairobi, 27th August 2010, Kenya Gazette Supplement. Government Printer, Kenya.

Muratha, M., 2017. Kenya Forest Service – Community Forest Association Development & Financing Cycle Framework Launched [WWW Document]. URL (accessed 12.1.17).

Ruuska, E., 2013. Unsustainable charcoal production as a contributing factor to woodland fragmentation in southeast Kenya.

Allan Majalia is a graduate student at the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford undertaking an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management. He has worked with communities in a number of community conservation projects in coastal Kenya. He has an interest in forest governance, especially how local communities can be included in conservation and management of forests. Check him out on Facebook as Allan Mjomba Majalia Twitter @MjombaB

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