The Mukogodo forest reserve covers an area of 280 square kilometres. It is one of the few remaining dry forests in Kenya and happens to occupy a region that is also home to four group ranches. It possesses a multitude of indigenous tree varieties, medicinal plants, and its important water sources and pastures are vital sustenance for pastoralists.
The local Mukogodo community has a traditional management system that has, until now, ensured the conservation of the forest for many years. Communities effectively managed use of forest resources through organized access to the forest. Through rotating grazing systems and restricted wood cutting, inhabitants have been able to keep careful tabs on the forest’s precious resources. With the intention of using the forest as a sustainable resource, the community has been able to benefit from dry grazing pasture, some firewood, building materials, and basic herbal remedies.
During severe drought, surrounding livestock keepers have traditionally migrated into the forest in search of water and pasture. Sadly, due to increased human and livestock populations, the forest’s pasture and water resources are no longer sufficient to sustain herd sizes, causing herdsmen to hack branches from trees to feed their animals.
The Mukogodo forest and its surrounding areas are home to many species of wildlife. African wild dog, African leopard, Greater Kudu and Grevy’s Zebra are re among the species found here. Elephants visit each season. The remarkable biodiversity makes the region important from a conservation perspective. Mukogodo Forest has also registered with the Government as an important bird area, using our friends the birds to increase the conservation importance of the Forest.
In recent years the forest has faced threats due to increased human settlement and uncontrolled access to its resources. There is a pressing need for intervention, in order to continue conserving the forest for present and future generations. It is in What future does the largest highland forest in Laikipia have? recognition of these challenges that the four group ranches that manage the Mukogodo forest agreed to form an umbrella Community Forest Association, or CFA. This group formation allows them to manage the government’s forest reserve at community level. With support from partner organizations such as the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF), the ranches have formed a group, which they have named ILMAMUSI – an acronym for Ilngwesi, Makurian, Mukogodo and Sieku.
In its early days, LWF was able to establish a cordial relationship between the community and the private ranchers adjacent to the forest. LWF helped the CFA construct an office at Loragai and also supported community scouts with training, uniforms and radio communication equipment as well as motorbikes for patrols. Sadly, because of the withdrawal of donor programs, this support was discontinued.
Since its inception, ILMAMUSI has been bogged down by weak organisation and management. We regularly call this “governance”, and weak governance has in turn affected how information is shared with the local communities. The inability to hold annual meetings (as required by law), the weakness of conflict resolution efforts, as well as poor general management of the Forest has all affected ILMAMUSI’s success.
In 2015, LWF partnered up with Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Borana Conservancy, and the Northern Rangelands Trust in order to revive the ILMAMUSI board and to draw up a game plan to get it back on track. This is a strong testimony to the commitment of neighbours working together.
NRT was tasked with training the board members to strengthen their governance. Borana pledged to help the ILMAMUSI coordinator to set up financial systems and figure out how to adhere to statutory government requirements. Lewa accepted the leading role in assisting the coordinator and office management, as well as fund raising. LWF was tasked with revisiting the governance structure of the CFA and to help the Board to disseminate ideas presented in the the first CFA management plan, whose development was supported by USAID. Too many community members know nothing about the CFA, the management plan, and their respective roles in the management of the Forest.
Recently LWF organized a series of meetings in Ilngwesi, Mukurian, Kurikuri and Mukogodo to assist the ILMAMUSI CFA to understand their management plan. From these meetings it was apparent that there were some internal misunderstandings between community based organizations on each group ranch, each group ranch board, and general members of the public. All these problems stem from poor communication.
The governance of group ranches must be stronger if we expect the future of Mukogodo forest to be secure. Each group ranch board is responsible for organising a group ranch management committee. These committees are elected during the group ranch annual general meeting. Then each group ranch committee is responsible for appointing members to ILMAUSI CFA. 13 total members are elected by each of the four participating group ranches to represent them in the CFA. These multiple levels of governance often create confusion over roles and responsibilities, and this confusion is reflected in the operations of the CFA
In addition, the community has a strong traditional governance system led by traditional “elders” who have been instrumental in the conservation of the forest until now. Our challenge remains how to combine all these different governance systems effectively for the sustainable management of Mukogodo Forest.
We remain confident that by working as neighbours with ILMAMUSI CFA, LWF, LWC, NRT and Borana Conservancy will help the communities and people of Mukogodo Forest secure a stronger, brighter future. Mukogodo’s future is the future of this neighbourhood. Support for rangelands management, tourism development, forest protection, and wildlife conservation are all at hand. Our job remains to help the people of Mukogodo seize these opportunities for their own effective management of the Forest and its benefits.