African Wildlife Foundation’s Sustainable Opportunities for Improving Livelihoods (SOIL) program, which has been embedded as part of the Foundation’s Kenya programming in the Samburu landscape for the past two years, has been a very interesting and hands-on intervention.
Based on 24 months of implementation, AWF believes that SOIL’s efforts to organise farmers and pastoralists, by improving technical support to them and exploring alternative market opportunities for them, was key in improving their lives. SOIL is designed to conserve forest resources, including carbon. Armed with several years of data and analysis, the players were able to hone in on specific macro-zones to address, hectare by hectare, how land is perceived, used and managed.
These forests are essential to ensuring biodiversity because they connect with protected forest blocks that are normally demarcated as non-permanent forest. Non-permanent forest tends to be degraded and damaged due to agriculture and other commercial activities. Formalized voluntary agreements were introduced with local communities. These created explicit associations between voluntarily giving up certain areas of forest designated for conservation, in return for support for agricultural investment in other areas. AWF also led participatory micro-zoning and delivered livelihood programs for more than 5,000 households in 27 villages around the Kirisia/Lerroghi forest. With AWF’s facilitation, these community members have joined with local authorities to execute fine-scale and hands-on mapping and data collection in order to understand, discuss and ultimately designate land appropriately.
Eventually, 91,944 hectares were designated as permanent forest and 18,319 hectares as non-permanent forest. The agreement that outlines the zones has been validated by county government authorities in an effort to institutionalize the process. It has not been signed yet but activities proposed in the plan are being implemented. Currently all partners and players are working with both local and national government to formalize and disseminate operational guides. They hope to develop communication strategies which will continue to refine and promote zoning methodologies. This will help to prioritize and conserve important forest areas while still creating the space and means to help rural poor people improve their quality of life.