LOGOMAN, Kenya, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - These
days, whenever Daniel Koskei walks into the Logoman Forest and
finds a mound of soil, he prepares to take action – particularly
if the wind is strong and the sun blazing hot.
Such mounds can be a sign of illegal charcoal production, an
activity that can lead to fire outbreaks in this eastern region
of Kenya’s Mau Forest.
“It prompts me to keep monitoring that area and inform the
forester to take appropriate action,” said Koskei, who surveys
the forest at least once a week.
Ordinarily, such work would be the job of a forest guard of
the Kenya Forest Service, the state agency charged with
protection of forest reserves.
But Koskei is a volunteer scout from the indigenous Ogiek
community, people with a long history of making their living
from the forest.
For generations they inhabited the Mau Forest – picking wild
berries and harvesting honey and herbs – before the government
evicted them in an effort to shore up forest protection.
Now, however, some are resuming a traditional role of
protecting the forest, under a programme that gives them access
to free farmland in exchange for the unpaid work scouting the
forest and helping put out fires.
Joseph King’ori, the Kenya Forest Service official in charge
of the 13,000-hectare Logoman Forest, said the scouts have
helped save thousands of trees in an area threatened by the
illegal felling for charcoal and timber.
“You can now see only small spots of burned areas unlike
before when many acres were destroyed with the fire,” he said.
“They are really doing a great job. They are very prompt. In
the past outbreaks, I found them in the fire spots working so
hard to put out the fire,” King’ori said.
Kenya’s forest and conservation laws call for community
participation in the management of the country’s forests and
some communities living near forests have offered their views
and time, particularly in exchange for things like the right to
graze their animals in the forest or collect firewood.
But getting Community Forest Association members to be
proactive in reporting threats to the forest, from logging to
fires, has been tougher, said William Leleshwa, the Logoman
Community Forest Association’s secretary.
An effort by the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program and the
Kenya Forest Service to train 18 community volunteers as Logoman
Forest Scouts, however, appears to be changing that, officials
The programme, supported by the American Jewish World
Service, last year trained volunteers from the Ogiek, Kipsigis
and Maasai ethnic groups on how to spot fire risks, stop threats
before they become fires and put out fires once they are
The volunteers’ fire management skills have been tested in
five fires in the Logoman Forest since January, Koskei said.
“In all the outbreaks, we were able to stop the fire with
fire lines,” he said. “A fire line is like a ring around the
fire. You use a panga to clear the vegetation and dig out
trenches. The fire cannot cross over. It breaks the spread.”
Accessing fire zones can be excruciatingly energy sapping,
requiring climbing steep hills through thorny or skin-irritating
trees and shrubs, the volunteers say.
But “we respond immediately regardless of the harsh terrain.
We must protect this forest. If not our children will not have a
future. Our cows graze in there and fire usually burns grass,”
said Julius Ngiria, one of the scouts who lives about 1.5km (1
mile) from the edge of the forest.
Some fires are deliberately started by illegal loggers to
distract forest guards and give the loggers time to carry out
their work in other parts of the forest, he said.
LAND AND NURSERIES
Converting communities living near forests into reliable
advocates of forest protection usually requires providing them
incentives, such as allocated farming plots, grazing
opportunities or the right to collect firewood from the forest,
said John Lengoisa, a programme officer for the Ogiek Peoples’
Ogiek forest scouts, for instance, each have been given a
free three-year lease on a piece of farmland, and some have
started tree nurseries, to supply saplings for Kenya Forest
Service replanting efforts in the Logoman Forest.
“We can buy from them since we are involved in
rehabilitating 20 hectares of Logoman Forest,” Lengoisa said.
With added income from forest protection, “in the long term,
their lives will change and they will be more motivated to take
part in forest conservation”, he predicted.
The scouts say the opportunity to earn an income from the
work – which helps keep their children in school – is a huge
“We are motivated,” said Simon Sururu, the scout team
leader. “We are making good profits from potatoes we are growing
on farms we have been allocated.”
“It would be extremely discouraging, and in fact this
association would have disintegrated a long time ago, if we give
our all to protect the forest but our children stay at home
because of lack of school fees,” he added.
(Reporting by Moraa Obiria; editing by Laurie Goering :; Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
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