Clinging to the walls of the Great Rift Valley, the Naimina Enkiyio Forest stretches out along the top of the Loita Nguruman escarpment in southwest Kenya. The Maasai call it ‘The Forest of the Lost Child’ and believe it is sacred. They value the forest spiritually and as a source of herbal medicines and grazing in times of drought. It is also a wildlife haven with leopard, lion, antelope, the rare colobus monkey and a very rich bird life. The forest covers approximately 330 square kilometres.
A traditional pastoralist way of life has been practiced until very recently. The inevitable pressures on the land of increasing population and outsiders coming in to exploit the area have resulted in encroachment into the forest by loggers, agriculture and cattle. Private ownership of the land, particularly if purchaced by outsiders, the putting up of fences and clearing of land is changing the traditional way of life and management of the forest.
There is an urgent need to assist the forest communities to manage these changes and protect their sacred forest and thus protect the wider eco-system and wildlife.
Four of the forest custodian communities have registered the Orkonyil Welfare Association whose mission is to form a unified body of representation through which they can improve their wellbeing.
I visited Kitilikini a small but rapidly growing community on the edge of the forest. There are 650 residents, the majority of which have not reached adulthood leaving a daunting prospect of an exploding population with little economic future and dwindling natural resources. There are almost a hundred nursery school children in a tiny tin hut. Primary education is available in a rudimentary school in a nearby village and secondary education in a little township seven kilometers away. There are two hospitals in the area each an hours drive away in opposite directions. Water is an issue, although forested it is still a dry area. The community relies on a few seasonal streams, a community fund constructed dam for livestock water and a shallow well with a hand pump for drinking water.
Whilst the community puts emphasis on education, health and water as high priorities these essential projects are only sustainable if backed by an underlying sound and well implemented economic resource management plan, strong community governance and economic opportunity. The community is eager to stop the encroaching slash and burn agriculture into their forests and to stop illegal logging. They realise that this can only be achieved by creating better livelihoods for its members within a sustainable resource management plan.
It aims to do this by education of both children and adults, introducing ways of making agriculture more efficient and less land intensive, and to introduce income generating projects. The emphasis is on sustainability, the melding of traditional knowledge and modern techniques.