East Africa is a rapidly developing region that has all the resources to be successful. But they need help and not necessarily just only financial. It is important to understand their main problems, to give them an advice, to teach them how to benefit from the rich resources properly, how to assess local governments’ abilities to effectively manage natural resources within Kenya’s new devolved system of government and how to develop their capabilities on their own without any interference from outside. So this was the purpose of our field work during the journey through the Mau Forest Water Tower – the largest and most critical watershed left in Kenya that feeds the headwaters of twelve major rivers, and serves as a lifeline for at least one-third of Kenya’s population, as well as wildlife populating the most vital tourism destination in the nation and the Masai Mara National Reserve. Recently, the Mau Forest has taken center stage in Kenya’s politics that’s why our help and support is so important.
The journey there, as with most things in Kenya, was not so simple as we planned but therein lay the excitement. During this trip we were trying to assess local governments’ abilities to effectively manage natural resources within Kenya’s new devolved system of government. Local stakeholders, including those who live here, need better livelihoods, sustainable sources of income, and the hope that development provides.
Our team also sought to identify private, community, NGO, and educational sector partners that can participate in landscape conservation and natural resource management through policy engagement, participatory decision making, sustainable livelihood creation, and community outreach. In addition to cultivating relationships with new partners and stakeholders, we revisited a couple of key stakeholders to deepen the dialogue. The team focused mainly on ICT as a tool for both government planning and coordination as well as a driver of accountability in the public sector. In the private sector, we examined how the same or a similar platform could support improved rural livelihoods through supply/demand mapping, training opportunities, producer aggregation, and farm/community-level value chain addition as a means of incentivizing environmentally sustainable agricultural and forest management practices as well as low emissions industrial development.
At the very beginning of our journey we were shown around the college’s facilities where they teach various agricultural skills and value addition practices to local farmers and communities. We got a full tour of their beekeeping unit where they’ve innovated several designs for beehives, as well as honey extraction tools, that they also sell to fund the college. The kind and energetic woman that showed us around explained the funding difficulties that the college faces; our team agreed that they would hope to support the college’s important work any way they could.
Our next stop – the community of Silibwet in Olenguruone, in the heart of the Mau Forest. After a short jostling ride on rutted dirt roads, we arrived to find an eager, anxious collection of community members gathered at the village chief’s home. Rather than risk damage to our car, we decided to walk the last bit of the road to the chief’s home surrounded by lush native forest, expansive maize farms, grazing livestock, and a neatly manicured orchard of 375 tree tomato (tamarillo) trees, that we would later learn belong to the Chief’s wife. With everyone dressed in their best coats and brimming with pride to welcome visitors to their community we exchanged greetings of Karibu (Welcome) and asante sana (thank you very much) with our hosts. The chief welcomed us into his home and one by one we filed in (we were 7) followed by 16 community leaders including the Chief and his wife, representatives of the Women’s group, the Youth Group, a Dairy Farmers’ Association, and a Dairy Farmers’ Cooperative Society.
The house was lit by sunshine coming in from windows at the front and the open doorway, decorated with calendars a couple odd photos, with glittery boas strung along the high shelves that held the photos. Large couches, well worn from a certain history of many such community gatherings, lined the room just barely large enough to squeeze our group of 25 with some people finding seats on the armrests or rickety stools in the gaps between the sofas. Some stood. Ladies came and went half making sure our group well tended to, half to catch a bit of the conversation. All four community groups had begun only a couple years before with the support of two of the members our team so they were eager to show off their successes and discuss how they can achieve their goals in the months and years to come.
We opened with a prayer, followed by introductions, and then progress reports from each group, some in English, some in Kiswahili translated by the member of our team closest to the community. Our team introduced our purposes in visiting the community and all parties agreed that there was much we could do together to help them achieve their goals. We were served fruits from the garden and eventually milk tea. After tea had been taken, we closed with a prayer before the Chief was very happy to take us on a tour of the grounds, including the fruit orchard and the pen where he keeps his dairy goat. We shared one on one conversations and talked with great enthusiasm about the good things that lay ahead. We spent 20 minutes saying goodbye and thanking one another for the hospitality and for visiting. The entire group walked us down the road to our waiting vehicle which we were eager to board. The once blue skies had closed in and turned a dim gray, reminding us that it was indeed rainy season. A fact that could only be ignored for so long but at some point the skies would inevitably open and we very much needed to be back on the tarmac roads when they did.
…The findings of this journey will inform the design of a program that will seek to conserve and restore Kenya’s natural capital while providing a sound framework for ensuring community rights to access and benefit from natural resources and participate in the governance thereof. And i hope that it can help them and can make their life better.