Forest Communities, Kenyan Government Hold Promising Talks on Sharing Forest Resources

March 9, 2015


Participants actively engage in a Q&A session during the “Deepening Dialogue with Stakeholders in the Forest Sector in Kenya” colloquium held March 4-6, 2015 in Eldoret, Kenya. 

  • More than 300 stakeholders met during a three-day colloquium to address long-standing issues concerning forest management, sharing of forest resources and land tenure and access rights
  • Speakers from Mexico, Tanzania and Ghana shared their knowledge and experience on the management of forest resources and benefit-sharing
  • A proposal to form a multi-sectoral steering committee on Indigenous Forest Peoples’ issues came out of the discussion

ELDORET, March 6, 2015 – After episodes of controversy surrounding government officials’ forced evictions of indigenous communities from Kenya’s forests, representatives of forest-dependent communities and government leaders met during a three-day colloquium to discuss long-standing, forest management issues.

More than 300 participants gathered in the town of Eldoret in Kenya’s Rift Valley for the “Deepening Dialogue with Stakeholders in the Forest Sector in Kenya,” colloquium, representing most of the major indigenous forest communities in the country, including Sengwer, Ogiek, Ilchamus, Maasai, Yiaku, and Kaya. Hosted by the Government of Kenya and facilitated by the World Bank, the colloquium provided a unique opportunity for the forest-dependent communities to engage constructively with the government and other stakeholders on contentious challenges in the management and sharing of forest resources.

“Our shared vision is that of leading fulfilled lives, a stable economy and maintaining enriched culture,” said a visibly optimistic Joseph K Towett, who chairs the Indigenous Forest Peoples’ Representative Committee. 

" We shall contribute our rich knowledge towards restoring the lost glory of our forests "

Joseph K. Towett

During the event, community members shared their experiences and perspectives, complained and argued, but the hope for lasting solutions to their age-old land and legacy issues also became stronger as the three-day colloquium came to an end this weekend.

Richard Lesiyampe, Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (MoEWNR) energized the participants with his speeches and enthusiasm to truly bring solutions to the land and legacy issues in the country. 

“We have engaged in frank and open discussion during these last three days and agreed to continue consultations on the complex issues of participatory management of the forest sector,” Lesiyampe said. “The government has a responsibility and is committed to resolve the issues we have heard in this forum.”

Hours of discussions among community leaders and senior government officials inside the meeting hall resulted in a proposal to form a multi-sectoral steering committee on Indigenous Forest Peoples’ issues. The committee is expected to follow up on the ideas and perspectives generated during the discussion and from the government-hosted National Forum in Nakuru in January, with the Forest-Dependent Communities.

During the event, participants shared their concerns frankly and openly, and despite differing opinions, kept the conversation going. For example, in response to an email campaign alleging that the forest department had carried out forced evictions in the Embobut forest, the government hosted a site visit. More than a dozen community leaders, members of civil society, media and representatives of development agencies made the trip, and came back with differing interpretations of whether anything had occurred. But they had a fundamental agreement; the conversation to address the underlying issues must continue and not get derailed.

“This has been a unique event and we are particularly impressed by the collaborative spirit that persisted throughout the Colloquium, despite the passions, tensions and differing points of view on land forest resources management issues,” said Magda Lovei, the World Bank’s Practice Manager for Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice, during her concluding remarks on behalf of the Bank.

Community representatives expressed their appreciation for the spirit of dialogue that the government has embraced in recent months.

“The government has listened to our views and there is goodwill to resolve the long-standing issues that have affected the livelihoods of the communities,” said Jennifer Koinante from Laikipia North.

Tecla Chumba from Baringo County said the open forum created an opportunity for the stakeholders to share their views and experiences freely on forest issues, including conversation and protection of water towers.

“We have exchanged ideas that have enabled us to make progress on benefit sharing and protecting our indigenous forests,” Chumba said.

Leaders from national and international civil society also engaged with the participants during the high-level event, including key speakers from Mexico, Tanzania and Ghana who shared international knowledge and experience on participatory management of forest resources and benefit-sharing between government and communities. Professor Judi Wakhungu, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Water and Natural Resources opened the discussions, and Diarietou Gaye, World Bank Country Director for Kenya, also spoke.

Representatives of Kenya’s county governments, Parliament and constitutional commissions including the National Land Commission, Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution, Commission on Revenue Allocation, Commission on Administrative Justice, and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights also spoke during the event. Development partners who participated included Embassy Finland, the United States Agency for International Development, and the United Nations Development Program.