Northern Kenya contains some of the country's most intact Forests
Very few people know about the forests of Northern Kenya. These are found across a variety of biomes, ranging from the dry desert and rising up into the lush cloud forests. They provide a stark contrast from the barren stereotype given to this part of the world. More importantly, they are the main source of water, medicine and food for everybody and everything living in this ecosystem. One of the most important programmes of the Milgis Trust is to help the communities understand the implications of habitat destruction and to teach them how to sustainably utilize forest resources.
The Ndoto's, Nyiru and Lenkiyou (Matthews) range mountains are the main water catchment for the 6000 square kilometre Milgis ecosystem.
It is our mandate to protect the forests, and the rivers that they support - for without these forests, there is no water. The entire sustainability of the region relies on the preservation of these watersheds.
Aside from having some of the largest trees in the country, we can also boast a formidable species list.
Endangered species include East African Sandlewood,Cycads Cedar, Podocarpus and rosewood. Through herbal medicine and Bee-keeping projects we seek to give value to all species that the Samburu have cherished for many centuries.
Fire is the biggest threat faced by these forests. During the dry season, the thick shrub kind of flora covering most of the slopes are like a'petrol bomb', and because the slopes are so steep the fires rage right up into the cloud forests. Fires are mostly started by careless beekeepers who are not educated on smoking bees in a safe manner.
Additionally, livestock herders often irresponsably burn their
way through the thick undergrowth, thinking that their cattle
will have better grazing. In area's where there are no
elephants, we find that this problem is emphasised. This
is because elephants make paths where through the
undergrowth that the herders can use, rather than burning
their way through.
De-forestation has been accelerated in the last five years.
This is largely attributed to the increase of development and
need for valuable resources such as wood. The trade in
Cedar, podocarpus and sandalwood is ever increasing and
can easily temp communities into cutting these species.
On the ground Scouts
The Milgis trust network of scouts are the frontline of forest protection in the Ndoto Mountains and Northern Matthews range. Everyday they patrol the forested valleys and slopes in which their communities are living - making sure that everybody is respecting the forest which they are so reliant on. They are responsible for teaching the concepts of sustainable harvesting of plants as well as protecting rare species from external exploitation. The scouts report back to the base twice a day with any useful information.
We are developing a bee-keeping programme that will provide an alternative income for communities as well as teaching sustainable harvest practices. The aim is to teach bee-keepers from each community how to use a bee-smoker and langstrothe hive properly. This should reduce fires caused by careless harvesting. Furthermore, it will encourage the keepers to manage their resources whilst providing a financial incentive through cooperatives.
An equally important programme being developed is a herbal medicine programme. The Samburu people are traditionally inclined to using herbal medicine rather than clinical options. Most of the older generation are still very knowledgeable on medicinal plants and are actively using traditional alternatives. However, the younger generation are exposed to the influx of modern medicine. They are being prescribed antibiotics for even the most mild of ailments. This is costly, unhealthy and unnecessary, especially when their backyard contains a wealth of medicinal plants.
This programme will be a good conservation strategy because it will revive the importance that Samburu people give to their plants. So far we have done a full survey of all medicinal plants in the region and are currently training three herbal medicine doctors. The idea is that they will be able to care for the basic health requirements of the communities. Furthermore, they will be able to teach people how to identify, prepare and apply herbal medicine, thus giving value to their plants.