Northern Kenya contains some of the country's most intact Forests
Kenya's north is home to several of the most pristine forests in the country, ranging from the lush cloud forests at the tops of the mountains, that are literally "islands in the desert", down into the Acacia and Commiphora woodlands of the dry country. They are the main source of water, medicine and food for everybody and everything living in this ecosystem, however, they are facing many challenges such as wildfires, illegal logging and loss of biodiversity. The most important program of the Milgis Trust is to help the communities understand the implications of destroying these forests upon which all living beings rely on.
The entire sustainability of the region relies on the preservation of the remarkable string of mountains including Lenkiyou (Matthews),Ndoto,Nyiru and Kulal ranges as the vital water towers of the area. The crystal clear mountain streams flow down the valleys and become huge dry river beds (luggas) where the water is safety stored just under the sandy surface in a network of underground river channels. All one must do is dig a bit to find the most precious resource of the north.
The forests sport a large array of both flora and fauna which are key to the ecosystem. Aside from having some of the largest trees in the country, we also boast a formidable species list. Just to mention a few of the more endangered, East African Sandlewood, Cedar, Podocarpus and an endemic cycad as well as rare monkeys, butterflies and a wealth more, which we endure to protect. Everything is interconnected therefore it is of the utmost importance to ensure that there is a balance.
Fire is the biggest threat faced by these forests. During the dry season, the thick shrub covering most of the slopes act like a 'petrol bomb', and due to the slopes steepness the fires rage right up into the cloud forests. Fires are mostly started by careless honey gatherers and herders who fail to understand the implications of their actions. Livestock herders often irresponsibly burn their way through the thick undergrowth to clear paths up into
the mountains and burn large tracts of land, 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, another catastrophic threat, has been
accelerated recently. This is largely attributed
to the increase of better accessibility and 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
posing a threat to the forests.
Through education on the ground and sustainable practice of herbal medicine and bee-keeping practices we seek to give value to all species that the Samburu have cherished for many centuries.
On the ground Scouts
The Milgis trusts network of scouts are the frontline of forest protection in these northern mountains. Everyday they monitor the valleys, slopes and mountain tops making sure that everybody is respecting the forest which they are so reliant upon. They are responsible for ensuring that herders are not abusing the rules of the mountain, honey gatherers are using responsible practices, others are sustainably harvesting plants as well as protecting rare species from external exploitation. The scouts report back to the base twice a day with information from their patrols.
We are developing a bee-keeping programme that will provide an alternative income for communities as well as teaching sustainable harvesting 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 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 and in turn the forest. 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.