Tropical Forest Conservation versus Conversion Trade-Offs: Insights from Analysis of Ecosystem Services Provided by Kakamega Rainforest in Kenya
Mutoko, M. C.
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Ecosystem services provided by tropical forests are becoming scarcer due to continued deforestation as demand for forest benefits increases with the growing population. There is need for comprehensive valuation of key ecosystem services in order to inform policy and implement better management systems to enhance the supply of ecosystem services. This study estimates local economic value of key ecosystem services provided by Kakamega rainforest and examines how the information can support sustainable forest management in Kenya. This is the only rainforest in Kenya and it has exceptional biodiversity value including several unique species not found anywhere else in the country. Kakamega rainforest also provides a classic case of conflict between conservation and exploitation goals given the dense population around it. We carried out elaborate household and visitors surveys to collect data used to estimate the economic value of three main ecosystem services. We estimated the total economic value of key ecosystem services (excluding biodiversity value) at about US$ 7.4 million per year or US$ 415 ha−1 yr−1. The local economic benefits are considerably less than forgone returns from agricultural activities if the forest were to be converted to the best agricultural uses. Arguably, continued protection of this forest is justified on the basis of the unknown value of its rich biodiversity and capacity to sequester CO2. Empirical findings show that the existing forest management system was less effective due to resource constraints and institutional weaknesses. Our study provides insights for the need to manage this forest for multiple uses. We recommend an integrated management strategy that balances local resource needs with biodiversity conservation. We suggest that improved stakeholder collaboration can facilitate sustainable management of this forest resource. Besides, carefully crafted payment for ecosystem services mechanisms and broad environmental education programs can support sustainable forest conservation for this and other similar forest ecosystems in Africa.