Contribution of Ecotourism to Forest Conservation and Improvement of Community Livelihood in Dakatcha Woodland, Kilifi County, Kenya
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Globally, ecotourism emerged from the environmental movement of the late 1970s as a reaction to the environmental and social damage caused by mass tourism. In Africa, developing countries were particularly caught up in a dilemma; balancing the economic benefits of tourism vis-a-vis its harmful effects on culture and environment. Kenya is one of the pioneers and most popular ecotourism destinations in the world; it was Africa's first country to experiment with ecotourism in national parks and reserves and several ecotourism projects have since been initiated for both conservation and development goals. Dakatcha woodland in Magarini Sub-County, Kilifi County of Kenya has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) due to its rich biodiversity and cultural attractions which make it suitable for ecotourism. Magarini Sub-county has high poverty levels, this coupled with the lack of formal protection status of Dakatcha woodland has led local communities to engage in environmentally degrading activities. The overall objective of the study was therefore to investigate the contribution of ecotourism to forest conservation and community livelihood improvement in Dakatcha woodland. The specific objectives were to determine the relationship between community participation in ecotourism and forest conservation, assess the contribution of ecotourism to poverty reduction and to identify the opportunities and challenges to community participation in ecotourism. To achieve the objectives of the study, both primary and secondary data was collected through descriptive and correlational design. Focus group discussion, questionnaires, direct observations, interviews, photography as well as critical and systematic review of both published and unpublished materials were used to collect data. Quantitative data obtained from household questionnaires was analysed using both SPSS version 17.0 and Excel computer software programs, while qualitative data obtained from Focus group discussion and key informant interviews was analysed using descriptive statistics involving computation of sums, means and percentages. Summaries of representative practices were produced and the results presented using graphs and tables. Regression analysis (p<0.05) was performed to determine the effect of community participation in ecotourism on conservation status, household income and education levels. Results of the study revealed that community participation in ecotourism has contributed to; conservation of Dakatcha woodland (r =0.1515, p=0.041), increased household income (r2=0.6124, p=0.002), and improved education levels (r2=0.6273, p=0.0034). The findings also showed that ecotourism presents several opportunities for local communities including long-term protection of the environment, community development, cultural exchange and preservation of cultural heritage. Ecotourism is thus an effective conservation and development tool for communities living in Dakatcha woodland. However communities face various challenges such as seasonal nature of tourism, language barrier and poor infrastructure. It is recommended that community capacity building, infrastructure development and adequate marketing of the woodland should be undertaken while stakeholder collaboration needs to be strengthened to enhance both conservation and livelihood benefits.