Opportunities and challenges to community participation in ecotourism management in Kimana communal ranch, Kijiado district, Kenya
Wandaka, John Kamau M.
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Tourism, the temporary movement of people from their areas of domicile and back, has brought many socio-economic benefits in many developing countries with limited options for development. The Kenyan Government Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper of 2001 recognized the tourism industry as one of die best means of poverty reduction due to the high multiplier effect of tourism on every facet of the economy. Unfortunately, these benefits are often accompanied by negative social and environmental impacts, degrading the very resource base on which the tourism industry depends for sustainability. Ecotourism, being environmental friendly, emphasizes the institution of mechanisms to minimize the negative impacts, through the involvement of local communities, in the tourism area. This is important as these people determine die long-term future and profitability of the ecotourism industry. 1'lie study focused on Kimana Communal Ranch, in Kajiado District, Kenya, where a wildlife sanctuary was established in 1992, officially opened in 1996, as the first ever community wildlife sanctuary in Africa. The study sought to investigate the extent of local community participation; the opportunities and challenges to the effective community participation; and how the nature of benefits and their distribution affects the motivation for the local community to participate in ecotourism management. Primary data was collected over a nine months period (April to December 2003), through questionnaires, interviews; site visits and focused group discussions. Secondary data was obtained from academic journals, relevant publications and the Internet. The study investigated the aforementioned opportunities and challenges and made recommendations on possible mitigation measures. The results are presented using frequencies, and percentages in form of tables, graphs, and pie charts. The research findings indicate that, despite the existence of opportunities for effective community participation in the management of ecotourism in the study area, this is hindered by numerous challenges. These include inequitable distribution of benefits, unsupportive legal frameworks, policy impediments, land tenure system and changing land use patterns, resource use conflicts, and unfavorable political and institutional frameworks. Although some of these barriers have been noted in several government documents, a study to analyze the said opportunities and challenges in the Kimana area has been lacking. The findings further indicate that, the level of involvement was not adequate to empower the community for effective participation in ecotourism management. Although the majority of the local community respondents (97.8%) indicated employment was an important potential benefit of ecotourism activities, at present this is a challenge to their participation due to the low employment levels. The findings further indicated that the 'nature and distribution of benefits accruing from ecotourism in Kimana was another major challenge to the local community participation in ecotourism, as well as lack of alternative livelihoods in the study area. If the said challenges are mitigated, the local community will effectively participate in the management of ecotourism enterprises. This is in line with the stated Kenyan government policy of the promotion of sustainable community-based programs in the vicinity of national parks and other protected areas, which are geared to popularizing ecotourism as a viable economic activity. This will contribute positively to poverty alleviation, while at the same time motivating the local communities to conserve the ecotourism resources.