Impact of climate variability on selected Kipsigis sacred plant species in Belgut division, Kericho County, Kenya
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Indigenous plant species have salient socio-cultural significance among many peoples of Africa. In Kenya, certain plant species are important for ceremonial functions such as marriage and rites of passage. Among the Kalenjin, over 100 species are important for such functions. However, the species are relatively under threat in their occurence and abundance due to climate variations and impacts of development. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of climate change on the occurrence and abundance of three selected plant species namely (Croton macrostachyus Hochst. ex Delile, 1847, Periploca linearifolia Linnaeus, 1753 and Vernonia auriculifera Linnaeus, 1847. Croton macrostachyus); that are culturally significant among the Kipsigis of Belgut Division in Kericho County. The selected plants were commonly used to construct a prayer altar “mabwaita”. Specifically the study intended to relate climate variability to the culturally-important tree species’ occurrence and abundance. Three hundred and ninety five households were randomly selected from rural farms in Belgut Division, Kabianga location. Questionnaires were administered to the heads of the households about the perceived impacts of climate variability on the plant species. The questionnaires included the Likert type scale on which the respondents expressed their beliefs about species occurrence and abundance in relation to climate variability. Focused group discussions on the occurrence and abundance of the species were held with key informants from the area, visual assessment of the land cover of the selected plant species were also made to estimate the species occurence and abundance. Other relevant information was obtained from secondary sources such as that of rainfall and temperature data from 1980 to 2012 was obtained from Kericho meteorological department. The data obtained was statistically analyzed by use of SPSS and results discussed and presented in tables, charts and graphs. Respondents who reported that rainfall and temperature patterns have varied significantly over time represents 92.7% while those that responded that there has not been any change represents 7.3%. The difference between the two categories of respondents was significant (χ2=218.5, p=0.000). The responses were tested by adopting statistical significance of p≤0.05. From the study it was found that rainfall and temperature variability have affected the three sacred plant species under study, but the most affected of all is P. linearifolia followed by V. auriculifera and the least affected is C. macrostachyus. However apart from climate variability human activities have also affected the plants occurrence and abundance. Recommendation made for further study include; Farmers to practice agroforestry (growing of trees alongside crops). Farmers should also establish forests within their farms. This will increase evapotranspiration and create more carbon sinks hence maintaining an ideal temperature and rainfall for vegetation. The community should be encouraged to domesticate the plants, especially P. linearifolia. Riparian strip should be left undisturbed to allow natural vegetation to grow. These will include C. macrostachyus, V. auriculifera and P. linearifolia and others. Exotic trees (i.e eucalyptus ssp) along the riparian strip should be cut down. Farming along the strip should also be discouraged. Researchers to find out ways in which occurrence and abundance of C. macrostachyus, V. auriculifera and P. linearifolia can be enhanced.