Impacts of Decentralized Governance on Forest Conservation and Community Livelihoods in Kakamega and Loita Forests, Kenya
Mũsingo, Tito Edward Mbuvi
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There is a global trend towards decentralizing the management of forests. Forestry decentralization in Kenya is relatively new with enabling legislation having been promulgated in 2007. The impact of decentralization on forest management and livelihoods has not been adequately studied. The study overarching aim was to assess the impacts types of forest governance on forest conservation and community livelihoods, analyse the institutional factors that support and constraint decentralization of forest governance and recommend how to appropriately implement decentralized forest management in Kenya. The study was conducted in three sites: community regime in Loita Forest, full government control (government regime) in Kakamega Forest National Reserve (KFNR) and Participatory Forest Management (PFM) regime in Kakamega Forest Reserve (KFR). Households adjacent to the forests under study were randomly selected and questionnaires administered. Recall questions were administered to households in the PFM regime in order to attribute any observed livelihood impact at household level to PFM; Key informants from government departments as well as local and international non-governmental institutions were interviewed. Changes in forest condition and area over the last 30 years were determined through interpretation of satellite images using fragmentation analysis and confirmed through ecological studies. Data were analyzed using descriptive, parametric and non-parametric statistics and evaluated at P=0.05 level of significance. Chi-square tests and simple linear regression were conducted to explore perceived decentralization management scenarios and to check the relationship between quantity of resource accessed and distance into the forest as well as other quantitative characteristics of the household respectively. It was observed that promulgation of The Forests Act, 2005 revised to The Forest Conservation and Management Act (2016) was a bold step that signalled the start of decentralization of forestry governance in Kenya. The households in the government regime (84.5%) and the community regime (78.2%) indicated that the forest was better managed compared to 55.7% in the PFM regime. Joint community and government management individually did not contribute optimally to better forest management but it was perceived to have more benefits. The households and policy-makers respondents indicated that there was change in forest condition with the community noting a significant decrease of forest size across the different forms of management (χ² = 27.614, p<0.05). This was confirmed by satellite images analysis. Though the government regime approach was good for biodiversity conservation, it contradicted concepts of sustainable development, does not enhance equity and impoverish communities. In the PFM regime, the policy-makers indicated forestry management was under decentralization (87.2%) and PFM was the major management approach (58%) applied in Kenya. Though the study indicates that each regime was appropriate in its own context, PFM regime was indicated to be the preferred regime because it: facilitates better forest management and improved household livelihoods; ensures that the five types of property rights are not the preserve of one stakeholder; was drifting towards devolution; was facilitating the subsidiarity principle and does not negatively impact on the greater common good; was empowering the partners at all levels; ensures the communities have tenure rights over some forest products and there are incentives in place to manage the forest sustainably. The PFM regime ensures the State decentralize power to Community Forest Associations (CFAs). It confers legitimacy through election of CFA by members whom they all interact with and whom they are accountable to. This enables the community to build social capital necessary for better forest management and improved household livelihoods.