Benefit Sharing and Community Participation in Ecotourism in Meru and Laikipia Counties, Kenya
Ireri, Philip Murithi
MetadataShow full item record
Beneficial involvement of local communities is a cornerstone of ecotourism. It has however emerged that in developing countries, privately-owned ecolodges, joint ventures between private investors and local communities and other types of tourism businesses are characterized by low involvement of local communities and inequitable benefit distribution. This study investigated benefit distribution and community participation within ecotourism enterprises that are owned and operated solely by the local community of Il Ngwesi Group Ranch in Laikipia County and Ngare Ndare Forest Trust in Meru County. Specific objectives of the study were to analyze the socio-demographic factors that influence distribution of the benefits of ecotourism; to investigate the institutional arrangements that influence distribution of the benefits of ecotourism; to examine how the distribution of benefits affects community attitudes to ecotourism, and; to analyze how the distribution of benefits affects community participation in ecotourism. The study used mixed methods approach to collect primary data from a survey of 556 respondents, 18 focus group discussion sessions and 15 key informants. Qualitative data was analyzed using thematic analysis while for quantitative data logistical regression and ordinal regression were applied to test relationships between variables. The study established that ecotourism offered a wide variety of benefits to the local community in both study sites, with some accruing directly to individuals while others accrued to the wider community. Each of the two enterprises however still faces some of the challenges that hamper community participation and benefit distribution in other types of tourism enterprises including governance weaknesses that led to some members receiving more benefits than others; disparities in benefit distribution against sections of the community including women, those with low levels of formal education and those dwelling farther away from the conservation area, and; failure to affirmatively channel significant benefits to the poorest members of the community. The study demonstrates that though full control of tourism enterprises by local communities is beneficial, it is not a panacea for the challenge of low community participation or inequitable benefit distribution. Many local communities in Africa and other developing countries remain poor even though they occupy areas that are rich in tourism resources and have a lengthy history of participating in tourism. This study has revealed that the pursuit of equality rather than equity is one of the causes of this prevailing poverty. In addition to reviewing existing tourism policies in order for them to reflect the strong social-justice foundation set by the Constitution, the study recommends for formulation of dedicated policy on community participation in tourism in Kenya.