Pursuing Maathai’s dream of community-led conservation

January 25, 2016 3:30 pm
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In Kenya, human wildlife conflict and encroachment of protected areas are perennial arguments that make Prof Maathai's concerns a reality/FILE
In Kenya, human wildlife conflict and encroachment of protected areas are perennial arguments that make Prof Maathai’s concerns a reality/FILE
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 25 – In her memoir ‘Unbowed’ Nobel Laureate Professor Wangari Maathai believes that conflict between humans and natural resources is an obstacle to protecting natural resources.

Despite her death about five years ago, her words have lived to be a reality and lesson for most African countries.

In Kenya, human wildlife conflict and encroachment of protected areas are perennial arguments that make Prof Maathai’s concerns a reality.

These are the concerns that have inspired Gloria Borona, a Kenyan candidate undertaking a PhD in Forestry at the University of British Columbia.

Borona shares same thoughts that the solution to resolving conflict between governments and communities over Kenya’s diverse landscapes rest in finding existing links between those communities and the landscapes near them.

In her view, conservation should be community led as opposed to imposing threats or evicting communities from areas deemed to be protected.

“Communities are the most underused resources in conservation. Our practices lock them out as they are perceived to be destructive. It has created a lot of problems. The oldest conserved areas are community run conserved areas. You cannot win if you exclude the communities.”

Whereas most people think about resources in terms of commercialisation, people living near such landscapes gain other benefits important to their heritage and culture.

“I started seeing those linkages between culture and nature. I got to travel a lot around the African continent and again see those connections those communities have with their landscapes – they just don’t see them as only a forest.

There are so many layers to it, the cultural practices, resources that they derive from the forests and so on.”

Through her love for rock art, Borona discovered paintings and engravings on stones in some of the finest African heritage including Kenya.

Interesting for her, was the link between communities living around the rock sites in Africa and their role in improving and preserving those sites.

“I started seeing those linkages between culture and nature. I got to travel a lot around the African continent and again see those connections those communities have with their landscapes. They just don’t see that this is only a forest, there are so many layers to it, the cultural practices, the resources that they derive from the forests and so on,” she explained.

She discovered similar interactions when she worked with an aboriginal community in Australia’s North Territory which she deemed as a success story in managing protected areas.

Part 1 | Part 2

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