Coastal Forests of Kenya are home to World Biodiversity hotspots, thanks to the existence of strong indigenous knowledge and traditional management systems and practices.
Kenya coastal forests are ranked among the twelve most diverse ecosystems in the world, and are considered globally important as a result. Scientists believe that more than 40% of Kenya’s rare plant species are found here.
Most coastal forests of Kenya owe their existence to local communities’ indigenous knowledge and understanding, coupled with strong traditional and cultural practices and customary laws. While this level of acquaintance is lost to many communities elsewhere in Kenya, it thrives in coast region, resulting to strong and intricate links between the lives of the indigenous communities and the forests close by.
A perfect case is the Aweer community of Lamu, the only remaining hunter-gatherer community in the coast region. Among the Aweer, the traditional uses are both material and spiritual, and represent an understanding not necessarily comparable with scientific perspectives.
The Aweer, estimated to be a population of 3,000 people are known to have been an exceptional forest community, living inside the Boni-Dodori forest ecosystem and depending on the forest resources for all their basic needs. They are thus one of the best examples of a native community that has a traditional forest management system in the Kenya coast.
The management of forest resources is conducted through defined rules and regulations, developed and reviewed by the supreme council, the Gun – led by Madhawi representatives from other clans that must be included in the Gun. Each clan has a defined responsibility. For example, Turta and Karara were leaders in traditional prayers and also the ones to give guidance on resource collection time and collection sites. The youth group (Gurba) constituted of unmarried but mature youths (over eighteen years of age) led by lewi-Gurba to undertake policing, surveillance and transmission of information.
Through support from Act! CRM facility, The Worldwide Fund for Nature is currently working hand in hand with the Aweer Wildlife and Environmental Resources (AWER) group, an organisation formed to champion the interests and rights of this marginalised group. The project aims at advocating and lobbying the government (both at national and county level) and other actors to entrench indigenous knowledge systems and practices in the policies and legal framework of Kenya at county and national level.