Malava town is a strategic urban centre with administrative and civic functions and currently serving
as the headquarters for Malava Sub County and is also a commercial, transport, industrial, and eco-hub bordering Malava forest to the North and it falls within a ten kilometer radius of both multi Million Butali and West Kenya Sugar factories that have been known to contaminate river Chebaywa and Mwela respectively with their affluent despite them having purification ponds.
Also not left out from the onslaught is the Malava forest which through failure by the county government to ensure proper waste management has led to the residents and business owners continue to dump solid waste in it that endangers the growth of forest canopy at the same time polluting it hence endangering the wildlife and water catchment areas putting it mind that most of rivers have their sources in the forest.
We embarked on a mission to find out how one community based organization (CBO) has been on the forefront in ensuring that the Malava forest does not become extinct through massive pollution and solid waste disposal.
The Malava community forest association which has been mandated to conserve and protect the forest from further exploitation has put in place various measures that are both beneficial to the locals and forest at the same time.
The association which was formed in 2007 in regard to the 2005 environmental act which stipulates that each forest area should have an association to conserve. It has 500 members who are grouped in various user groups.
According to the secretary Stanley Chiveti, the association has the following user groups; plantation establishment livelihood scheme (PELIS) where farmers are allowed to plant short term crops and also plant tree seedlings in the forest.
The grazers user group involves those locals with livestock who are allowed to graze or harvest grass from the forest for their livestock while timber and firewood group gives mandate for firewood collection of fallen tree branches as the timber harvesting is done following the Kenya forest due process.
The fisheries and beekeepers has allowed the association to set up fish ponds and beehives within the forest that generate food and as a source of income for them.
It also has taken the mandate to enlighten the women and youths on the importance of bee keeping and fish farming as a steady source of income so that they deviate from destroying the forest through logging.
The ecotourism group guides the visitors around the forest where they can view a range of wildlife (monkeys, baboons, snakes birds and different tree species)
But it is yet to receive funding to enable it become more vibrant and generate income through setting up of eco hotels and lodges.
Water resources association (WRUA) is considering setting up a water factory at the forest which will be bottling fresh water from the source and already a suitable place has been identified.
There are also the scouts who work in hand with the rangers in ensuring that no illegal business is going on at the forest, they are allowed to patrol in the forest and alert the authorities when they notice anything unusual.
The chairman of the James Shihuma explains how the association has been structured its programs including conservation, protection, livelihood and administration structures that safeguards the forest.
On conservation, the association works in collaboration with the Kenya forest where they have demarcated the forest regions in three sections that are conserved, protected and plantation forests.
Conservation forest section is where nothing is supposed to take place as it is the source of river Nambilima.
Protection of forest allows some activities to be carried out among others grazing, fishpond farming and bee keeping while in plantation section exploitation of timber harvesting, grazing
At the livelihood section the association assists the Kenya forest management with keeping vigil of the forest as the locals are allowed to plant maize and beans through the plantation establishment livelihood scheme (PELIS) program and continue to plant new tress as well as taking care of the existing ones.
This livelihood initiative assists the residents to also benefit from the forest as they are able to safeguard food security as one way of eradicating poverty.
The locals pay some registration fee to the association and the Kenya forest services to be allowed to farm and the exercise is renewed annually.
The efforts of the association has not gone unnoticed since its inception as by 2018, the association had planted over 130,000 trees of various species through the shamba (Pelis) program, with over 50,000 bags of maize having been harvested with the canopy of the forest having greatly improved.
Shihuma notes that the association has educated the community on the importance of conserving the forest and environment at large.
He however points out that the biggest challenge has been lack of a dumping site courtesy of the Kakamega county that has led to piles of solid waste being dumped in the forest every now and then especially at night when their scouts who security are at home.
The most affected area is that bordering the residential homes within the Malava town that has uncategorized types of waste ranging from metals, plastics, glass bottles, contraceptives, sanitary pads and parts of electronic devices, and the dumping is mostly done at night and we have wrote to the county government over the same but they are yet to respond”.
The Malava tropical forest sits on 718.8 acres of land out of which 439.9 acres are under protection and conservation while the plantation area is 269.9 acres as the wetland occupies 4 acres.
The association has also been joined by other self-help groups such as Western tree planters’ association (WETPA) and Malava development organization and Jamhuri tree Nursery that has been selling tree seedlings to individuals and support the achievement of the 10 % forest cover the country is gearing towards.
The association is however undergoing challenges that has seen its weak constitution being reviewed to be in line with the participatory forest management plan (PFMP), lack of funds and donors to support the initiative has led to slow achievement of its goals, as well as the dumping of waste materials in the forest continues as the town gradually expands and attracts more urban dwellers.
The Kenya forest services manager based in the sub county acting for Malava and Matete sub counties Rhoda Ombwara says with the forest bordering the urban centre which has no dumping site is likely to be turned into one as it is the only available option for the residents and business people and more exploitation is expected as the community views it as a source of income unless they are well sensitized on its importance to them.
She has been pushing for the stakeholders to meet and come out to assist in the preservation of the forest besides visiting the community living along the forest and enlightening them to start protecting it for future generations.
“It is important to cohabit with the forest and its wildlife and I’m happy that through the goodwill and community association they have been able to improve exotic tree planting from the initial 10,000 when she reported at the station to 50,000 in hardly a month and more volunteers are reporting any theft of tree and logs and through this we have been able to make arrest of several perpetrators and have been taken to court already,” she said.
She says she is working with all the user groups to ensure the all is well and they have also set up a cattle boma at the forest to protect tree seedling from being invading trees nurseries.
She has called on the well wishers to come on board and assist in the conservation exercise noting that mobility has been a biggest challenge since the station does not have a vehicle for patrols and she is banking on the administration police to assist with the same.
The Officer also stressed the need to create markets for the nature based enterprises where the locals can find a ready consumer for their produce as this will reduce pollution and other forms of exploitation within the forest.