Forests Conservation Challenges: A Case Study of Aberdare National Park

As celebrations for International Forests Day are underway with activities like tree planting aimed at reducing the impacts of climate change and building resilience among communities, one lingering question is how communities can effectively embrace these actions to make a significant impact.

Forests are crucial ecosystems not only for humanity but also for biodiversity, wildlife, water sources, oceans, and weather patterns. Indigenous knowledge has greatly enriched local communities’ efforts in protecting their ecosystems such as forestry.

As the world celebrates International Day of Forests with the theme “Forests and Innovation: New Solutions for a Better World,” statistics, aided by technology, point to a troubling trend of ecosystem degradation.

According to the United Nations, new technological advancements are crucial as they assist in early warning systems, sustainable commodity production, and empowering Indigenous Peoples through land mapping and access to climate finance. However, records show a worrying trend, with up to 10 million hectares lost annually due to deforestation and approximately 70 million hectares affected by fires.

Issues related to forestry protection have proven to be challenging and continue to spiral out of control as forests are prey to loggers, land encroachers, furniture makers, animal hunters, firewood seekers, and human development activities. This has led to a decrease in forest coverage at local, regional, and global levels, highlighting the urgent need for conservationists and environmentalists to lobby for maximum protection for effective conservation.

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An aerial view of a waterfall in Aberdare National Park courtesy@ Kws

Now more than ever, it is crucial to educate and inform people, communities, learners, stakeholders, and policymakers about the benefits of strong commitments to protecting these ecosystems. This call is emphasized by the increasing frequency of climate-induced disasters globally over the past decade.

A recent concern is the construction of a mega highway through Aberdare National Park in Kenya. This highway cuts through a vital ecosystem supplying water to Sasumua and Ndakaini dams in central Kenya and Nairobi. Additionally, it serves as a water catchment for Tana River, supporting the seven Forks hydroelectric power plant that generates 55% of Kenya’s electricity.

The proposed Ihithe-Ndunyu Njeru road aims to enhance connectivity between Nyandarua and Nyeri counties. However, community groups and conservationists oppose this project, fearing it will disrupt the Aberdare Ranges ecosystem and lead to increased human-wildlife conflicts.

This mega highway is planned to comprise a 52-kilometer stretch traversing several sections which will probably cause upheaval in the park. Conservation groups, including the Conservation Alliance of Kenya, African Wildlife Foundation of Kenya, and WWF-Kenya, have moved to court to call for a ban on the construction, emphasizing the critical importance of the Aberdare as a water catchment area.

Despite a court order halting the project in 2009 following rallying calls from conservationists, the recent decision to reapprove the construction by NEMA Director General Mamo Boru in January 2024 has sparked mixed reactions among citizens.

Some advocate for the development of an alternative route, the Ndaragwa-Pesi-Shamata-Kariamu route, which currently exists but is in poor condition and only needs renovation. Others see the mega highway as crucial for achieving a sustainable 24-hour economy and optimal connectivity in the country, arguing that accessibility must be improved to meet productivity targets.

So what’s next? For those familiar with the case, it will be good to have your thoughts…

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