LOITA, (NAROK COUNTY) -While the war against poaching and encroachment of the Mau Forest jumped from a good initiative to politics and war pitting communities against each other, it is a different picture in Loita Forest, about 147km away from Narok town.
Here, in Loita village, residents have taken it upon themselves to conserve the forest; fight against poaching and cutting down of indigenous trees. Loita, fondly known by locals as Naimina Enkiyio (forest of the lost child), is one of the remnants of indigenous forests in Kenya.
Locals believe it is theirs to treasure, aided by a global non-profit organisation - International Fund for Animal Welfare Protection (IFAW) and Ilkimpa Community Conservation Association (ICCA).
The Ten Boma model is akin to national government's Nyumba Kumi initiative and brings together members of the community into conserving the environment. It includes elders like the Oloiboni, community scouts, rangers and morans with a common goal of conserving the environment.
Faye Cuevas, Senior Vice President of IFAW, said they developed the idea following the suspected killing of elephants in Loita Forest in 2016."It was then that we started looking at what we as IFAW could do to help the community conserve Loita Forest,” she said.
"Ten Boma is a wildlife security initiative that focuses on providing security for wildlife and people that live near protected areas," Ms Cuevas explained.
"It works in such a way that we built a system that data information about security threats, analyses that data and delivers it to the law enforcement agencies," she said.
Members of the community were divided into enough groups to protect the land and according to their leaders; they have played significant roles in its conservation.The project addresses the Loita Maasai sub-clan of the Inkidongi (Laibon) lineage, a community of about 3,272 men and women and another 25,000 indirect beneficiaries in the wider Loita community.
"We have community rangers and scouts who act as our eyes because we cannot access Loita Forest all the time," said ICCA Director Crescentia Senteu.
The Oloiboni, who is the spiritual leader of the Maasai community, leads the elders and the entire team in conserving the forest. Loita Forest is a sacred place and no one is allowed into the forest without the direct and authoritative permission of the Oloiboni.
Among the groups, there are two special categories whose roles are more advanced. First are the scouts; eight well trained, equipped and dressed passionate men whose role is to tour the forest, guard it, record coordinates and compile reports in an occurrence book before sending verified data to their main office.
Secondly, and more interestingly, are the women photographers from an empowerment group called Nkonyek Oolkimpa. These are aggressive women who believe that pictures can indeed tell a story. IFAW, in conjunction with Lensational, provide them with cameras and photography lessons.
They are then asked to document whatever they encounter around Loita Forest.Kenya Wildlife Service through the Narok County Senior Warden Dickson Ritan plays an advisory role to the community and believes community organisation plays a huge role in forest conservation.Working together"We have been working together with communities in the land around Masai Mara National Reserve and so far we have 16 community conservancies," Mr Ritan said.
Compared to other forests in Narok County, Loita seems to benefit hugely from the Ten Boma strategy and so begs the question, why can't other communities, including those around Mau, do the same?
Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya, who has been at the center of fighting encroachment in Mau Forest, said the two scenarios were different.
“What we are seeing in the Mau is that the forest was left for everyone. No one is responsible. That is why people come from as far as Kisii, Nyamira, Nakuru and other places to invade the forest,” he said.
A similar edition of this article was published on the Standard Digital