Sunday, May 27, 2018

001The sacred Kaya forests of the Mijikenda community are a living legacy of the people’s history, culture and religion. It is near Diani Beach in Kwale county that is internationally recognized as a tourist destination.

The forest is well represented in biodiversity in terms of sheer diversity, endemism, rarity in many biological groups and bears marks of prolonged human settlement and use. It has 187 plant species, 45 butterfly species, over 48 bird species, the colobus monkey and the rare golden-rumped elephant shrew.

The forest has opened up for controlled ecotourism, a first in the Kenyan coast, which aims to generate income and conserve the sacred forest. The diverse flora and fauna of the forest and the associated processes support local communities in sectors such as biomass energy, food, shelter, herbal medicine, the ecotourism industry and agricultural productivity.

002The forests are also important sources of non-provisioning ecosystem services such as air and water purification, pollination, seed dispersal, climate modification, soil stabilization, drought and flood control, recycling of nutrients, and maintaining healthy habitats. Others include spiritual and aesthetic values, supporting indigenous knowledge systems, and education.

Biodiversity conservation, particularly in these primary sacred forests, mitigates the loss of variability of plant genetic resources and hence averts an economic slump in the region. The conservation and sustainable use of the genetic resources is important to the survival of the local communities and environmental conservation.

Local adaptation strategies to climate change are directly supported by the rich biodiversity of the Kaya forests. For example, improvements in crop cultivars and varieties are made possible by harnessing genes from wild species and known varieties. The rich biodiversity observed in Kaya forests is a natural reservoir of genetic traits in crop cultivars and traditional landraces that is important in improving agricultural production.

003However, the involvement of foreign business interests in property grab is contributing to the destruction of the indigenous vegetation posing a threat to the ecosystem. Moreover, tourist development has been destructive to the Kaya Forests as the Diani area has been intensively developed thereby drastically reducing the forest area.

As we prepare to celebrate the International Day for Biodiversity (IDB) on Monday 22nd May, 2017, it is good to note that the current pristine status of many Kayas demonstrate the important role that social taboos have played in biodiversity conservation over time; as these forests have remained intact due to taboos that prohibited tree felling, livestock grazing and extraction of forest products.




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