Community Forest Associations play an important role in protecting, conserving and managing forests in Kenya. Communities that live near the forests form these associations. These communities use the forests sustainably as a source of livelihood by generating income, thereby easing the pressure on the forested areas.

In addition, they use these associations to play a significant role in decision making concerning land use. They support the government efforts in forest conservation and management and as change agents.

The Community Forest Associations benefit from the communal management of forests by generating income from timber and non-timber forest products. It is one way of community empowerment and poverty reduction.

A legal framework should exist to establish and define the role of the Community Forest Associations. The Forest Conservation and Management Act is the law that meets that purpose in Kenya.

Application for community participation

Part V of the Forest Conservation and Management Act provides community participation in forest conservation and management.

A member of a forest community may, together with other members or persons resident in the same area, register a community forest association per the provisions of the Societies Act.

Once registered, a Community Forest Association may apply to the Kenya Forest Service for permission to participate in the conservation and management of a public forest:

However, an association should not make such an application where a prior agreement or license exists concerning that forest.

An application made to the Kenya Forest Service should be in the prescribed form and should provide—

  • a list of the members of the association and its address;
  • the Constitution of the association;
  • the association’s financial regulations;
  • the area of forest for which the association proposes to undertake conservation and management;
  • the association’s proposals concerning—
    • use of forest resources;
    • methods of conservation of biodiversity;
    • methods of monitoring and protecting wildlife and plant populations and enforcing such protection; and
  • such other information as the Chief Conservator of Forests may require (this person is responsible for the day to day management of the Kenya Forest Service).

The Kenya Forest Service may impose conditions to a Community Forest Association granted permission to participate in the conservation and management of a public forest. Such conditions include developing a forest management plan per the Forest Conservation and Management Act.

The Kenya Forest Service should maintain an up to date record of all associations that have received permission to participate in the conservation and management of a public forest.

Role of community forest associations

Where a community forest association receives permission to participate in the management or conservation of a forest, that association should—

  • protect, conserve and manage the forest or a part of it following an approved management agreement entered with the Kenya Forest Service and the provisions of the management plan for the forest;
  • formulate and implement sustainable forest programmes that should be consistent with the traditional forest user rights of the relevant forest community;
  • protect sacred groves and protected trees;
  • assist the Kenya Forest Service or any other relevant authority in enforcing the provisions of the Forest Conservation and Management Act, including illegal harvesting of forest products;
  • Enter into partnerships with other persons to ensure the efficient and sustainable conservation and management of the forest, with the approval of the Kenya Forest Service;
  • inform the Kenya Forest Service of any developments, changes and occurrences within the forest which are critical for the conservation of biodiversity;
  • help in firefighting; and
  • do any other activity necessary for the efficient conservation and management of the forest.

The management agreement between the Kenya Forest Service and the Community Forest Association should confer on the association all or any of the following forest user rights—

  • collection of medicinal herbs;
  • harvesting of honey;
  • harvesting of timber or fuelwood;
  • grass harvesting and grazing;
  • collection of forest produce for community-based industries;
  • ecotourism and recreational activities;
  • scientific and education activities;
  • plantation establishment through non-resident cultivation;
  • contracts to assist in carrying out specified forestry operations;
  • development of community wood and non-wood forest-based industries; and
  • other benefits the association and the Kenya Forest Service may agree upon from time to time.

However, there are limitations to these user rights—

  • the Community Forest Association should ensure none of the activities conflict with the conservation of biodiversity; and
  • the Chief Conservator of Forests may prescribe rules to conduct the activities in consultation with the association.

Termination or variation of a management agreement

The Chief Conservator of Forests may terminate a management agreement with a community forest association that has permission to participate in the management or conservation of a forest or withdraw a particular user right where—

  • the association breaches the terms and conditions thereof;
  • it is necessary for protecting or conserving biodiversity; or
  • the association asks the Chief Conservator of Forests to terminate the agreement or withdraw the user right.

When the Chief Conservator of Forests intends to terminate a management agreement or withdraw a specific user right, the Chief Conservator of Forests must notify the association at least thirty days before the termination or withdrawal of the management agreement or user rights.

The Chief Conservator of Forests should allow the association to challenge the decision to terminate the management agreement or withdraw the user right.

If the association is dissatisfied with the decision of the Chief Conservator of Forests, it may file an appeal with the Kenya Forest Service Board. The appeal application should be within thirty days of receiving the decision of the Chief Conservator of Forests.

For more information about the Community Forest Associations, see Part V of the Forest Conservation and Management Act