Communities in the North Rift and Western Kenya are set to benefit from a partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) that seeks to promote tourism as an alternative source of income.
KWS, through the Nature Kenya project, is seeking to involve communities in ecotourism through sustainable environmental conservation, promotion of tourism sites and protection of endangered animals and plant species.
“Some of the tourism attractions and animals in the region are at the risk of extinction due to human-wildlife conflict unless proper environmental conservation measures are put in place,” said Joel Kanda, the Nandi chief warden.
UNDP and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) have donated Sh220 million to promote environmental conservation and tourism in parts of Western Kenya.
The ecotourism endeavour targets Chereng’ani Hills (Trans Nzoia ), Nandi Forest (Nandi) and Kakamega Forest (Kakamega) among other tourism attractions in the region and aims to promote ecotourism as alternative source of income to improve livelihood of the communities.
Already, the programme has kicked off in Nandi targeting five tourism sites – Kingwal Swamp, Keben Springs, Nandi Rock, Kaptumek Game Reserve and Kibirong Swamp.
“The project is community driven where they are empowered to conserve the environment and promote tourism to generate more income to improve their livelihood,” said Mr Kanda.
Kingwal Swamp is home to the rare Sitatunga antelope found only in Kenya and parts of Central Africa. It is faced with extinction due to human-wildlife conflict despite the potential to generate income from tourism.
“The project will boost tourism in the Western Kenya circuit by opening up more tourism attraction sites apart from conserving the environment to improve crop production and attain food security,” said Mr Kanda.
Lack of sufficient funding for basic maintenance of infrastructure to tourism attraction sites and poor training of community rangers have been named to threaten the sustainability of tourism as a domestic and foreign exchange earner.
“Given the declining number of wild animals caused by human-wildlife conflict and increased demand of land for agricultural purposes, there is need to put in place proper mechanisms to overcome challenges that could threaten the growth and expansion of the tourism sector,” said Mr Kanda.
He said it costs about Sh120,000 to train one ranger to check on poaching and destruction of wetlands.
“The wildlife protection and environmental conservation programme is a costly venture that it requires support of other development partners,” noted Mr Kanda.
He said various government departments including KWS, Kenya Forestry Services (KFS), National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Kenya Forestry Research Institute are to implement the two-year project.