The little known Boni coastal forest has exceptional abundance of biodiversity consisting of a most varied ecosystem that provides refuge for endangered mammals such as elephants, Hirola and Wild dog. But, as the Kenya Forest Working Group (KFWG) found out when they visited the forest on 4th and 5th April, perceived insecurity, poor infrastructure and remoteness of the region has ensured that the forest is largely unknown to conservationists and scientists with very little conservation effort in place.
The KFWG were on a fact finding mission to the forest in the company of JK Ndambiri, head of the North Eastern Forest Conservancy, as they sought to understand the forest better, facilitate community members in defining threats and articulating realistic and effective conservation strategies, facilitate key stakeholders meeting on Boni forest conservation in Ijara, and enhance community participation in Boni forest biodiversity conservation activities through strengthened collaboration with the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), KWS and other local organisations.
Boni forest is an indigenous open canopy coastal mosaic forest which straddles the three Districts of Tana River, Lamu and Ijara in the North Eastern Conservancy. The 1,339 km² forest is administered by Ijara County Council. Boni forest covers a quarter of the Ijara District, stretching all the way to the Eastern part of Lamu District and the Western section of Badaade district of Somalia. It has tree species rarely found in other forests. The common tree species include: Homalium abdessamadii, Croton megalocarpoides, Croton polytrichus, Excoecaria bussei and Cycads Encephalartos hildebrandtii. It has 5 threatened plant species (Dalbergia vacciniifolia, Canthium kilifiense Canthium pseudoverticillatum, Mkilua fragrans, Synsepalum subverticillatum)
The forest has several confirmed wildlife species including Hippopotamus, Aardwolf, buffalo, Bush pig, Bush buck, Caracal, Cheetah, Generuk, Grant’s gazelle, Honey badger, Black-backed jackal, Kirk’s dik dik, Leopard, Lesser kudu, Lion, Oribi, Porcupine, Red duiker, Spotted hyena, squirrels, Topi, Vervet monkeys, Yellow baboon, elephants, Warthog, Waterbuck, Wild dog and zebra.
Vital ecosystems in the area are not properly conserved and managed. Instead they are being seriously degraded at a high economical and ecological cost. Due to increased human population and settlement, there are conflicts arising in the wildlife, agriculture, and forestry sectors. In the newly settled areas, parcels of land are cleared causing localized fuel wood shortages as well as soil exposure and erosion. Export of timber from indigenous tree species for the construction and furniture industries within and outside Ijara continues to exert pressure on the forest resource. Trees such as Brachystagia huilliensis (Muhugu), Combretum schumanii (Mkongolo) and Dalbergia melanoxylon (Mpingo) from Boni forest are the primary raw material for the woodcarving industry which is a vital element of the coastal tourism sector.
Community and conservation Living adjacent to Boni forest is the Boni community which has traditionally gathered food, medicine, building materials and fuel from the forest. Once hunter-gatherers, the Boni now depend more on subsistence cultivation, livestock and harvesting wild plants and honey. Agriculture is however a new way of life to the Boni who have been cut-off from their traditional source of livelihood. Since both their traditional and new livelihood options are natural resources based, it’s important that these livelihoods means are sustainably managed. Not much is being done in this line.
Despite its importance to biodiversity, Boni forest is under threat due to inadequate knowledge of functions of its biodiversity, the actual boundaries of Boni Forest are unknown, Illegal harvesting of indigenous trees, and the search for indigenous hardwood driven by the high demand for timber in the building and construction industry especially boat making. The indigenous trees are also valued as building poles and timber for furniture. They include indigenous species locally known as Mpepechu, Mbabakofi, Mwangati, Mvule among others. Unscrupulous traders used to deploy their workers inside the remote areas of the forest where the timber was secretly harvested and transported to Lamu.
Another threat to this forest is bush fires started by honey gatherers and livestock owners for pests control and pasture improvement. Bush fires often spread across a large area indiscriminately burning forest biodiversity, thereby affecting the regeneration of some vegetation species. This often leads to degradation of the habitat and expansion of grassland at the expense of the woody plants. Bush fires were evident in various places. Stakeholders met during the fact finding mission said wild fires are rampant during the dry season. Other threats include cattle influx in the forest, deforestation and degradation of forest, Human wildlife conflict, lack of a management plan and lack of legal protection.
What can be done?
KFWG recommends that the gazettement of Boni Forest be fast tracked to give the forest legal protection. This should go hand in hand with awareness creation on environmental conservation focusing on coastal forests and quick establishment of community forest associations (CFAs) to help monitor and conserve the forest. Basic knowledge on biodiversity, functional nature of the forest and watershed, local patterns of drainage and rainfall and the relationships between forest and people should be enhanced. Alternative sustainable community livelihood options should also be explored.
Overall, Boni is a critical biodiversity area and con certed efforts involving the community, government and other organizations are needed to mitigate against threats to the forest. Importantly, traditional and modern livelihood options for the community need to be sustainably managed in order to maintain the integrity of the resource.