Biodiversity status and indigenous knowledge systems in conserving Boni forest, Garissa county, North Eastern Kenya
The conservation of forest bioresources is hampered by lack of information on the resources and on how communities interact with the resources. Historically, the association of local communities with resources such as forests through their Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) has played an important role in the conservation of natural resources. Unfortunately, IKS is fast getting eroded due to what can be loosely termed as “modernization”. As such Kenyan forest resources are threatened because some current conservation methods may not be compatible with forest community livelihoods. This study was undertaken in Boni Forest, Ijara Sub County in Garissa County which is rated as one of the poorest sub counties in Kenya. The aim of the study was to generate information on the forest status in terms of species composition and distribution and to identify how the community has traditionally interacted with the ecosystem. The study findings point towards the need for forest conservation methods which incorporate indigenous conservation. Vegetation data was collected from 6 transects sampled to represent the variety of ecological conditions in the forest. These were: Mararani (Coastal forests), Mangai (AcaciaCommiphora woodland), Bodhai (Riverine influence on forests), Sankuri (Lungi block of Boni Forest), Hulugho (Acacia–Commiphora woodland), Sangailu (Dryland forests & not gazetted). The data collected included a detailed species inventory and distribution, plant species information on horizontal and vertical dominance, threats to the forest resources, details of plant utilization by communities, information on existing indigenous knowledge systems on plant conservation as well as threats to this knowledge. The data collected was analyzed using parametric and non parametric methods. The findings indicated that the forests of Ijara Sub County are rich in species composition with a total of 386 plant species recorded of which 130 were woody species. The forests of the southern parts of the sub county had a higher species diversity as indicated by the Shannon Wiener diversity index. The dominant families, namely Mimosaceae and Euphorbiaceae accounted for 10.8% and 9.2% respectively of all plant species recorded. Croton pseudopulchellus (Pax) was the most abundant while Dobera glabra (Forssk), Newtonia hildebrandtii (Vatke), Adansonia digitata (L), Diospros cornii (Chiov) and Lannea schweinfurthii (Engl.) dominated in terms of basal area coverage. Other dominant species were Brachylaena huillensis O. Hoffm., Manilkara sulcata (Engl.), Acacia nilotica (L.), Willd.ex Delile and Combretum constrictum (Benth) in terms of height and crown. The research established that the forests of the study area were facing a wide range of threats including fires, illegal logging and clearances for agriculture as well as over exploitation for wood fuel. The remote sensing data indicated that the health of the forests was more influenced by climatic variations of rainfall than by human encroachment. The local communities in the area of study had a rich knowledge of the forests as indicated by the diversity of local names, uses of plants and regeneration methods. The communities, especially among the Boni as compared to the Somali, demonstrated good knowledgeof traditional control mechanisms that limited the exploitation of certain species. The study found that the transmission of indigenous knowledge systems from the elderly to the youth was hampered by conversions to new religions, attainment of formal education and the lack of written documents that explained the specific indigenous conservation methods. Indigenous conservation knowledge is therefore an asset that needs to be tapped to sustainably conserve the landscape along with the biodiversity in the forests. The study recommended the streamlining of government policies on forest conservation to incorporate both scientific and indigenous knowledge systems for conservation of community natural resources. The study also recommended the importance of augmenting conservation measures in order to safeguard the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides and human society needs. Current anthropogenic threats may lead to detrimental and irreversible ecosystem degradation. The findings provide strong arguments to strengthen the case for further research which should be focused on evaluating the response of ecological communities to various anthropogenic pressures. The study specifically recommended the securing of Boni forest by giving it full protection, empowerment of Community Forest Associations (CFAs) and development of a participatory forest management plan. Key Words: Indigenous knowledge systems, species composition, species density, threats,clearance for agriculture.