Influence of Ecotourism on Sustainable Development of Communities Living Adjacent to Forests: a Case of Muileshi Community Forest Association in Kakamega Forest, Kenya
sense on how to improve the quality of life. A better quality of life generally calls for higher incomes, better education, higher standards of health and nutrition, more equality of opportunity, greater individual freedom and a richer cultural life. Such development to be sustainable has to safeguard and put at equilibrium economic, social and environmental aspects of society for current generations without damaging future generations well-being. In this regard, among the many avenues being pursued to attain development is ecotourism. While there is evidence that ecotourism’s espoused benefits can be realized, there are equally as many, cases where ecotourism has fallen short of its proposed objectives. While some scholars emphasized the potential for ecotourism to sustainably develop both the local people and their environments, existing statistics reveals that a majority of people living adjacent to forests continue to suffer from the absence of fundamental opportunities to lead decent and satisfying lives. It is against this backdrop that the study assessed the influence of ecotourism on sustainable development of communities living adjacent to forests with the hope to provide insight on mechanisms to sustainably develop these communities. It interrogated issues on four objectives around influence of income, cultural preservation, environmental education and partnership on sustainable development of communities living adjacent to forests. The study adapted descriptive research design. The target population was sought from ecotourism user group members amongst communities living Adjacent to Kakamega forest, which was sampled through convenience sampling in a sample size of 30 respondents. Both secondary and primary sources of data were utilized. The questionnaire and interview schedule guides covered items on the influence of ecotourism on the various indicators of the quality-of-life. Structured interviews were administered to local community opinion leaders, who were selected through purposive sampling, while questionnaires were administered to the general members of the Muileshi community forest association. In order to enhance the reliability of the questionnaire and interview schedules, pilot study was undertaken. Then they were edited in light of the results of the pilot study. Finally, the data was organized, tabulated and analyzed using Statistical Packages for Social Sciences (SPSS). Presentation of research findings was in form of descriptive statistics such as percentages, frequencies and tables. The study found out that Environmental education has been conveyed through many forums key among them Kakamega Environmental Education Program (KEEP) with 33.3% of respondents agreeing that it enhanced awareness and introduced a myriad of livelihood alternative strategies. Further, the study found out that 70% of the respondents earned income from ecotourism which improved community living standards. About 67% of the respondents ‘consented to the influence of Ecotourism on cultural aspects inter alia dress codes, improved hygiene, energy saving and cooking practices. The aggregate influence of partners resonated with 85.7% of respondents who reported various initiatives that have made them gain impetus for development. The study therefore concluded that ecotourism has aided in minimizing environmental and social harm without preventing adequate economic returns to enable sustainable development. The study recommended among others good governance to be entrenched among community forest associations to optimally benefit from ecotourism.
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