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Kenyan indigenous people vow to support
conservation of water towers amid threats

NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- Moses Leleu is among the few remaining elders from Sengwer indigenous people whose ancestral home is located in the vast Kabolet forest that forms part of Cherangany water tower in northwestern Kenya.

The 83-year-old polygamous father of 17 children is a decorated archivist whose grasp of his community’s rich cultural norms that include hunting and bee keeping defies his advanced age.

During an interview with Xinhua at a forum in Nairobi, Leleu said being an elder in the forest inhabiting Sengwer community gives him an upper hand in advocating for its active engagement in conservation of Cherangany water tower that sustains millions of livelihoods in northwestern parts of Kenya.

“We have a historical connection with forests that happens to be our dwelling place and therefore it is our sacred duty to protect water sources like Cherangany hills that has lately grappled with threats related to human encroachment,” said Leleu.

The Sengwer indigenous people whose population is estimated at 33,000 inhabit forests straddling Elgeyo Marakwet and Trans Nzoia counties in northwestern Kenya.

For centuries, the Sengwer community has derived its livelihood from the forest ecosystem while protecting it from both man-made and natural calamities.

According to Leleu, a mixture of indigenous knowledge and strict adherence to cultural norms and regulations has enhanced the capacity of Sengwer people to conserve Cherangany water tower.

“As elderly citizens from a community whose survival is dependent on forest resources, we have an obligation to teach the young generation how to conserve this heritage,” Leleu remarked.

He was among dozens of Sengwer elders who converged at a forum in Nairobi early this month to lobby for recognition of their right to own and safeguard ancestral land that include vast forests of northwestern Kenya.

At the same time, Sengwer community leaders and environmental campaigners decried eviction from pockets of Kabolet and Embobut forest that are the bedrock of Cherangany water tower to pave way for implementation of conservation projects funded by multilateral lenders.

Yator Kiptum, a 51-year-old campaigner and father of seven urged the central government to engage Sengwer people in all stages of Cherangany water tower conservation.

“Our constitution recognizes the right of indigenous people to settle in the forests and engage in their sustainable management using traditional knowledge. We are therefore calling upon the government to involve us in conservation programs around Cherangany water catchment,” said Kiptum.

He revealed that Sengwer community has established solid mechanisms to enhance protection of both the Kabolet and Embobut forests whose depletion has escalated against a backdrop of human encroachment and climatic stresses.

“So far, we are carrying out several activities to conserve Embobut forest including restricted grazing and bee keeping as an alternative to farming inside the forest,” Kiptum told Xinhua.

He revealed that the Sengwer people have fully supported the government ban on cultivation at Embobut forest aware that its depletion could put their livelihoods at stake.

“Cultivation inside Embobut forest has stopped and the Sengwer community has taken action on illegal logging .We appeal for dialogue with the government to find viable ways to conserve this ecosystem,” said Kiptum.

Kenya’s ministry of environment in partnership with multilateral donors has since 2016 implemented a climate resilience project on the foothills of Cherangany water tower.

The project roots for active involvement of indigenous communities in restoration of one of the five major water towers in the country.

Albina Cheboi, a 23-year-old youth leader said that forest conservation has a cultural, economic and environmental imperative in her Sengwer community.

“Conservation of forest ecosystems is embedded in our traditional cultural beliefs hence the need for us to be engaged in restoring Cherangany and other water towers within our locality,” Cheboi remarked.

She noted that indigenous Kenyan communities have been recognized globally for their outstanding commitment to conserve forest ecosystems that are the bedrock of sustainable development in the country.


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