Ask the locals, they know best

by Joyce Kiruri, Kenia

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Laureat 2004, “You cannot protect the environment unless you empower people, you inform them, and you help them understand these resources are their own, and that they must protect them”.

Many a times, we feel like science, research and technology has all the answers and solutions to everything, especially when it comes to environmental management. What we forget though, is that indigenous knowledge has been in practice for centuries, and that local people have lived with environmental resources to sustain their livelihoods for decades. Often, government and key decision makers tend to overlook indigenous knowledge systems and do not involve local people when developing solutions to environmental management.

More often than not, effective solutions can also be found within the local communities and it is important to actively engage the locals in environmental management. When locals are engaged, they feel empowered and they own the process, therefore being in the forefront to protect the environment. That said, ask the locals, they know best!

For instance, some years back there was a conflict between farmers and the park authorities of the Aberdares National Park in central Kenya, due to elephants invading farms adjacent to the national park and destroying crops which farmers relied on for their livelihood. Despite the authorities constructing an electric fence, invasions still persisted. Some farmers even took matters into their hands and laid traps for the elephants to protect their farms. As a result of the constant conflict, the park authorities decided to seek a collaborative solution to curb the menace, by consulting the farmers for an applicable local or native way out. After numerous consultations with elders, the farmers settled on installing bee-hive fences around the farms to keep off the elephants. Once this idea was implemented, conflicts reduced dramatically!

By engaging the community, a win-win solution was achieved for both the farmers and park authorities, with the farmers benefiting more as they could now harvest honey. Subsequently, this idea has been replicated in other regions with similar challenges hence reducing conflicts. Please follow this link to read more on Beehive Fences in Kenya.

Elephants play at the Maasai Mara game reserve, about 300 km (186 miles) southwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, October 31, 2012. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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