MULI: Give women, youth sacred forest tasks - Daily Nation

Give women, youth sacred forest tasks

Tuesday March 13 2018

Forest management.

Nyangweta Forest in Kisii County. The growing emergence of decision-making at sacred forests is facilitated at the sub-national and local levels. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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There are resolute efforts to spearhead the environmental conservation canons of integration, involvement, collaboration and accountability (IICA) to ensure effective governance of sacred forests.

The canons, which adopt principles of effective governance, address forest conservation threats caused by environmental governance system failures.

To remedy these failures, a study on the governance system for sacred forests undertaken by this writer together with the University of Nairobi’s Wangari Maathai Institute for Peace and Environmental Studies in November 2016 established the need to integrate gender as key element for effective governance of forests.

The report proposes a hybrid environmental system that reconciles indigenous and modern governance.


The proposed system addresses the gaps in participatory forest management (PFM) and the indigenous one.

PFM is a modern form of environmental governance whereas the indigenous one employs taboos, ritual, belief, fines and sacrifices, among other practices. Consequently, their reconciliation derived the IICA canons.

The hybrid system ascertained the necessity to integrate gender as a key element to build sustainable environmental conservation policy framework. Actors including women, young people and institutions should be incorporated in conservation of forests.


The report depicts positive impacts realised by integrating, involving collaborating and holding accountable the various stakeholders. It assesses the extent and patterns and causes of loss of sacred forests in relation to gender and indicates the importance of community inclusion in management and strategies.

Notable is the elaborate organisational composition at the sacred Mijikenda kaya forests. The kayas are composed of a council of elders with a chairman, deputy and members, security guards (usually the youth), secretary, women and children.

The structure, to a large extent, ensures that all actors contribute to the conservation of the forests in a structured way.

When both genders are fully involved in the affairs of forest management, conservation matters easily permeate across and stakeholders are eager to protect forests.


A case in point is the governance of sacred forests such as Kirima Hill in Nyeri, Giitune in Meru and Mtitio Ndoa in Kitui, as well as the kaya at the Coast.

These forests comprise a cultural and quasi-judicial system as well as a conservation mechanism with layers of key responsibilities for each actor. Conservation is mostly spearheaded by senior clan elders, who are renowned for their wisdom.

Local and indigenous communities may have a better understanding of sacred forest conservation since they are their main custodians, hence the need to involve them in the affairs of the forests.


The Mijikenda, who are the custodians of the kaya sacred forests, have taken responsibility for reviving and strengthening their customary governance systems to protect them.

They do so by asserting the principles and laws underpinning their customary governance systems of sacred forests.

Indigenous and local communities, guided by knowledgeable kaya elders, have maintained the order and health of the sacred forests through customary governance systems where the youth and women play a role in the conservation.

The hybrid system advocates for the essential ways to govern sacred forests and increases the actors’ or stakeholders’ influence in relation to good governance.


It roots for involvement and the need for active engagement across all multi-scalar dimensions of governance.

Sustainable environmental governance involves accountability and call for distribution of tasks to various levels and enables execution of the roles important for governance of sacred forests with each actor being accountable.

An effective system cautiously apportions each stakeholder clear scalar actions.

The growing emergence of decision-making at sacred forests is facilitated at the sub-national and local levels.

The effectiveness is achieved as a spatial scale of governance that enhances participation. Consequently, gender integration is an essential element that should form part of policy framework for forest conservation.


Dr Muli (PhD) is an environmental governance expert. [email protected]