Taking root in Kenya: Nature-based climate solutions project kicks off

Kenya-UK PACT programme ignites collaboration for forest landscape restoration
The Taita Hills in Kenya hosted government officials, scientists, international donors and project leaders to launch a new venture delivering nature-based solution outcomes. Photo by Tor-Gunnar Vågen/ CIFOR-ICRAF

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The lush Taita Hills jut steeply above the arid rangelands of southern Kenya. Much of their original tree cover has been logged, but precious pockets of dense cloud forest remain in the less accessible reaches, where a high number of endemic plants and animals still reside. These include the purple-flowered Millettia oblata tree, the shrub Psychotria petitii, the Afromontane lemonwood Xymalos monospora, and an array of unique birds including the Taita thrush (Turdus helleri) and Taita falcon (Falco fasciinucha).

Such isolated remnants of forest don’t often see large groups of scientists, government officials, project leaders, and international donors. But on 26 April this year, the hills were alive with stories and laughter, as participants in a project inception workshop descended on one such area – Chawia Forest – which spans 86 hectares and is carefully managed by its local community forestry association (CFA).

The new venture, Delivering nature-based solution outcomes by addressing policy, institutional and monitoring gaps in forest and landscape restoration, is supported by the UK PACT (Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions) programme, which is jointly governed and funded by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) through the UK’s International Climate Finance.

The Kenya-UK PACT project seeks to scale nature-based climate solutions by increasing capacity for implementing and monitoring Forest and Landscape Restoration (FLR); implementing evidence-based recommendations for reduced emissions at local, county and national levels; domesticating national policies around FLR at the county level; building the capacity of CFAs; and, implementing and incorporate gender-transformative, equitable, and socially inclusive approaches into FLR implementation, activities, and policies.

There’s also a clear prerogative to respond to in-country priorities. “It’s great to have such a demand-driven project, which is really coming out of national, county, partner, and local concerns.” said Leigh Ann Winowiecki, who is the Soil and Land Health Global Research Lead at the Centre for International Forestry Research and World Agroforestry (CIFOR-ICRAF) and principal investigator of the project.

Why Kenya, why now?

Sixty percent of agricultural and pastoral lands in Africa are degraded, which reduces their climate resilience, exacerbates poverty, and increases food and nutrition insecurity, as well as fuelling land abandonment and involuntary migration. Nature-based solutions (NbS) – including FLR – have the potential to increase biodiversity and ecosystem services, secure jobs and improve livelihoods, while accelerating action on climate change at local, national, and international levels.

Kenya’s ambitious revised emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement on climate change – and similarly-lofty goals within the Bonn Challenge on restoration – make it an ideal site for offering this kind of assistance. To make these dreams happen, there’s an urgent need to strengthen policy implementation at the community, county and national levels – including through the development and implementation of gender transformative solutions for reduced emissions, as well as through cross-sectoral coordination and co-learning on monitoring FLR at the farm, county, and national scale.

“The UK PACT project comes at an opportune time, when discourses on community participation, review of legislation such as the Climate Change Act and its regulations, and discussions on benefit sharing are going on,” said Nancy Githaiga, Kenya’s Country Director for the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), which is a partner in the venture. “Communities are critical as change agents and vision carriers for sustainable natural resource management and governance.”

The project aims to build monitoring capacity using robust methods, and using the resulting data to track progress towards national goals. This will include training CFA members to use the Regreening Africa App data collection tool, which makes it easy to keep track of where restoration is taking place, as well as where exotic species are replacing indigenous ones. The project will also implement the Land Degradation Surveillance Framework (LDSF) to establish biophysical baselines and track changes over time of key FLR indicators including soil organic carbon, tree and shrub biodiversity, and soil erosion prevalence, among others.

Collaborating for impact

Within Kenya, the adjoining Taita Taveta and Makueni counties were chosen as the project’s first focal areas. The counties share similar climate change impacts and challenges, and are ‘early adopters’ on climate change mitigation and FLR measures.

“We were the first county government in Kenya to enact and operationalise a law on climate change,” said Francis Nthuku, Director for Strategic Partnerships and Intergovernmental Relations for Makueni County and a participant in the workshop. “And we are ready to offer our experiences to other county governments.”

The event was based at Taita Taveta’s Voi Wildlife Lodge on the cusp of the Tsavo East National Park, overlooking a waterhole that’s often visited by elephants, zebras, and other animals. There, with such immediate and impressive reminders of the importance of conservation and restoration work, partners in the project (AWF, FAO Kenya, and local initiatives) connected with Taita Taveta and Makueni government officials, as well as with representatives from other UK PACT projects – both current and completed.

“This donor is doing something that I wish all donors would do: bringing their projects together to find synergies,” said Winowiecki. And doing so was worth the effort. “People were saying things like, ‘I’ve never been to a workshop like this’,” she said. “There was high energy right to the end.”

   Workshop participants with the newly aligned and agreed work package activities. Photo by Ann Wavinya/CIFOR-ICRAF
   Leigh Ann Winowiecki meets H.E.. Andrew Mwadime, governor of Taita Taveta County, during the project’s inception workshop on 25 April 2023. Photo by Ann Wavinya/CIFOR-ICRAF

The field trip to Chawia Forest inspired important reflections for Nthuku and his colleagues. “It was an eye opener for our Makueni team, particularly on the role communities can play in protecting forests at the same time as benefiting from them,” he said. “The mobilisation and organisation of the communities, comprising various social groups, was especially notable. Makueni will use the lessons from this visit in structuring our conservation approaches going forward.”

Fiammetta Ndunda, County Assembly and Member Committee on Climate Change, Makueni County Government, was awed by the use of technology in restoration and conservation work. “The Regreening app is of great importance in identifying and tracking forest restoration effort,” she said. “We need to think of growing grass as a means of improving soil structure, drainage and reduce soil erosion.”

Githaiga expressed her hope that by working with the CFAs in Taita Taveta and Makueni to strengthen their capacity and help amplify their collective voices and action, these critical groups will be able to “engage more effectively in the conservation of the forests, the identification of nature-based solutions which enhance biodiversity, and the carbon trade discourses currently going on at county and national level.”

“The communities remain the last line of defence, and their ability to provide a social fence for these forests – which are important water catchments as well as rich biodiversity areas – cannot be underestimated.”

 UK PACT (Partnering for Accelerated Climate Transitions) is a unique capacity-building programme. Jointly governed and funded by the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) and the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) through the UK’s International Climate Finance, it works in partnership with countries with high emissions reduction potential to support them to implement and increase their ambitions for tackling climate change. 

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