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Monday, July 9, 2007

From Shamba Systems to Forest Resource Stewardship: New Partnerships for Forest Management in Kenya

Alex Awiti, and Thomas Yatich


The management of forests in Kenya has evolved from pre-colonial times to the present, reflecting changes in internal political, socio economic conditions and international policy dialogue processes. The pre-colonial modes of resource management were organized around communal resource ownership and governed by cultural and religious norms with binding regulations and sanctions. Low human population density, use of simple tools and limited trade ensured that communities met their subsistence livelihood requirements without undesirable impacts on forest resources. The dawn of the colonialism adversely transformed the relationship between local communities and “their resources”. This transformation was driven by changes in resource ownership, access and user rights. Through gazettement, the colonial appropriated forest resources, declared forests off limits for local communities through ordinances. This effectively extinguished the rights and most importantly, local community stewardship over forest resources.

A significant feature of forest management in both colonial and post-independence Kenya was the establishment and subsequent expansion of government owned plantations of exotic tree species. These plantation reserves were invariably created through excision of significant portions of native hard wood forests. Human labour was required both to clear native forests and to plant and manage exotic plantations. To keep the cost of establishing forest plantations low, the colonial government introduced Taungya system in Kenya in 1910 (Barrow et al., 2002). Taungya was first introduced in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1860 as a system for replanting teak. Under the Taungya system in Burma, local farmers would provide labour for clearing, planting and weeding teak plantations. In return, they would be allowed to plant crops between the trees for the first few years.

In Kenya, where Taungya become known as Shamba system, non resident farmers, often drawn from neighbouring communities, were allocated land on previously clear felled forest land for subsistence cultivation of maize and beans on condition that they provide the labour needed to replant and tend tree saplings. After three to five years the trees would be grown enough to shadow the agricultural crops. The farmer would then have to move out of the allocated forest land and would be eligible for another forest plot to be cleared. Evidently, the goals of the Shamba system can were to reduce the establishment cost of exotic commercial softwood plantations and to improve the survival rate of young tree stands through intensive weeding. The contribution of the Shamba system to the overall welfare of local communities in the long term was clearly subsidiary.

The Shamba System and Forest Management in Kenya

There was a general perception among many reviewers that the Shamba system played a significant role in establishment and management of softwood plantations during the colonial period and up to the mid 1980s. The same cannot be said of Shamba system over the last fifteen years. A majority of clear felled plantation reserves are under subsistence agricultural crops (mainly maize, beans potatoes and vegetables), either because replanting was not successful or was not undertaken at all. A recent study by the Kenya Forest Working Group and Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) revealed that over 75 % of clear-felled plantations in Mt Kenya, Imenti and Ngare Ndare have not been replanted with tree seedlings, although these areas are under the Shamba system (Kenya Wildlife Service, 1999). Similarly, only 21% of clear felled plantation forest land on the margins of the Aberdare Range Forest was replanted with tree seedlings (Kenya Wildlife Service, 2003). Significantly too, mortality rates of tree saplings have been very high. For instance tree survivorship in Shamba zones declined dramatically in the second and third year of cultivation.

Farmers deliberately manipulate tree seedling survivorship to ensure continued tenancy of the land for subsistence crop production. Surveys in the Shamba system zones around the margins of Kakamega, South Nandi and Mt. Elgon Forests show that tree sapling survivorship declined from 90% in the first year to less than 40% in the third and fourth year (Awiti, et al, 2004). Replacement planting efforts are often constrained by lack of tree seedlings. The margins of indigenous forest in the neighbourhood of the Shamba system zones are also the most active frontiers of deforestation. For instance, 4 % and 19% of forest cover has been lost in Aberdare range and Mt. Kenya respectively due to cultivation encroachment (Kenya Wildlife Service, 1999; Kenya Wildlife Service 2003). Awiti et al (2004) observed that farmers cultivating Shamba zones contiguous to Kakamega and South Nandi Forests had extended “their farms by about 30 metres into the forest between 1990 and 2003.

In 1985 the government banned the Shamba system in some parts of the country. In 1986, the government, through the Nyayo Tea Zone Development Cooperation (NTZDC) established tea plantations on the margins of natural forest to act as buffers between people and forest. It was hoped that these tea buffers would stem the rising tide of cultivation encroachment. A subsidiary benefit was that local communities would be gainfully employed to work in the tea estate. In 1993 the ban on the Shamba system was lifted by a ministerial pronouncement. In 2003, the government pronounced yet another ban on all farming activities in the Shamba zones. The government acknowledges that the Shamba system is responsible for widespread deforestation and the problem of squatters in forest land. However, in what now appears to be a classical case of paralysis in policy reform and innovation, the government commissioned a Shamba system pilot project in Ndundori Forest in the Subukia area of Nakuru in September 2004.

This seesaw between bans and lifting of bans illustrates eloquently, what has been a “hit and miss” policy, legal institutional response to the challenges of forest management in Kenya for nearly two decades. The proponents of the Shamba system; politicians and forestry professionals, have advanced three reasons in support of its re-introduction:

  1. Inability of the Forest Department to finance afforestation programmes. That the recent ban on the Shamba system has caused a reforestation backlog of 30,000 hectares. The Chief Conservator of Forest revealed that it cost only Ksh. 3, 000 to plant a hectare of trees under the Shamba system, as opposed to Ksh. 27, 000 per hectare if the department were to directly finance the establishment of the plantations.
  2. The Shamba system offers an interim solution to the potentially explosive and unresolved squatter crises around forest areas in central Kenya and Rift Valley, especially in the Mau and Subukia areas. It is hoped that it will also solve a nagging land crisis occasioned by the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people following the ethnic clashes between 1991 and 1993, and again in 1997 to 1998 (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).
  3. The Shamba system has become integral part of the national food security. It is feared that the once food sufficient communities around the Shamba zones will become net food deficient zones. For instance, the shortfall in the supply of Irish potatoes, carrots and beans to urban areas has been attributed to the 2003 ban on the Shamba system (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).

Ironically, the reliance on forest land for agriculture and the tendency by farmers to agitate for extended tenancy have been cited as the main reasons for the failure of the Shamba system.

The Shamba system and the Principles of Sustainable Forest Management

As an offshoot of United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, many countries have endeavored to align their forest policies to sustainable development goals and strategies. Kenya is committed under international conventions and other agreements to promote the sustainable management of forests. Part VI of the Forests Act, 2005 declares that “the Act is binding on the Government and is a recognition of its international obligations under any treaties relating to forests to which the Government of Kenya may be a party”. It is therefore important to examine the extent to which the Shamba system is consistent with UNCED framework for sustainable forest management. The framework is based on the following principles;

1. Maintaining stable levels of economic growth and employment for local communities

While the contributions of the forestry sector to the national economy are clear, the benefits to local communities of forests established under the Shamba system are minimal and ephemeral. Beyond the subsistence production of maize and beans on forest land during the prescribed tenancy period, there is seldom any flow of tangible economic benefits to local communities. The labour offered at harvest to logging companies is often compensated at very low rates. The Forest Department does not put back any revenue collected from licenses and permits into projects that would benefit the local communities. Given the transitory nature of the Shamba system, whatever benefits accrue from the Shamba system are momentary and hence cannot guarantee stable and sustained economic benefits to local communities.

2. Social inclusion, social equity and social progress

The Shamba system is a temporary association between crops and trees. The rules of the practice dictate that cultivation must cease after three to five years, at which time use and access right pertaining to the forest are exclusively vested in the Forest Department. Hence the Shamba system does not guarantee a steady flow of products and services to the local communities. The system in fact, creates an unsustainable dependency on forest land among the rural poor who also face acute scarcity of productive agricultural. The cessation of the cultivation therefore stirs up vigorous social resentment and despondency, and with good reason. The elements of social injustice perpetrated under the Shamba system, relate to unequal partnership in matters of rights, power and authority between the participating communities and the forest administration, lack of legal and policy backing to the practice and inadequate benefit-sharing.

3. Effective environmental conservation

While the Shamba system encourages participation of local communities in establishment of plantation forests, it falters badly in guaranteeing long-term economic stakes to communities in the forest management. Five years of crop production on forest land is unlikely to elicit intensive and sustained enthusiasm among the communities to nurture the forests back to good health. This provokes a perverse behaviour on the part of communities to abuse the resource since the future benefits are uncertain. As illustrated previously, the Shamba system has been seen to contribute to an overall reduction in the area of forest successfully regenerated over the past two decades. High prevalence of disturbance has been observed in natural forests that are adjacent to Shamba system zones. In a ministerial statement in 2003, the government noted the Shamba system was to blame for the destruction of 70% of forest cover in the country (Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004).

Against a backdrop of population growth and mounting human needs, preventing further frontier losses will require a new and balanced approach to forest management; one that protects forests' biodiversity and other assets while simultaneously providing for people and ecosystem services. A stewardship approach to forest management would achieve such badly needed balance.

Principles of Stewardship

Aldo Leopold’s concept of a land ethic provides the philosophical underpinning of stewardship. In his 1949 book, A Sand County Almanac, Leopold provided the first articulate expression of the relationship between people and the land. Worrell and Appleby (2000) defined stewardship as the responsible use and conservation of natural resources in a way that takes full and balanced account of the interests of society, future generations, and other species, as well as of private needs, and accepts significant answerability to society.

In the context of SFM, stewardship can be used to build the holistic view of forests sustaining the communities and the communities sustaining forests. Stewardship captures the full spectrum of long-term benefits offered by forest- from carbon sequestration, high quality watersheds, wildlife habitats, timber and fibre, to providing a continuing source of local income and employment. Stewardship emphasizes the vital role of local residents, through strong partnerships with state agencies, in formulating the goals of forest management. It seeks to engage local stakeholders and state agencies in a long lasting commitment to the land (Leopold, 1949).

The current state of Kenya’s forest resources clearly illustrates that stringent enforcement of legislation and prosecution of farmers for encroachment cultivation and illegal extraction of wood and non wood forest products. New paradigms of co-management between local communities and the government must emerge and evolve in order to arrest the current deforestation trends and ensure sustainable forest management (SFM). In exchange for socio-economic benefits from forest resources and products, local communities can “re-posses the forests”. This does not mean that communities become outright owners, but custodians or stewards of forests. The Forest department becomes facilitator and technical advisor, with supervisory responsibilities to monitor and assess compliance with negotiated joint management or stewardship contracts.

Stewardship Contracting

The intent of stewardship contracts is to develop a process of broad-based community participation in land management that is open, transparent, and inclusive. The concept of stewardship contracts began in the 1980s in the US, when land service management contracts were first introduced in response to shrinking federal budgets, reduced personnel, and demands from the public for a broader range of outputs from federal forests and rangeland (O’Laughlin ,2003). Although these contracts were initially developed to facilitate traditional timber management objectives, they soon evolved into a more comprehensive approach, supporting the many tenets and practices defined within ecosystem management.

Natural resource stewardship contracts and agreements between local communities and governments have emerged as a new feature on the legal and institutional landscape of several developing countries. For instance in the Philippines, certificates of stewardships gave settlers “rights” to the land for 25 years, renewable in exchange for agreements to restore trees on fragile soils and to cultivate land in a sustainable fashion (USAID,1996). In the Gambia, USAID supported a project aimed at involving the local community directly in the stewardship of trees and tree crops. Originally intended to promote woodlots, the management agreements have formalized and expanded local community control and accountability over common-property forest resources (USAID, 1996).

Forests Act, 2005: Assembling the elements of forest resource stewardship

Arising from the recognition that legitimate interest groups must have a voice and role in the use and protection of forest (World Bank, 2002), Kenya has re-drafted national policies and laws on forests to grant communities and individuals authority over management and use of forest resources. For instance, the Kenya Forests Act, 2005 provides for public consultation, community participation and establishment of management plans for forests.

The Forests Act, 2005 recognizes the potential of forests to reduce poverty, to integrate

forests into the overall sustainable development of client countries, and protect vital local and global environmental services and values from forests. The Act provides for a broad-based public collaboration, it recognizes a forest community as a group of persons who have traditional association with a forest for purposes of livelihood, culture or religion. The act takes a comprehensive approach to ecosystem management by making provisions for Environmental Impact Assessment, and includes multi-year result oriented forest management agreements.

More specifically, the Forest Act, 2005 provides for the following;

  1. Section 13(1) and 13(2) allow for the creation of Forest conservancy areas and Forest conservation committees respectively. Section 3(3) provides that one of the functions of the committee shall be to inform the Forest Board on the ideas, desires and opinions of the people living in the Conservancy area in all matters relating to conservation and utilization within the area.
  2. Under section 36(1), The Director of Forests may, with the approval of the board enter into an agreement with any person for the joint management of any forest.
  3. Section 37(5) specifies the elements of the management agreement which shall include among other things (a) duration of agreement; (b) terms and conditions under which the applicant shall manage the forest; (c) a management plan to be followed by the applicant; (d) mechanisms for settlement of disputes arising in respect of the agreement.
  4. Section 37(6) provides that the Forest Board shall, before entering into an agreement call for an independent inventory of the forest and other relevant data to enable it determine the true value of such forest.
  5. Section 40(1) provides that utilization of a forest can be done through concessions and license subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment License in accordance with the Environment and Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999.
  6. Section 46(1) allows a member of the forest community together with other persons resident in the same area to register a community forest association under the Societies Act. Section 46(2) provides that an association duly registered under 46(1) may apply for permission to participate in conservation and management of forest under jurisdiction of state or local authority. Section 46(3e) the application shall contain the association’s proposal relating to; (i) the use of forest resources; (ii) methods of conservation of biodiversity; (iii) methods of monitoring and protecting wildlife and plant populations.
  7. Section 47(2) stipulates that management agreement may confer the association such user rights as: (i) collection of medicinal herbs; (ii) harvesting of timber or fuel wood for domestic use; (iii) harvesting of timber or fuel wood.;(d) grass harvesting or grazing; (iv) undertaking of Agroforestry practices; (v) plantation establishment through non-resident cultivation (vi) contracts to assist in carrying out specified silvicultural operations (vii) development of wood and non-wood forest based industries community based industries.
  8. Under Section 48(1) an association may with the approval of the Director of Forests, assign all its rights under a management agreement to a suitably qualified agent on mutually agreed terms.
  9. Section 13(3d) and 13(3e) make provisions for setting charges and retention of income from forest resources at the local level. Section 18 makes provisions for the establishment of a Forest Management and Conservation Fund. One of the purposes of the Fund is to promote community-based forest projects.
  10. Section 49 stipulates the grounds for termination or variation of a management agreement. This section outlines the procedures for initiating termination and provides for an appeal process by the affected association.

Forest resource stewardship

Evidently, the Forest Act, 2005 makes provisions for the institutional and regulatory procedures necessary for reorienting forest management from command and control to forest resource stewardship through;

  • Identification and adoption of specific mechanisms for implementation of stewardship policy mandates, including community participation through community forest associations, mechanisms for joint management of forests, and concessions over state forests;
  • Delegation of direct authority to and imposition of responsibilities on, forest officials and individuals and entities operating within the forest sector;
  • Empowering implementation, oversight and enforcement of stewardship contracts;
  • Multi-year joint management agreements that allow different combinations of user rights or bundles; and
  • Financial incentives through retention of income from forest resources at local level to finance community projects.

Financing mechanisms for forest resource stewardship

While section 18 of the Forest Act, 2005 establishes a Forest Management and Conservation Fund and stipulates fifteen purposes for which the Fund will be used, it does not provide a robust financing mechanism to finance forest management. Section 19 (b) indicates that the Fund shall consist of monies levied upon forest beneficiaries. There is opportunity under this provision to interpret forest benefits in the broad context environmental services (ES).

Clearly, as forest reserves shrink, environmental services (ES) such as carbon sequestration, and storage, biodiversity conservation and watershed protection previously provided are becoming increasingly threatened. This emerging scarcity makes ES potentially suitable for trade. The core idea behind market based incentives for stewardship is payments for environmental services (PES). At the core of PES is that external beneficiaries of ES make direct and contractual payments to local land owners in return for adopting practices that secure ecosystem conservation and promote restoration.

Local land owners in the forest margins give priority to benefits arising from direct, often extractive uses of the forest such as fuel wood, charcoal, timber poles and other non-timber forest products. Watershed, biodiversity and carbon sequestration functions often do not accrue to local communities but instead city water users and to the global society. Past stewardship initiatives have included a variety of reforestation and Agroforestry projects, a variety of initiatives that seek to educate local land owners about uses and benefits of forests and integrated conservation and development projects. The record of these projects has been mixed. They have also proved difficult to implement and financially unsustainable.

Market based mechanisms for forest stewardship can generate funds that can be used either: (i) to increase the private benefits of conservation to forest managers , and so change their incentives ; or (ii) to generate resources that can be used to finance conservation efforts by public or private conservation groups.

Strategies for implementing forest resource stewardship

Goergen (2003) cautioned that Stewardship pilots may not always lead to success, but are valuable experiments with mechanisms that allow us to learn and strive for continual improvement (Goergen, 2003).

  • Implement legislation and policies to provide involvement of forest-based communities in sustainable forest management decision making and implementation;
  • Implement institutional arrangements between local communities and government which reflect a spirit of sharing responsibilities and benefits for the management, conservation and sustainable use of forest lands and resources; and give effect to land claim settlements, treaties and formal agreements on forest resource use and management;
  • Support capacity building in local communities so that they can effectively participate in processes that lead to community sustainability;
  • Create and maintain policies and programs that encourage human capacity, investment, productivity, innovation and competitiveness in:

• Existing and potential primary and value-added timber industries;

• Non-timber and service-based industries, such as tourism and recreation, hunting and fishing, trapping and wild foods; and

• Specialized forest products and services; for example, medicinal plants, ethno-botanicals, carbon sinks, water regeneration.

The objectives of the monitoring programme should be to evaluate the extent to which the forest resource stewardships achieve the goals of SFM, namely;

  1. Maintenance of stable levels of economic growth and employment for local communities
  2. Social inclusion, social equity and social progress
  3. Effective environmental conservation.


Forest stewardship agreements appear to be the most appropriate approach for ensuring that forests are managed to meet social, economic and ecological needs for the present and future generations. However, fear and distrust of government officials pose a potential obstacle to formation of stewardship agreements. Forest department officials must begin to view their role not as policing public forests but as partners working with local communities to promote sustainable forest management. They must evolve from enforcers to co-stewards.

Forest stewardship is a long term commitment with risks of failure. In the absence of mechanisms for delivering short term economic benefits, many communities will be unable to take part. This is especially true for resource poor communities living on the margins of ecologically significant indigenous forests, where stewardship agreements may have the most desirable outcome for the people and the environment. Stewardship agreements with a large number of Forest community associations will be required for sustainable forest stewardship. Because Forest communities lack basic skills of forest management, community organization, financial management, the Forest service must make budgetary provisions for training and extension if forest stewardship is to succeed and gain widespread adoption.

Locally developed, well designed and carefully monitored stewardship pilot projects can test innovative ways for the Forest Service to collaborate with Forest communities and build public understanding, trust, and support for improving deteriorating forest resources while meeting internationally established goals for sustainable forest management. Successful pilot projects can promote further refinement and implementation of land management practices at a broader scale.


Awiti, A. O. M.G. Walsh and K.D. Shepherd. 2004. Opportunities for sustainable management of nutrients in agricultural lands and conservation of forest ecosystems: assessment of biogeochemical variables across the Kakamega Forest Ecotone. Final Technical Report Submitted to the Rockefeller Foundation.

Barrow, E., J. Clarke, I. Grundy, K. Kamugisha-Ruhombe and Y. Tessema. 2002. Analysis of stakeholder power and responsibilities in community involvement in forest management in Eastern and Southern Africa. Nairobi, IUCN-EARO.

Goergen, M. 2003. Stewardship contracting: Experiment for continual improvement. Western Forester 48(1):1-3

Kenya Wildlife Service. 2003. Aerial Survey of the destruction of Aberdare Range Forests.

Kenya Wildlife Service. 1999. Aerial Survey of the destruction of Mt. Kenya, Imenti, and Ngare Ndare Forest Reserves.

Leopold, A.1949. A Sand and County Almanac

O’Laughlin, J. 2003. Stewardship contracting: A brief overview. Western Forester 48(1):1

Sunday Standard, September 12, 2004

Worrell, R. and M. Appleby. 2000. Stewardship of Natural Resources: Definition, Ethical and Practical Aspects. Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics. Vol 12(3):263-277.

World Bank. 2002. A revised forest strategy for the World Bank Group.

USAID 1996. Win-Win Approaches to development and the environment

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