Sustainable use of biodiversity in socio-ecological production landscapes and seascapes (SEPLS) and its contribution to effective area-based conservation: the case of Kaya forests on the Kenyan Coast



  • Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI)


  • 30/10/2018


  • Eastern Africa


  • Kenya (Coast Region)


  • The Kaya forests, located in Kenya’s coastal landscape, are sacred forests of the Mijikenda community. These forests are peculiar multi-functional socio-ecological production landscapes that are rich in biodiversity. More than half of Kenya's rare plants are found on the coast, many of which are found in these sacred forests. Due to the rich diversity of flora and fauna, the Kaya forests provide an array of ecosystem goods and services which support human well-being and livelihood systems. Consequently, a study was conducted in Kilifi and Kwale counties on the Kenyan Coast, mainly inhabited by the Mijikenda community, to determine how sustainable use of biodiversity in the Kaya forests contributes to effective area-based conservation of biodiversity. A mixed-methods approach was used involving both qualitative and quantitative surveys. Representatives of 375 households drawn from 31 villages were interviewed using semi-structured questionnaires. Thirty-one Focus Group Discussions (FGDs), one in each village, were also held with key informants (herbalists, rainmakers, Kaya elders and experienced indigenous farmers) who are the main custodians of indigenous knowledge. The results showed that the Mijikenda community ensures sustainable use of biodiversity through domestication of wild foods and medicinal plants. Additionally, the solid cultural values and traditional resource governance system (Kaya elders’ council) that connects the community were important for sustaining traditional knowledge and biodiversity, and promoting collective activities that enhance information exchange, sharing of ideas and networking. These collective activities likewise reinforce the cultural values of solidarity, collectiveness and harmony that promote integrated landscape management, and hence lead to effective area-based conservation of biodiversity. These integrated and holistic management approaches of the Kaya forests, if sustained, could in the long-term ensure that these sacred forests are well-connected and integrated into the broader landscape, hence sustainably conserving biodiversity while providing ecosystem services that support local livelihoods.


  • Biodiversity; Kaya forests; Landscape; Management; Mijikenda community


  • Chemuku Wekesa and Leila Ndalilo (KEFRI)

Summary Sheet

The summary sheet for this case study is available here.


Kenya is divided into eight regions, namely, Central, Coast, Eastern, Nairobi, North Eastern, Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western. The Coast region stretches about 150 km inland from the seafront covering an area of 67,500 km2, approximately 11.5% of the total area of Kenya (Ongoma & Onyango 2014). There are six counties in the Coast region: Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa, Lamu, Tana River and Taita Taveta, with a combined population of 3,325,307 (Republic of Kenya 2009). The Coast region supports about 8.6% of the national population. The population increased significantly from 1.83 million in 1989 to 3.33 million in 2009, an average increase of 4.1% annually (Republic of Kenya 2007; 2009). The Kenya Coast is endowed with a variety of resources that support livelihoods and economic development in the region and Kenya as a whole, in addition to maintaining the health and function of marine and coastal ecosystems (Ongoma & Onyango 2014). The resources include coral reefs, mangroves, lowland and Kaya forests, Afromontane forests and historical sites which provide the foundation for the region’s economy. Natural forests in the Coast region cover about 8.4% of the total land area (KEFRI 2016).

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