Narok — Kenya and China on Wednesday launched an initiative aimed at empowering neighboring wildlife protected areas to participate in conservation.
Livelihood projects to entice the communities to live in harmony with wildlife are the main objective of the initiative between the two countries.
Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Senior Assistant Director for Biodiversity Erustus Kanga said the pilot project will reduce pressure in national parks, game reserves and forested areas and reduce human-wildlife conflicts and curb poaching.
"The human population around protected areas have increased rapidly, leading to land degradation and fragmentation due to settlement and farmland," Kanga told a two-day workshop in Narok town.
The meeting was dubbed as a "Coupling conservation and livelihood in Protected Areas in East Africa."
Kanga added the mandates of protected areas have expanded from conservation and protection to improving human livelihood to commit communities in conservation efforts.
Jian Liu, Director of UNEP-International Ecosystem Management Partnership, facilitating the Kenya-China Collaborating Project, said this requires attention on how to set up and promote new standards and models for both sustainable management of protected areas and sustainable livelihood of local communities in developing countries.
The project is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) with approximately 515,000 U.S. dollars seed money to initiate a program on wildlife conservation and community livelihood.
The initiative is also supported by Kenya Wild Life Service (KWS), the UN Environment Program (UNEP) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).
Linxiu Zhang, a lead scientist of China Academy of Science, said the initiative will also design an evaluation system based on ecosystem services and human well-being for management effectiveness of protected areas.
Last week, during the conclusion of the Environmental Assembly (UNEA) last week, the decisions on illegal wildlife trade emphasized supporting the development of sustainable and alternative livelihoods for communities affected by the illegal trade.
Narok County Commissioner Farah Kassim said the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve and the Mau Forest are still facing numerous challenges, such as increasing human population pressure, high level food insecurity and poverty.
"Sustainable management of protected areas is facing huge challenge, due to human encroachment in protected areas like the Mau forest and areas around National reserves," said Kassim.