How MEECT is Driving Forest Conservation and Climate Resilience in the Mt. Elgon Ecosystem
As chair of the board of trustees for MEECT, and CEO of Tranztunga Travels, I have witnessed first-hand the challenges and opportunities that the Mt. Elgon ecosystem presents for the people and the planet. Mt. Elgon is a transboundary forest ecosystem that spans the border between Uganda and Kenya, and hosts a rich diversity of flora and fauna, including endemic and endangered species. It is also a vital water tower that supports the livelihoods of millions of people in both countries, who depend on the forest for water, food, fuel, medicine, and cultural values.
However, Mt. Elgon is also facing serious threats from human activities and climate change, which have resulted in forest loss, degradation, and fragmentation. These threats have undermined the ecosystem services and resilience of the forest and increased the vulnerability of the forest-dependent communities to climate shocks and stresses. To address these threats, various stakeholders have been collaborating to conserve and restore the Mt. Elgon Forest ecosystem, and to enhance the capacity and well-being of the local communities.
One of the key stakeholders in this collaboration is th
e Mt. Elgon Ecosystem Conservation Trust (MEECT), an ecosystem-wide civil society organization that I have the privilege of leading as the chair of the board of trustees. MEECT was established in 2021 as an outcome of the Kenya Water Tower Climate Change Resilience Program (WTP), funded by the USAID Kenya and East Africa mission, and implemented by the US Forest Service (USFS) and the Government of Kenya. The WTP aimed to enhance the resilience of the Mt. Elgon water tower to climate change by strengthening the capacity of local communities, civil society organizations, and government agencies to manage the forest resources sustainably.
MEECT's main purpose is to represent and support the interests of the community forest associations (CFAs) in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem. The CFAs are groups of local people who have been granted rights and responsibilities to manage and benefit from specific forest areas by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS), in accordance with the Forests Conservation and Management Act (2016). The CFAs are expected to play a key role in promoting participatory forest management, enhancing forest governance, and improving livelihoods of the forest-dependent communities.
However, the CFAs in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem have faced several challenges that limit their effectiveness in sustainable forest management. These include lack of adequate skills, knowledge, resources, and networks; weak coordination and collaboration among themselves and with other stakeholders; low representation and advocacy at the county and national levels; and limited access to markets and value addition opportunities for their forest products and services.
MEECT was formed to address these challenges and to empower the CFAs to become agents of forest stewardship, economic development, and community-based natural resource governance. MEECT was formed based on a recommendation by a team that investigated the factors that limit CFAs’ effectiveness in sustainable forest management. The team suggested the formation of regional and ecosystem-based networks to enhance the CFAs’ capacity, voice, and influence. MEECT was also endorsed by the stakeholders at the county and national levels and validated during a stakeholder meeting in May 2021.
MEECT is fully incorporated under the Trustees (Perpetual Succession Act, Chapter 164 dated 5 April 2023) by the Registrar of Documents under CF No. 339111 making it a body corporate. Incorporation of the Trust will make it easier for the Trust to access capital, enhance Trust credibility and perpetuity existence. The Trust has a furnished office in Kitale town, and 11 board of trustees members drawn from key stakeholders within the ecosystem and has commenced recruitment of a secretariat led by a Program Coordinator for day-to-day management of the office.
MEECT has the following objectives:
● To provide a platform for coordination, collaboration, and information sharing among the CFAs and other stakeholders in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
● To advocate for the rights, interests, and needs of the CFAs and the forest communities at the county and national levels.
● To mobilize and leverage resources and partnerships for the CFAs and the forest conservation and restoration activities in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
● To build the capacity of the CFAs and the forest communities in terms of skills, knowledge, and technology for sustainable forest management and livelihood improvement.
● To promote innovation, value addition, and market linkages for the forest products and services generated by the CFAs and the forest communities.
● To enhance cross-border cooperation and learning between the CFAs and the community groups on the Uganda side of the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
MEECT will undertake the following activities:
● Support capacity development, institutional strengthening, and technical development to effectively discharge its mandate of strengthening CFAs by engaging directly with counties, national government, private sector, development partners, and other entities for a greater role in local development including participation in the design of their respective county integrated development plans (CIDPs).
● Strengthen the capacities of communities to plan, implement, monitor and report on their development projects through technical assistance, training, coaching and mentoring.
● Promote and enhance working and tested community development methodologies that engender community ownership, public participation, accountability, and sustainability of projects.
● Train CFAs in biodiversity and community conservation methods.
● Support development of at least PFMPs and FMAs.
MEECT is expected to bring several benefits to the CFAs and the forest conservation and restoration efforts in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem. Some of these benefits include:
● Increased ownership and participation of the CFAs and the forest communities in the forest management and decision making processes.
● Improved information flow and communication among the CFAs and other stakeholders in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
● Enhanced representation and advocacy of the CFAs and the forest communities at the county and national levels, and increased influence on the forest policies and legislation.
● Increased access to resources and partnerships for the CFAs and the forest conservation and restoration activities in the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
● Improved skills, knowledge, and technology for the CFAs and the forest communities in sustainable forest management and livelihood improvement.
● Increased innovation, value addition, and market linkages for the forest products and services generated by the CFAs and the forest communities.
● Enhanced cross-border cooperation and learning between the CFAs and the community groups on the Uganda side of the Mt. Elgon ecosystem.
MEECT is a unique and innovative initiative that aims to strengthen the civil society engagement and governance within the Mt. Elgon ecosystem. MEECT is also a model of co-creation and collaboration among various stakeholders, including the local communities, the civil society organizations, the government agencies, and the development partners. MEECT is a testament to the commitment and dedication of the stakeholders to conserve and restore the Mt. Elgon forest ecosystem, and to enhance the resilience of the water tower and the people to climate change.
As a leader and a partner in this initiative, I am confident of the potential of MEECT to deliver on its vision and mission, and to contribute to the global efforts to combat climate change and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. MEECT is a hope and a vision for a better future for the Mt. Elgon ecosystem and its people.
Sarah Musundi Chair of the Board of Trustees, MEECT & CEO, Tranztunga Travels