Mau Forest Complex
The Guardians of Mau: Bees, Forest and Climate
The population of honeybees in the forests of the Kenyan Rift Valley have declined in recent decades, especially meliponine bees, whose hive populations have all but collapsed. Reasons for this include use of pesticides by agribusiness and decline in native flowers and pollinating trees. Within Mau Forest, bee decline is caused by severe drought and deforestation. Climate change mitigation in Kenya has focused on semi-arid agricultural lands, but not on the forests of the Rift Valley, and not on Indigenous Peoples and local communities. The Ogiek People of Mau Forest gained international recognition after a landmark court ruling in 2018, the first in African High Court history, which led to the declaration of forest tenure for the Ogiek. The burning issue for us is that without honey, our forest life cannot survive. Honey is the basis of Ogiek economy, culture and social life. Ogiek identity depends on the practice of gathering, trading and producing traditional medicine, all of which rely on honey. To remain guardians of the Mau Forest, the Ogiek need to find a way to reverse, mitigate and adapt to the issue of declining beehives. Without bees, there will be no forest and no forest people.
Overview of the concept
At the heart of this project is Traditional Ecological Knowledge. We seek to engage and connect knowledge keepers within the Ogiek Peoples Development Programme, in partnership with the Ogiek Honey Slow Presidium, a community organisation composed of local beekeepers. We will engage with local and international researchers across three areas: 1) bee resilience, hence our future engagement with researchers at the International Centre for Insect Physiology and Ecology; 2) health, hence our engagement with researchers at Land Body Ecology, and 3) human rights, climate justice and gender equality hence the in-country partnership with Guardians Worldwide and Minority Rights international
The burning issue
The burning issue directly responds to needs and priorities outlined in OPDP’s 2015 conference on beekeeping resilience, which resulted in the articulation of the four demands of the Ogiek forest guardians: 1) Stop deforestation of Mau Forest; 2) Regulate commercial afforestation and prioritise fast-growing, climate resilient and native species that attract bee colonies, especially dombeya 3) build capacity for Indigenous-based organisations that can offer real climate solutions, and 4) support social justice and gender equality. This is relevant not least because among the Ogiek, marriage dowries can only be paid with honey, which is why loss of beehives affects not only economic livelihood and food security, but also the social fabric of Ogiek families. Our demands are relevant to existing government policy on afforestation, insofar as the Kenyan government prioritises commercial pine and monoculture, which do not support bee colonies. This project is also relevant to a number of international bodies concerned with the rights of Indigenous peoples in the fight for climate justice, as recently discussed in COP26, as well as widespread concerns surrounding unfair climate policy and funding, which do not reach grassroots organisations, or which do not promote Southern leadership.
Our commitment to action research has been co-designed to achieve three actions that respond to our community’s priorities and needs. Support from ARA will enable us to: 1) Provide local communities on the ground with leaflets with tips for climate resilient beekeeping; 2) Invest in climate resilient beehives through planting of 50 dombeya shrubs in local bee farms managed by members of OPDP and OHSP, and 3) support capacity building in our local organisations to improve due diligence, capture follow-on funding, and enhance project coordination and administration. This action plan is vital to the research programme as a whole inasmuch as it strengthens community knowledge and resilience; gives back to nature and implements nature-based solutions that can be evaluated and measured to prove increase in bee populations and improved honey production; and lays the foundations for long-term and sustainable research structures that can be led by a local Indigenous organisation such as OPDP. This project is building on the strengthens of previous collaborations that have prioritised action. Existing work conducted by Land Body Ecology group led by partner Gougsa + Kobei shows that Ogiek communities want research projects to place community action and wellbeing at the heart of their design.
The thematic focus of this micro grant is cross-cutting, and covers four interrelated areas:
1) Health: it is vital to understand climate change as an interrelated environmental and human health issue. Connections between the health of the Mau Forest, the health and safety of bee-keeping human communities, and the health inducing properties of traditional medicine derived from honey are vital lines of research enquiry.
2) Social and gender equality: the importance of indigenous knowledge, traditional ecological knowledge and women groups is vital to long term environmental and climate action. There can be no environmental action without social justice, which is why our research work pivots around human rights-based approaches (HRBA) to climate adaptation.
3) Cultural resilience: the importance of indigenous and local culture in preserving traditional ecological knowledge is essential, which is why it is important to embed within the research the theme of culture, including modes of research production and dissemination based on local social and artistic practices (work practices, rituals, cooking, etc).
4) Biodiversity: one of the main issues is loss of biodiversity, and the vital role played by bees in the preservation of forest biodiversity in Mau Forest.