Kakamega Forest is Kenya’s only tropical rainforest and a living museum of unique and rare species. The forest, a designated Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA), hosts a remarkable diversity of insects, reptiles, plants and birds not found anywhere else in Kenya, such as the Great Blue Turaco. It is also an important primate reserve and a quiet haven for nature lovers.
Kakamega Forest and the Western Kenya region offer numerous ecotourism opportunities that have over the years remained unexplored. That now appears to be changing: The formation of the Kakamega Forest Ecosystem Tourism Association (KAFETA) is a culmination of efforts by Nature Kenya to bring together the stakeholders so as to effectively market the region as an ecotourism destination.
Nature Kenya, through the ‘Strengthening the Protected Area Network within the Eastern Montane Forests Hotspot of Kenya’, has been working with local groups and other stakeholders engaged in tourism with a view of building their capacity. The Kakamega Environmental Education Programme (KEEP), Kakamega Forest Guide Association, Kakamega Rainforest Tour Guide (KRTG) and Malava Tour Guide Group are among the groups that have been working closely with Nature Kenya.
Under the project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Nature Kenya has facilitated interaction forums of the tourism stakeholders in Kakamega aimed at exploring the possibility of operating under one umbrella body. This effort led to the formation of KAFETA, which brings together tour guide groups, hoteliers, tour operators and cultural groups operating within the Kakamega Forest ecosystem.
KAFETA seeks to diversify tourism products within Kakamega Forest and Western Kenya as a whole for the protection of the environment, income generation, and promotion and marketing of sustainable ecotourism activities. The Association aims to sensitize and create awareness among local people on the benefits and impact of ecotourism in the region as well as provide technical guidelines on sustainable tourism and environmental conservation in the Kakamega Forest ecosystem.
KAFETA also seeks to preserve and conserve the natural and cultural heritage of the Kakamega Forest ecosystem, use the rich cultural heritage in the Western Kenya region as a means of promoting domestic tourism, and source for funds to support environmental conservation activities in the area.
Among activities lined up for action by KAFETA are the development of tourism promotion materials and activities, rehabilitation of degraded forest areas, advocating for climate change and mitigation measures, promotion of education on new technologies and value addition, and provision of tour guiding tools and equipment for existing and upcoming group members.
The GEF/UNDP funded initiative is part of a wider program that seeks to increase coverage and strengthen participatory forest management in Western and North Rift regions of Kenya. This will be achieved through capacity building, management planning, forest and biodiversity monitoring, forest rehabilitation, and promotion of local livelihood initiatives. The protected areas the project targets are Kakamega Forest, North and South Nandi Forests and the Cherangani Hills Forests. These areas are part of the Eastern Afromontane Hotspot that stretches from Saudi Arabia in the north to Zimbabwe in south-central Africa. The areas within the hotspot have remarkable levels of biological diversity, but are also highly threatened. Nature Kenya is coordinating the implementation of this GEF/UNDP supported project.