WWF-Kenya – Sustaining Nature for the Benefit of People

A thriving living environment where humans live in harmony with nature may sound like an unattainable dream. But this is what World Wide Fund for Nature – Kenya (WWF-Kenya) strives to promote.

 WWF-Kenya is an affiliate of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the world’s largest independent organisation, dedicated to the conservation of the Earth’s natural environment, with a presence in more than 100 countries around the world.

In Kenya, the WWF commenced its operations in 1962 with an initial focus on protecting threatened species but since then, WWF-Kenya has expanded its mandate to encompass management of scarce water resources, conservation of disappearing forests, climate and energy work, management of marine resources and governance programmes, among others.

WWF-Kenya’ s CEO Mohamed Awer describes the organisation’s journey: “We started out as a project office in the middle of the last century but progressed to be a locally embedded non-governmental conservation organization, accountable to Kenyans and working in the conservation and development space for sustainable development in Kenya. As such we are now able to have a much stronger voice, one that has been further amplified over the last four years when we became a locally registered organisation.”

Six decades of positive impact

 Through its progression, WWF-Kenya has achieved many milestones with long-term positive impacts.  “The purchase of private land to establish the 188 square kilometres Lake Nakuru National Park is one of the achievements we are most proud of,” says Mr Awer. Today, the Nakuru Park – transferred to the Government of Kenya without any conditions on co-management or any revenue-sharing arrangement, and one of the two premier parks in Kenya receives an average of 300,000 visitors a year and currently generates average annual revenue of KES 500 million ($4.5 million).

WWF-Kenya played a key role in supporting the National Rhino Programme. In the mid-1980s the Black Rhino population fell to the lowest level ever recorded. After WWF-Kenya’s intervention, a rhino sanctuary was opened in Nakuru Park, which has seen the population recover and stabilise. These efforts were crowned by another recent success: in 2020, Kenya achieved zero rhino poaching – the first time such a milestone was achieved in the East African country in more than two decades.

Other major achievements of WWF-Kenya include the Coastal Forests Conservation project including the sacred Kaya Forests, considered to be an intrinsic source of ritual power and an origin of cultural identity; protection of the largest single contiguous landscape in southern Kenya and northern Tanzania – the iconic savannah landscapes; as well as the Mara River Basin – the source of life for millions of people and wild animals in the two East African countries and beyond.

Continued efforts

 Managing to establish protection over areas that are of economic interest is not easy, admits Mr Awer. Kenya’s natural resources are diminishing fast, while the human footprint is increasing. The root causes include, but are not limited to: large scale infrastructure development, a rampant illegal wildlife trade, expanding agriculture, investments in the extractive industries and climate change.

“The challenge to our work is that Kenya’s economy is 80% nature-based – this is leading to over-exploitation of natural resources, with fierce competition between agriculture and biodiversity. Also, 61% of Kenya is degraded (and over 80% is arid and semi-arid land): with food production competing with wildlife for dwindling space and water reserves – habitat loss and natural resource degradation is a major challenge.”

“Biodiversity, wildlife numbers and habitats continue to be in national decline – between 2015-2019, a 68% general loss in wildlife numbers was recorded. This is happening in a challenging global environment of a growing human population, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic crisis that is unimaginably detrimental to the environment and local communities. All this at a time when the world is waking up to the climate and biodiversity emergency.”

Recent initiates

Against these challenges, the organisation has defined a Framework Strategy to address three key goals – Biodiversity, Climate Change and People Development. It is implementing projects in three geographies, aiming to secure dispersal areas, conservancies and protected areas that host over 60 of the elephant and lion populations in Kenya, as well as protecting the biggest water tower (the Mau forest) and globally recognized sites such as the Ramsar sites and the Biosphere Reserve (Amboseli Park).

To pursue its strategy, WWF-Kenya has partnered with a number of organisations from the private sector as well as with governmental and civil society organisations. For example, in December last year, an innovative partnership was struck between WWF-Kenya and the pioneering private-sector plastics recycling company Mr Green Africa to combat the challenges of plastic pollution resulting from rapid urbanization.

“Mr Green Africa complements WWF-Kenya by bringing in much-needed knowledge, networks and expertise in the plastic recycling value chain in coastal Kenya where we have worked for more than 20 years. These efforts will go a long way not only towards improving the livelihoods of workers in the plastic recycling sector but will also have a net impact on the reduction of marine litter that ends up in our ocean and chokes marine biodiversity,’’ says Mr Awer.

Stronger in partnerships

Given the size of the task WWF-Kenya is tackling, it is surprising that the organisation employs just 100 people. “We could of course double or triple staff number easily but that is not the way we want to go. We have to amplify, not magnify, our work by getting into partnerships to reach a pool of professionals that we would otherwise not be able to reach. We don’t want to be the dominant player; we want to allow others to grow with us – the challenges out there can only be resolved through collaborative partnerships.” says Mr Awer.

Summarising the organisation’s tasks for the future, he says: “Our key objective is to contribute to the National Sustainable Development Agenda of Kenya. We have a clear plan on this, including investing in organisational excellence to deliver on our strategy in the most effective and efficient way. This includes financial sustainability, communications, monitoring and evolution, and the right people in the right places to deliver impactful conservation.”

“Overall, our key objectives can be summarised as follows: Thriving Wildlife; Functioning Habitats; Sustainably Managed Nature that benefits People; Greened Footprints, an Enabling Policy for Nature Conservation,” concludes Mr Awer. These are ambitious objectives but it is in the interest of everybody on our planet that they are achieved.

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