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Kenya’s mountain forests and important biodiversity areas do not exist in a vacuum. Adjacent communities rely heavily on these forests for the critical resources they provide: fuelwood, water, livestock grazing areas, herbal medicines, food sources, and building materials, among others. Often, there is overutilization of forest resources. This is an unsustainable situation characterized by illegal, inefficient, and/or inappropriate use due to by lack of knowledge of, or access to, suitable alternatives.

As such, forest adjacent communities are the greatest potential threat to, and simultaneously, the critical first line of defense for our forest landscapes. Rhino Ark’s conservation approach entails establishing a constructive, long-term engagement with these communities. This engagement, through which we implement our livelihood programmes, enables them derive tangible benefits from conservation while enjoying full productivity from their own land in a sustainable manner. 

The overall goal is to reduce human pressure on our important forests by ensuring that communities understand the importance of these forests and their biodiversity, are empowered to participate in their conservation, and are supported to apply sustainable land use practices. 

We place a premium on operating within durable institutional frameworks. Under our public/private partnership model, we fully involve all mandated national and local institutions in our community livelihood programmes to achieve synergy. The focal points for our community engagements in the landscapes we operate are the respective Community Forest Associations (CFAs) and their User Groups as prescribed under the Forest Conservation and Management Act. Rhino Ark also works with the CFAs to develop necessary institutional capacity to govern themselves effectively.

Our portfolio of key community conservation education and livelihood programmes include the following:

  • Conservation Education
  • Bio-enterprise
  • Ecotourism
  • Sustainable Energy
  • Smart Farming 
  • Capacity Building
  • Community Conservation Champions

Conservation Education

Since 2014, Rhino Ark has implemented a robust conservation education programme in forest adjacent schools. This voluntary programme has developed comprehensive formal curricula that are taught in primary and secondary schools, equipping pupils with knowledge and practical skills to enable them live in harmony with their environment. 

Establishment of wildlife clubs in 178 schools across 4 mountain forest landscapes has enabled pupils to participate in conservation activities, enjoy study visits to conservation areas and learn best practices. Selected schools have also been beneficiaries of model tree nurseries, through which pupils learn about and practice agroforestry.

Rhino Ark’s conservation education team provides ongoing mentoring and technical support to the schools to ensure that the programme remains current and relevant. 

In the Aberdares, Rhino Ark holds the annual Aberdare Fence Relay Run. The event engages 100 forest adjacent primary and secondary schools around the Aberdare ecosystem. Pupils from each school participate by running along their respective stage of the 400-km-long Aberdare Electric Fence and passing the relay baton to the next school. The event also features two essay competitions on an environmental subject – one for the teachers and one for the pupils.


Our community beekeeping programme has facilitated the establishment of a 73-member community cooperative in the Eburu ecosystem. Its members are improving their honey production (quality/quantity) and marketing, thus helping them to earn higher incomes. In the South Western Mau ecosystem, a similarly modelled programme has been launched and is making good progress.

In the South Western Mau and Aberdare landscapes, we have supported the Community Forest Associations for Ndoinet and Geta to establish model tree nurseries, through which they can produce and market quality tree seedlings.


Rhino Ark is supporting ecotourism development for various communities. We have facilitated the training of community guides and development of nature trails. In Geta (Aberdares), an ecotourism initiative has developed 59 km of nature trails and provided 29 community members with training and equipment to enable them provide guiding services for visitors. In Eburu forest, the ecotourism CFA user group has benefitted from training in birding, guiding and trail maintenance. 45 km of nature trails have been developed. A comprehensive guidebook about the forest, developed by Rhino Ark, has provided quality information about the forest, further boosting its ecotourism credentials in the public domain.  

These initiatives are providing the community with sustainable income earning opportunities. They have also created a positive climate for investors, leading to development of ecotourism facilities near the forest. This is, in turn, yielding direct employment and trade opportunities for the community.

Sustainable Energy

In the Eburu ecosystem, an on-farm biogas programme has enabled over 70 farms to transition away from firewood and charcoal as their primary domestic energy sources. This is providing the farmers with an alternative that eliminates the cost of buying fuelwood as well as providing additional benefits such as organic fertilizer from the bio slurry. 

Rhino Ark facilitates ongoing training on sustainable energy (e.g. biogas, energy saving jikos and solar) to community members to propagate high awareness levels and encourage uptake of suitable domestic energy alternatives.

Smart Farming

Rhino Ark’s On-Farm Improvement Programme is a long-term initiative through which we facilitate training to farmers by experts on sustainable and innovative best practices. This model programme has been rolled out in the Eburu ecosystem, with monthly sessions held for community groups across the landscape. 

Farmers are learning to diversify their crops (including fruit farming), implement value addition processes for farm produce and practice organic farming. They are also taught efficient techniques that improve yield, and practice rainwater harvesting to mitigate climate change risks and ensure more consistent productivity. 

A pilot poultry project introduced the hardy KENBRO breed to farmers and has provided them with an additional income stream opportunity.

Capacity Building

It is critical that Community Forest Associations (CFAs), as the focal points for both conservation and livelihood activities, are organized, effective, and well governed. Towards this goal, Rhino Ark supports CFA capacity building. We partner with the Kenya Forest Service and the respective CFAs across our project areas to facilitate training in governance and financial management, and to assist the CFAs comply with regulatory requirements. 

We provide technical support to assist CFAs to carry out transparent elections, hold regular meetings, and develop forest management plans. We support study visits by CFA officials and members to other landscapes to enable them benchmark best practices from counterpart CFAs.

Community Conservation Champions

In 2018 Rhino Ark rolled out the Community Conservation Champions Programme (CCCP). This innovative initiative leverages Rhino Ark’s grassroots community engagement framework to identify people that are passionate about conservation. It taps into their enthusiasm and energy to propagate conservation values and practices within forest adjacent communities. 

CCCP members are volunteers who are empowered to take lead in community conservation in their respective localities. They act as key influencers, mobilizing their communities to participate in conservation activities. Rhino Ark equips these champions with the necessary skills to be effective conservation leaders through providing training, mentoring, exposure, and technical support. Among the tangible skills that the champions gain are: agroforestry; bird watching; public speaking; events organizing; and financial management. CCCP members, numbering 25 across the SW Mau And Eburu ecosystems, are accorded priority in our community based sustainable livelihood programmes. They also enjoy recognition and elevated status in their communities, including by the various arms of government by virtue of their positive contribution to conservation.  

In 2023, Rhino Ark expanded the CCCP by including 48 motorcycle “boda boda” taxi operators in a pilot programme launched in the Eburu ecosystem. The boda boda conservation champions, in addition to the regular CCCP training and support, also receive road safety training from the National Road Safety and Transportation Authority (NTSA) and are provided with UN Standard riding helmets and branded reflective vests. Boda boda operators are an important and influential demographic, and this initiative aims to establish a culture of best practices in road safety, in addition to improving conservation. The boda boda road safety and conservation champions programme aims to engage 1,000 operators across the five landscapes in which Rhino Ark operates.

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