Lessons from the Rehabilitation of the Aberdare Forest in Kenya

Take a moment to think about this. Do you know that you are dependent on the forests? Are you aware of the many benefits forests provide mankind and the threats they face? Keep reading to learn more. 

Forests are vital for the existence of humans and other living organisms. They provide numerous goods such as food, fuel, timber, fiber, medicines and bioproducts.1,2 Forests also provide several ecological benefits which include air purification, water filtration, flood and erosion control, sustaining biodiversity and genetic resources, nutrient cycling, as well as carbon storage which mitigates climate change. 1,2 Lastly, forests provide social and cultural benefits such as recreation, education, traditional resource uses, and spiritual enrichment. 1,2 Considering all these benefits, it is no exaggeration to say that forests are essential to life, and that deforestation poses a great threat to the survival of mankind, and actions to preserve and sustainably use our forests are greatly needed globally. 

Fortunately, there are a number of forests around the world which despite being previously significantly deteriorated as a result of human activities, have now been successfully rehabilitated. The Aberdare Forest in Kenya is one of these, and can be used today as a model for the restoration of other forests around the world. 

The Rehabilitation of the Aberdare Forest in Kenya

The Aberdare National Park, Kenya, known for its majestic peaks, torrential waterfalls, and steep forested ravines, hosts the Aberdare Forest Reserve. This forest is one of Kenya’s last remaining primary forests and provides water supply to Nairobi (the capital city) and adjoining districts. 3,4 It holds a huge biodiversity, including animals such as elephants, black rhinos, leopards, spotted hyenas, olive baboons, black and white colobus monkeys, buffalos; and rare species such as bongo, serval cat, and many others. A vast diversity of birds and plants can also be found here. The forest also holds a great historical and cultural significance, such as a giant tree where the Mau Mau freedom fighters left messages for Dedan Kimathi (the military leader) during the struggle against the British colonial regime.4

Source. Kenya Wildlife Service

Human activities such as logging, charcoal production, cultivation, overgrazing and housing constructions, greatly threatened and deteriorated this valuable forest, and the consequences could be seen in the water resources and biodiversity. 5  In order to remediate this, the Green Belt Movement (GBM) – a community-based NGO in Kenya, with financial support from Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD) undertook a project to rehabilitate this forest between 2006 and 2012. The AFD contributed 61.7% of the project’s budget, while the GBM contributed 5.5%, and the local communities contributed 32.8% (mainly in kind). 6

The rehabilitation project was run in alignment with Kenya’s Forest Act of 2005, which emphasises a community-based natural resource management system, in which the local population have real interest and gain significant returns, as the basis for the sustainable management of forests. 

The objective of the project was to plant 2,000 hectares of degraded forestland with indigenous trees, but by the end of the project at least 4.1 million trees were planted on 3,900 hectares of public and forestlands. Almost double the objective! Other objectives of the project included improving livelihoods of the communities through the diversification of their income sources, raising awareness of and promoting alternative forest products in order to create a replicable model for the rehabilitation of other forests. 6

A key element to the success of the project was the formation of 593 tree nursery groups among rural women and community members. These groups were responsible for the production of over 4 million plants that were replanted on degraded land. Once planted several other local men and women cared for these plants by weeding and replacement to enhance the survival of the plants. Many locals were also educated by the GBM on key concepts such as climate change, forest degradation, rainfall patterns, river water levels, and how they impact their agricultural productivity and socio-economic status.

Source. Restore Our Planet

The rehabilitation of the Aberdare forest which enabled the planting of 4.1 million trees on 2,000 hectares of forest and 1,900 hectares of community areas has had a positive impact on climate change mitigation, as well as biodiversity and water supply. Other positive impacts include improved income, knowledge and welfare for many locals. Despite the success of this project, the Aberdare forest continues to face threats from livestock grazing, charcoal production, and lack of rainfall. In order to sustain the outcomes of this rehabilitation project, many locals currently serve as advocates for sustainable forest management in their local communities in order to find ways to benefit from the forests without hindering it. 

The Aberdare Forest Rehabilitation project serves today as a vital example of the importance of local communities in rehabilitating and managing natural resources. By bringing together different stakeholders (in this case the GBM, AFD and local communities) large-scale impact can be achieved in the restoration of forest ecosystems.


1. Agence Francaise de Developpement. Rehabilitation of Aberdares Forest with Green Belt Movement. [Online] https://www.afd.fr/en/carte-des-projets/rehabilitation-aberdares-forest-green-belt-movement.

2. CIRAD Consultancy Team. Rehabilitation of the Aberdare Forest Ecosystem: A report of the Mid Term Review Mission. [Online] 2009. https://agritrop.cirad.fr/561364/1/document_561364.pdf.

3. Balloffet, Nicole, et al. Ecosystem Services. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center. [Online] 4 February 2012. https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/topics/ecosystem-services.

4. Government of Canada. Forest ecosystem products and services. [Online] 28 February 2017. https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/our-natural-resources/forests-and-forestry/sustainable-forest-management/forest-ecosystem-products-services/13177.

5. Kenya Wildlife Service. Aberdare National Park. [Online] 2021. http://www.kws.go.ke/content/aberdare-national-park.

6. UNESCO World Heritage Convention. Aberdare Mountains. [Online] 12 February 2010. https://whc.unesco.org/en/tentativelists/5506/.

Leslie Fotso
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