The part of Mt Elgon that falls in Bungoma County is the southern slopes and covers an estimated area of 944 Km2. The Mt. Elgon area is occupied by the Iteso, the Bukusu and the Sabaots. Traditionally, people lived within land that was later designated as forest reserve land.
The people who lived in the land that was designated as forest land were moved into a settlement area. However, the allocation of the Chebyuk settlement scheme to different groups of inhabitants was deemed not fair by some of the groups. This led to land feuds that resulted in the formation of the Sabaot land Defense Forces. The conflicts due to land led to people being displaced and
some people not respecting the forest reserve boundaries. One of the problems that needs attention in the Mt. Elgon area is how to bring different groups of inhabitants into joint efforts and conserve and preserve the biosphere reserve.
Unless an initiative considers the diversity of the people who live around the Mount Elgon reserve and come up with a mechanism for continuous consultation, selfish interest will affect the protection of the forest land. It is noted that the livelihoods of people who live around forests tend to have linkages to the forest. Thus there is need to develop a framework where the forest reserve exists and advances the livelihoods of the locals in a sustainable way. If a proper framework is not developed that caters for locals interests, then the forest is likely to suffer encroachment, frequent forest fires, deforestation as people seek firewood and charcoal, conflicts due to grazing in the forest, and poaching activities that affect the fauna in the forest reserve.
When the locals are suspicious or view conservation efforts negatively, they will tend to sabotage the preservation or conservation agencies or government. Kenya has many laws (Plant protection Act, Forest Act, wildlife Conservation and Management Act, EMCA, Water Act etc) aimed at environmental conservation but without the good will of people living near forests, the laws meant for protection of forests do not work. Therefore, there is need for a mechanism of getting the community involved such that community conservation efforts become community driven and to the benefit of locals.
When forests are well managed, locals and visitors tend to gain in many ways. The Mt. Elgon reserve is a good place for recreational activities (tourism). It is important that tourism is encouraged but the proceeds are used in a manner that benefits the reserve and the local community. The forest is a source of livelihood for the local community; they gather firewood and can benefit from game in the forest. However, there is need for a mechanism that allows for acceptable channels of the locals accessing and enjoying such benefits of being in the proximity of a forest. The locals have to be helped to understand the benefits of having the forest e.g. as a water reservoir, prevention of soil erosion and mud slides, air purification, preservation of biodiversity, aesthetic value i.e. having a beautiful green scenery, as a source of rivers and regulator of weather. For the locals to understand all the benefits and appreciate their role towards the sustainable realization of the benefits, community engagement and sensitization is important.