The future of Kenya’s Kisere Forest hangs in a delicate balance. The habitat of the endangered De Brazza Monkey, the Kisere Forest is victim to illegal deforestation activities, including tree felling, charcoal burning, hunting for bush meat, firewood collection, and the debarking of trees for traditional medicine. The 10 km radius surrounding the forest is managed by the understaffed Kenya Wildlife Services who have built necessary schools in the area. These development efforts, however, do not solve the problem of extreme poverty. Parents find themselves unable to pay for uniforms and other essential materials needed to send their children to school. With a continued lack of conservation education in the surrounding area, the forest would continue to deteriorate, destroying a valuable ecosystem in Kenya.
Village Enterprise saw an opportunity- not only to empower the extremely poor in this region but also a chance to build awareness about detrimental environmental practices. The Village Enterprise Conservation Program began with the Budongo Program in collaboration with the Jane Goodall Institute near the Budongo Forest in Uganda. The success of this program has led to the Kisere Project in Kenya. Village Enterprise has made it our mission to not only equip those living in extreme poverty around the Kisere Forest with tools to create business, but also to introduce conservation training into this delicate region. By taking a microenterprise developmental approach, we encourage Village Enterprise business owners to move away from deforestation activities and towards sustainable business ventures.
In January of this year, Village Enterprise implemented the Kisere Conservation Project, an integrated conservation and microenterprise development program. Our program consists of a one-year training program supplemented with “conservation-friendly” instruction to demonstrate to our clients the importance of environmentally responsible business tactics. During their yearlong training, business owners will meet with Village Enterprise Business Mentors on a monthly basis who provide training and support. Village Enterprise also helps groups of business owners form their own Business Savings Group. This Group will provide self-directed savings and credit for the business owners, investing in new ventures and helping people recapitalize in the event of damaging externalities. Once the business owners have completed their training and formed their Business Savings Group, Village enterprise provides seed capital, in the form of a cash grant or our Business in a Box transfer program, to help them start their businesses.
Through the Village Enterprise program, people living near the Kisere Forest have been able to begin lifting themselves out of extreme poverty in a sustainable way. If this program follows a similar trajectory to the Budongo Conservation Project, then it will have not only a great impact on the business owners, but the forest as well. In Budongo, we have reduced the number of respondents using practices that are harmful to the environment. The business owners themselves have seen the importance of the environmental protection, and have even asked for more conservation training. It is too soon now to determine if the Kisere project has had a similar positive effect, but for the sake of the forest and those building their lives there, we are determined to make sure it is as successful as the Budongo program, which has improved housing and created greater ownership of assets. More than 80% of Village Enterprise businesses are operational after one year. Kisere deserves a similar success story.
Learn more about our Conservation program here.
Village Enterprise Intern