Supporting community conservation to reconcile local development and biodiversity conservation in northern Kenya

published on 12 May 2024
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zebres -Kenya © Lisa Verpeaux
Hailed as one of the most mega-biodiverse nations in East Africa, Kenya is home to over 6,500 plant species along with over 1,000 birds and about 350 mammals. Despite its rich biodiversity, many of Kenya’s iconic species are threatened with extinction due to habitat loss and fragmentation. On the occasion of the International Endangered Species Day, we are spotlighting the project “Connectivity North” co-funded by the French Facility for Global Environment (FFEM) and the French Development Agency (AFD) to support community conservation activities in northern Kenya.

In northern Kenya, The Ewaso River watershed serves as a migration corridor for some of the world’s most iconic species including black rhino, savannah elephant, Grevy’s zebra and Hirola antelope, all listed on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. Although national parks have come to play an important role in preserving the critical habitat of countless species, these protected areas remain vulnerable and have progressively become isolated “islands” in a fragmented landscape. Moreover, rangeland degradation threatens the survival of many species and affects indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ livelihoods, driving more conflicts between humans and wildlife in addition to pre-existing inter-community conflicts.

To achieve biodiversity conservation goals while simultaneously contributing to economic development, a key FFEM funded activity is the “Connectivity North” project, co-funded with AFD and implemented by the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), one of Kenya’s leading community conservation institutions.

The project aims to re-establish the ecological connectivity between Marsabit’s forest ecosystem in the north, the Meru National Park and the protected areas in the center of the country. To achieve this, the project focuses on protecting the ancient migration corridors and restoring degraded habitats by supporting the establishment of community-protected areas, known as community conservancies, that complement state-run protected areas such as national parks.

Nicolas Rossin, head of biodiversity projects at the FFEM, underlines the originality of this approach:

The project with NRT is particularly interesting because it aims to re-establish and preserve ecological connectivity between national parks in northern Kenya, and thus their viability, by relying on proven tools for community empowerment, territorial planning and collaborative governance which are the community conservancies

Crescent Island_kenya_Crédit Lisa Verpeaux


A major milestone has already been reached with the establishment of four new conservancies along the major wildlife migratory routes between the north and the center of Kenya, as three existing conservancies around Marsabit National Park have been enhanced.

Tom Lalampaa, CEO of NRT attests:

In the past  year we have seen elephants return to areas that haven’t grazed in for decades, this shows they feel safe and the that community is protecting them. The black Rhino population has nearly doubled and the number of critically endangered Hirola, possibly the last in the world, are on the rise.

At the heart of this approach is the recognition of the role and legitimacy of local communities in managing their own territories and planning the sustainable use of their natural resources. The NRT’s community development model takes into account the needs and aspirations of the community itself without compromising efforts to preserve the exceptional biodiversity of these areas.

 Lac Baringo_kenya_Crédit Lisa Verpeaux

Frédérique Willard, project manager in the agriculture and biodiversity division (ARB) at the AFD, confirms the results achieved by the conservancies gathered under the NRT banner in terms of economic development and peacebuilding. Indeed, the north of Kenya is home to several pastoral communities (Borana, Samburu, Gabra, Rendille, Turkana and more) that have experienced violent ethnic conflicts due to competition over water and grazing resources,

establishing a conservancy contributes to peace and economic growth because it provides the framework and tools to align communities around a common and environmentally friendly project within a specific territory.

Marsabit Kenya - Crédit Julien Calas, FFEM.jpeg


This social and governance innovation incorporates an approach guided by the preservation of critical ecosystems that addresses the isolation of protected areas and secures the vital territories of species as a whole.

Already tested in Namibia, this initiative aims to be replicated on a larger scale especially in border regions and countries where much of the wildlife is found outside protected areas such as national parks. By crossing these arbitrary borders, animals lose the protection they enjoy within the reserves. The long-term challenge is therefore to extend this approach to ensure continuous protection of wild fauna and flora species regardless of administrative boundaries.