Traditionally, a ball of smoke would mean one of the Ogiek community members was harvesting honey in the forest.
Things are different now. When Julius Ngiria sees clouds of smoke billowing from a thicket of trees in Logoman Forest, he senses danger. He knows it is time for him to act.
Ngiria is among the 18 volunteer Logoman Forest Scouts guarding Logoman Forest.
Logoman Forest is in Eastern Mau bloc, which constitutes the larger Mau Forest Complex stretched in seven counties -Nakuru, Narok, Baringo, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Kericho and Bomet.
They have been trained on forest fire management thanks to forest management collaboration between Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP) and Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
Under the project ‘Supporting Indigenous Peoples’ Natural Resources Rights and Community Led Forest Conservation’ funded by American Jewish World Service (AJWS),Ngiria and the rest of his fellow scouts have been trained on how to prevent, respond and tackle fires in a forested environment especially during the dry spells
“These days, I must go and see what is going on in the area where the smoking is coming from,” said Ngiria.
Since the beginning of the year (2017), they have put out five fires in different sections of the Logoman Forest.
“I have been trained not to ignore any kind of smoke that comes from the forest especially during the hot and windy season,” he said, “Fire spreads so fast during this season.”
Joseph King'ori, KFS Forester for Logoman Forest, said the scouts have become resourceful pillars to protection and preservation of the forests due to their training on detection, prevention and suppression.
He said they are quick to respond whenever there is smoke signifying presence of fire, having been equipped with information and skills on how to report fire and construct fire lines to counter its spread.
“Scouts are controlling fire in the forests far more quickly than in the previous when thousands of hectares used to burn. Their response is very good,” he said.
William Leleshwa, secretary to Logoman Community Forest Association from which the scouts were selected commended the volunteers for their noble commitment towards protecting the forest.
“During the drought, the forest is vulnerable to fires but the scouts have been helpful in deterring its occurrence and putting it out when it occurs,” Leleshwa said.
John Lengoisa, OPDP’s Program Officer said the scouts volunteer in managing Logoman Forest Rehabilitation programme through their participation in tree planting, community awareness and forest protection.
The neighboring communities have also benefited from the programme through allocation of plots tofarm, while taking care of trees, under the Plantation Establishment for Livelihood Improvement Scheme (PELIS).