By James Mwangombe 


Arabuko Sokoke Forest has been officially recognised as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO and this will be announced officially in a meeting of the Man and Biosphere International Coordinating Council (MAB-ICC) to take place in Paris, France on 17-21 June 2019.

Biosphere reserves are areas of terrestrial and coastal/marine ecosystems or a combination thereof which are internationally recognized within the framework of UNESCO’s Programme on Man and the Biosphere (MAB) under the Statutory Framework of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves. These reserves are nominated by national governments.

Biosphere reserves are designed to deal with one of the most important questions the world faces today: How can we reconcile conservation of biodiversity and biological resources with their sustainable use? An effective biosphere reserve involves natural and social scientists; conservation and development groups; management authorities and local communities – all working together on this complex issue.

The concept of biosphere reserves was originated by a Task Force of UNESCO and launched in 1976. Each reserve must meet a minimal set of criteria and adhere to a minimal set of conditions before being admitted to the Network. Each biosphere reserve is intended to fulfil three complementary functions: a conservation function, to preserve genetic resources, species, ecosystems and landscapes; a development function, to foster sustainable economic and human development, and a logistic support function, to support demonstration projects, environmental education and training, and research and monitoring related to local, national and global issues of conservation and sustainable development.

Physically, each biosphere reserve should contain three elements: one or more core areas, which are securely protected sites for conserving biological diversity, monitoring minimally disturbed ecosystems, and undertaking non-destructive research and other low-impact uses (such as education); a clearly identified buffer zone, which usually surrounds or adjoins the core areas, and is used for co-operative activities compatible with sound ecological practices, including environmental education, recreation, ecotourism and applied and basic research; and a flexible transition area, or area of co-operation, which may contain a variety of agricultural activities, settlements and other uses and in which local communities, management agencies, scientists, non-governmental organizations, cultural groups, economic interests and other stakeholders work together to manage and sustainably develop the area’s resources.

The operation and management of Biosphere Reserves are guided by the Seville Strategy whose goals are as follows;

GOAL I: Use biosphere reserves to conserve natural and cultural diversity. There are two objectives: Improve the coverage of natural and cultural biodiversity by means of the World Network of Biosphere Reserves, and; Integrate biosphere reserves into conservation planning.

GOAL II: Utilize BiosphereReserves as models of land management and of approaches to sustainable development. This goal has three objectives: Secure the support and involvement of Iocal people; Ensure better harmonization and interaction among the different biosphere reserve zones; and, Integrate biosphere reserves into regional planning.

GOAL III: Use Biosphere Reservesfor research, monitoring,education and training. This goal has four objectives: Improve knowledge of the interactions between humans and the biosphere; Improve monitoring activities; Improve education, public awareness and involvement; and, Improve training for specialists and managers.

GOAL IV: Implement the Biosphere Reserve concept. This goal has two objectives: Integrate the functions of biosphere reserves; and, strengthen the World Network of Biosphere Reserves.


At national level, the BR programme is domiciled at the National Commission to UNESCO (KNATCOM) that is a parastatal under the Ministry of Education. Under KNATCOM there are several committees that steer in-country programmes of UNESCO among them being the Kenya Man and Biosphere Reserves (KMAB) in which KFS is represented by the Head Forest Health & Biodiversity Conservation. The KMAB is comprised of representatives from KFS, KWS, NEMA, NACOSTI, and UNDP-SGP.

There are six biosphere reserves in Kenya. These are;

Biosphere Reserves

I.Mount Kenya, 1978

II.Mount Kulal, 1978

III.Malindi-Watamu, 1979

IV.Kiunga, 1980

V.Amboseli, including Namanga Forest, 1991

VI.Mount Elgon, 2003


The biosphere reserves (BRs) are reviewed every ten years as per the requirements/guidelines of the Seville Strategy. The review is undertaken to assess whether the BRs still serve the purpose for which they were designated and if there are changes in legal status, management, ownership, size and zonation.  A number of the BRs have undergone review among them Mt. Kenya. Mt. Kulal, Malindi-Watamu, Kiunga and Amboseli. The reviews have taken into recognition the legislative provisions that have taken place since they were first designated.

In the recent reviews, there have been greater recognition of the presence of KFS as being among the institutions managing them with the recognition of gazetted forests as protected areas and thus being given the status of a core zone unlike before where they recognised as buffer or transition zones. Consequently, the review of the Malindi -Watamu BR undertaken in 2017/8 recognised Arabuko Sokoke as a core zone in addition to the Malindi and Watamu Marine reserves. This recognition led to the re-designation of Malindi-Watamu BR as “Malindi-Watamu-Arabuko Sokoke Biosphere Reserve” raising the profile of gazetted forests as well as KFS. This also brings on board the recognition of Community Forest Associations as community institutions involved in the management of a BR. A BR management team/committee is thus being formed as per the requirements of UNESCO’s Man & Biosphere Reserve programme.


The designation of an area as a BR confers the following advantages;

I.International recognition as an area important for biodiversity conservation, economic and social development and as well as maintenance of associated cultural values.

II.International recognition raises the profile of the area as well as the agencies managing it giving an edge in competition for conservation and development support.

III.Extra layer of protection since UNESCO will add its weight in the need to conserve the area, since all countries that are parties must adhere to certain provisions.

IV.Increased collaboration among the managing agencies through the formation of the BR committee.

V.Training opportunities through scholarship provided by UNESCO and capacity building opportunities for BR managers (Forest managers and wardens and community members).




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