Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 16, Issue 5, pp 1471–1489 | Cite as

Traditional Ecological Knowledge of a Riverine Forest in Turkana, Kenya: Implications for Research and Management

  • Jørn StaveEmail author
  • Gufu Oba
  • Inger Nordal
  • Nils Chr Stenseth
Original Paper


The present study explores traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of Turkana pastoralists and cultivators in the context of a riverine forest in northern Kenya. The Turkwel River and its floodplain sustain a thick forest, which is used for grazing and extraction of non-timber forest products. However, sedentarisation and agricultural expansion have resulted in localised clear-felling of trees, while river damming has altered the natural flow regime. A series of structured, semi-structured, and group interviews were combined with a botanical inventory in order to assess the relevance of TEK to ecological research and forest conservation. Turkana informants gave 102 vernacular names for the 113 woody species. Of these, 85% had a domestic or pastoral use among the 105 specific uses that were described. Ethnobotanical knowledge was relatively homogenous and not related to age, gender, or source of livelihood. The informants had in-depth knowledge of some key ecological processes. The conceived threats to forest survival were primarily cultivation and permanent settlements, while the effects of river damming and livestock grazing were disputed. A claimed decline in rainfall was confirmed by official data. There is strong evidence that TEK could be used to generate hypotheses for research and to design sustainable conservation strategies. A revised version of the indigenous system of tree management should be incorporated into the official forestry policy in order to resolve future conflicts between pastoralists and cultivators.

Key words

Conservation Ethnobotany Ethnoecology Floodplain forest Indigenous knowledge Non-timber forest products Turkwel River Woody species richness 


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This study was funded by the Research Council of Norway (Project No. 148773/730) and research permission was granted by the Government of Kenya (MOEST 13/001/32C 279). We are highly indebted to all the field assistants, informants and respondents for their kind participation. Special thanks go to Boaz Ekiru, Charles Ekal, and Philip Esimit for their enthusiasm in the field, and to Geoffrey Mungai for helping us with the species identification. Emily Wabuyele, Charlotte Sletten Bjorå, Tesfaye Awas, Ingrid Nesheim, Hassan Guyo Roba, and Marit Ruge Bjærke gave valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jørn Stave
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Gufu Oba
    • 2
  • Inger Nordal
    • 3
  • Nils Chr Stenseth
    • 1
  1. 1.Centre for Ecological and Evolutionary Synthesis (CEES), Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  2. 2.Noragric, Department of International Environment and Development StudiesNorwegian University of Life SciencesÅsNorway
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  4. 4.The Development FundOsloNorway

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