Securing the livelihoods of communities living around the Mau Forest Complex through sensitization, training and empowerment has significantly boosted efforts to restore the water tower. The 400 hectares Mau forest comprises of 22 forest blocks and is a water catchment area and a source to numerous rivers including Sondu River, Southern Ewaso Ng’iro and Njoro River. The rivers supply water to Lake Victoria, Lake Nakuru and Lake Natron in Tanzania.
60,000-ha South Western Mau is one of the 22 forest blocks, which has been severely degraded due to human activities including overgrazing, logging and encroachment among others. Deliberate efforts are being made to restore and conserve the forest. IDH through the Initiative for Sustainable Landscape (ISLA) launched an ambitious campaign to rehabilitate and conserve the forest in 2018 and opted to adopt a community-based approach to see the campaign to fruition.
The programme is ongoing in three constituencies including Kuresoi North (Kiptororo ward), Kuresoi South (Tinet ward), and both in Nakuru County and Kipkelion constituency (Chepseon ward) in Kericho County. Some 800 hectares of the forest have been successfully rehabilitated with the planting of over 16 million trees through the program in a span of 7 years according to Beatah Nzove, the Senior Program Manager at ISLA Kenya Program.
Nzove during a tour of the forest said that to end the overgrazing vice in the region, ISLA established a productive dairy farming community training programme where more than 3000 farmers in the target areas have been trained on modern dairy farming. “The programme aims at providing the community with what takes them to the forest. When we started the dairy farming programme the number of cattle heads in the forest were 24,000. We reduced the number to 17,000 in 2019, currently we are at 9,000 heads and we are targeting to bring the number down to 4,000 by 2025,” Nzove told the Star.
Nzove noted that farmers have been trained on planting of nappier grass and fodder as well as preparation of silage to ensure they stick to zero grazing. She said that the programme has reduced open and forest grazing in the area. “We have also been providing Artificial Insemination (AI) services to enable the farmers improve their cattle breeds. This programme has bore fruits and farmers can attest o it since it has enhanced their production and thereby giving them good returns,” she said.
Farmer Sammy Kipkorir of Kipkoris Dairy Group affirmed that the training they have been receiving has greatly impacted on their farming and income noting that more residents in the area are embracing the new farming method. “This programme was long overdue. We used to get less returns from our animals but we are witnessing improved yields and returns. On the other hand we now understand the impacts of climate change and we are ready to conserve and protect the forest,” Kipkorir said.
Nzove also pointed out that residents are being trained on apiculture which is helping them generate more honey thereby enabling them get high proceeds to sustain their livelihoods and at the same time keeping them off the forest. “Honey-gathering has for many instances resulted to huge wild fires that have direly destroyed the forest. Training the farmers on bee-keeping and providing them with the necessary equipments including hives and harvesting materials has really helped reduce the number of those gathering honey in the forest,” she said. Nzove also noted that to end logging and burning of charcoal, residents have been trained on brickets and biogas preparation to provide them with an alternative source of fuel.
Kenya Water Towers Agency (KWTA) CEO Prof Julius Tanui said that the agency has been working closely with IDH in the ISLA program in rehabilitation and conservation of the South Western Mau. He noted that the agency, jointly with ISLA and the community have managed to fence 30 kilometers of the forest with an aim of keeping off livestock from getting into the forest and at the same time barring wild animals from attacking locals.
“Our aim is to fence 119 kilometers of the forest and we are currently looking for resources to fence the remaining part. We have involved the community in fencing the forest by sourcing labor from them and tasking them to protect it. Fencing has also proved to be a perfect approach of protecting the forest because since 2018 natural regeneration has improved significantly,” Tanui said.
The CEO noted that out of the five major water towers in the country which include Mau Forest Complex, Abadare, Cherangani, Mt Kenya and Mt Elgon, Abadare is the only fenced water tower and hence the reason why it’s least degraded. “I believe it’s possible to fence the 1,500 kilometers of the entire forest. This will be a major boost towards restoring and conserving the forest,” Tanui said.
IDH Country Director Jenny Lofbom noted that the ISLA Kenya Program has launched the Production Protection and Inclusion (PPI) Compact, an agreement between the ISLA Kenya Partners to enhance sustainability and productivity of land and secure community livelihoods in exchange for forest protection.
She noted that the partners through the PPI Compact committed to support interventions under the pillars; Production, Protection and Inclusion (PPI), with an aim of creating areas where agricultural products are grown sustainably (Production), forests and natural resources are safeguarded (Protection), and communities thrive (Inclusion).
The parties in the MOU are IDH, Ekaterra Tea Kenya Limited, James Finlay Kenya Limited, Kenya Tea Development Agency-KTDA and Stawisha Mau Charitable Trust an entity established by the partners for sustainability of interventions beyond the program period. “The Trust will be signing a legal framework to engage with the Kenya forest Service (KFS), the state corporation in charge of natural forests in Kenya. Other interested partners can join the PPI Compact and already there are a few organizations that have expressed interest,” Lofbom said.
She reiterated that the programme is keen on restoring and protecting the South Western Mau forest and builds on the interest of tea and other companies to conserve the forest for its microclimate, and on the interest of the Kenyan Government to improve livelihoods of communities and conserve forests.
ISLA Kenya Program recently launched the Production Protection and Inclusion (PPI) Compact, an agreement between the ISLA Kenya partners to enhance sustainability and productivity of land and secure community livelihoods in exchange of forest protection. The ISLA Program in Kenya aims at restoring and protecting the 60,000 hectares of the South Western Mau forest and builds on the interest of tea and other companies to conserve the forest for its microclimate, and on the interest of the Kenyan Government to improve livelihoods of communities and conserve forests. Mau forest is the largest mountain forest in the East Africa region and also the largest drainage basin in Kenya.
This article was first published by John Kamau in The Star newspaper on December 20, 2022.