Kenya: Mau Ecosystem Rehabilitation Gains Momentum with Donor Support and UN Backing

by Nov 29, 2011Forest, Habitat News

A new three-year intervention to rehabilitate the Northern Mau Forest at the cost of Euro €2.3 million is set to deliver multiple benefits for Kenya and the region. These range from the restoration of vital water catchments and the establishment of payments for environmental services; to improving the livelihoods of local communities and monitoring carbon storage in the Mau Forest.

The project, funded by the European Union and implemented by the Kenyan Government and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), aims to support the rehabilitation of the Mau forest ecosystem and to create a sustainable basis for its long-term conservation and management.

The strategic importance of the Mau Forest lies in the ecosystem services it provides to Kenya and the region, including river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, reduced soil erosion, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and microclimate regulation. It forms the largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem and covers over 400,000 hectares.

Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares – approximately 25% – of its forest cover due to irregular and unplanned settlements, illegal resources extraction, in particular logging and charcoal burning, the change of land use from forest to unsustainable agriculture and change in ownership from public to private. Excised areas include critical upper water catchments for the rivers and the lakes fed by the Mau.

UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said: “The Mau Forest Complex supports key economic sectors in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya – from energy and tourism to agriculture and industries. The project responds to the immediate needs of government, business and civil society to regulate the use of natural resources through a combination of economic incentives and voluntary measures. The generous support of the EU and international donors is allowing this transformative project to place Kenya on the path towards a green economy for sustainable development and poverty alleviation.”

The Mau Complex is the single most important source of water for direct human consumption in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya. Continued destruction of the forests may inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.

Watershed rehabilitation constitutes an important component of the project. It aims to rehabilitate degraded water catchments and forest land in the Northern Mau by 2013. Activities under this component include: the survey and demarcation of the boundaries of selected forest blocks for the issuance of title deeds, planting appropriate seedlings on selected forest land and building the capacity of Water Resources Users Associations to sustainably manage water catchments and riverine areas.

According to a report, released by the Kenyan Government’s Interim Coordinating Secretariat for the Mau Forest Complex in 2009, if encroachment and unsustainable exploitation of the forest ecosystem continues, it will only be a matter of time before the entire ecosystem is irreversibly damaged with significant socio-economic consequences.

EU Head of Operations in Kenya, Mr Bernard Rey, said, “The EU has started deliberations with the Government of Kenya to develop a Watershed Protection and Climate Change Adaptation programme. This programme would deal with some of the root causes of the declining water flows from Kenya’s water sources, such as forest excisions, weak institutional capacities and adverse impacts of climate change.”

An additional Euro €20 million were pledged by the EU for watershed protection and climate change adaptation in the Mau and other water towers in Kenya. The Government of Kenya is expected to make a commitment to form strong institutional bodies to manage these resources. The pledged finances will help manage some of the root causes of the declining water flows from Kenya’s water sources, such as, forest excisions, weak institutional capacities and the adverse impacts of climate change.

Another major component of the Mau rehabilitation focuses on improving the sustainable livelihoods of communities in the Northern Mau, which will limit the dependency of these populations on destructive resource extraction from forests and catchments. The project will develop Payment for Environmental Services schemes as well as facilitate the establishment of small and micro enterprises and capacity building support to improve agricultural productivity.

The Rt. Hon. Raila Odinga, Prime Minister of Kenya, said: “This is a critical project for Kenya. It responds to national priorities, as outlined in Vision 2030 and will contribute to the implementation of the new Kenyan Forest Policy and the Forests Act by providing capacity building and institutional development. “

“On many levels, this is a transformational effort. In addition to conserving the environmental and spiritual value of the Mau, the project will develop innovative approaches that will enable community participation, benefit-sharing, and will support the establishment of forest management plans, marking and securing forest boundaries and piloting payment of ecosystem services through the provision of organizational structures for ecotourism development and the establishment of a carbon offset sub-project. On behalf of the Government of Kenya, I would like to thank the European Union for generously funding this project. And I would like to thank UNEP for backing this effort and providing technical and programmatic support,” he added.

The final component of the project deals with building the organizational capacity of the Government to better manage rehabilitation and conservation efforts. Activities include the development of a Strategic Management Plan that will identify incentives-driven interventions for restoration of degraded areas.

The project also paves the way towards establishing Kenya’s pilot mechanism to “Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and Land Degradation” (REDD) by establishing an environmental monitoring system to quantify the carbon storage of the MAU forest, which may also be used to generate future additional resources from carbon credits.

Notes to Editors

The Mau Complex is the largest of the five “water towers” of Kenya, forming the upper catchments of all main rivers in the Western part of Kenya. These rivers are the lifeline of major lakes in Kenya and transboundary lakes such as Lake Victoria in the Nile River Basin; Lake Turkana in Kenya and Ethiopia, and lake Natron in Tanzania and Kenya.

Perennial rivers in the Mau are becoming seasonal, storm flows and downstream flooding are increasing and wells and springs are drying up. The water stress in the Mau is largely attributed to land degradation and deforestation.

The Ogiek are a forest-dependant indigenous community whose main livelihoods are dependent on the utilization of forest resources. The Mau Forest Secretariat embarked on a process of establishing an Ogiek Council of Elders to maintain consultations with the Ogiek regarding conservation and rehabilitation measures.

Deforestation and forest degradation contribute approximately 15-17 per cent of all greenhouse gases.

At its 16th meeting, in Cancun, the Conference of the Parties (COP) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted REDD+ as a means to reduce emissions

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