By KARANJA NJOROGE
Kenya; Despite its critical importance for environmental stability and economic development the Mau Forest Complex has lost over 30 per cent of its forest due to forest excisions and encroachment.
Billions of shillings have been used in various initiatives to save the endangered 400,000 hectares Forest water tower.
But despite a colossal sum of money being pumped into conservation of the vital forest only a paltry 25 per cent of the forest has been recovered.
Efforts to rehabilitate the forest have always run into problems with lack of vital political will and funds to compensate affected families
The need to have a coordinated approach in the conservation led to the formation of the Mau Forest Interim Coordinating Secretariat (ICS) which marked a critical phase in the battle to save the forest.
The Hassan Noor led Mau Forest Interim Coordinating Secretariat was supposed to spearhead repossession of the forest land in five phases and curb illegal activities contributing to the degradation of the forest.
It was formed in 2008 following a meeting at the Kenya International Conference Centre attended by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and 10 Cabinet Ministers as well as over 300 people representing all major stakeholders.
Five years later and after a high profile tree planting ceremony at Kiptunga forest attended by the former PM there has been little progress in reclaiming some sections of the forest.
The Mau Complex comprises five main gazetted forest reserves: Eastern Mau (66,000 hectares), South-Western Mau (22,700 hectares), Trans-Mara (34,400 hectares), and Ol Pusimoru (17,200 hectares). It is the source of twelve rivers and some 30 million depend on water sources originating in the Mau.
The ICS was also to formulate recommendations to the Government for an affective management structure to stop any further degradation in the Mau Forest Complex.
It was also charged with providing for the relocation of the people residing in the forests and restore all degraded forest and critical catchments within the water.
The high profile tree planting ceremony four years ago attended by Prime Minister Raila Odinga was boycotted by MPs from the Kalenjin community.
During the ceremony, which was over shadowed by political intrigues millions of trees were planted heralding the beginning of the forests reclamation.
A few months later over 3,000 families were evicted from South Western Mau in 2010.
After the families left an eagerly awaited plan to reclaim the 46,278 hectares in Maasai Mau was shelved after the Government failed to release money to compensate those to be evicted.
Unlike the settlers who were removed from the South Western section of the forest and who the Government stated had no claim over land families in Maasai Mau bought land on willing buyer- seller basis and have ownership documents.
A total of Sh 3Billion was required to remove and compensate the 7,000 families. But with the general elections approaching and the politicization of the previous eviction the much anticipated reclamation did not take place.
The Interim Coordinating Secretariat has since metamorphosised into the Kenya Water Towers Agency with the mandate to conserve 18 gazetted water towers in the country under threats. According to the Director of the Agency Hassan Noor who was the Chairman of the Mau Forest Interim Coordinating Secretariat the recovery of the first three phases of the forest was successful.
“We managed to persuade the families residing in South Western Mau to leave the forest and this are the people in the camps,” he said discounting claims the settlers were flushed out.
Speaking in Nakuru recently during a meeting with Mau stakeholders Noor said recovery process was proceeding until it started being politicized. “As we embarked on the recovery politics was gaining momentum and there was a lot of bad publicity,” he added.
According to Noor 23,000 ha of the forest were recovered in the first two phases involving parts of the forestland excised but which remained unoccupied.
He said they have already profiled 7,000 families in Maasai Mau and presented the Sh 3billion compensation Budget to the Treasury to facilitate comphensation.
The remaining two other phase are still in the planning stages without lack of funds and political will being the main challenges.
Noor said there was an influx of more people into the forest during resettlement process who were incited to invade the forest inorder to benefit from the planned compensation.
“IDP resettlement process was difficult because most families who were not in the list of settlement when the provincial administration was conducting registration settled on the edges of the forest to benefit illegally,” revealed Hassan. The excision of the Maasai Mau in 2001 was aimed benefiting members of the indigenous Ogiek community but ended up benefiting government officials mostly from the military.
The 17,000 ha Ol posimoru block initially belonged to the Maasai community but in 1959 they duped to surrender the land to the government in order to have permission to carry out logging.
“The land became government land without the owners realizing they had relinquished their rights to the land and that is why we want them compensated so that we can reclaim the section,” he added
A joint Mau Forest Security Enforcement force composed of the Kenya Wildlife Service(KWS), Kenya Forest Service (KFS), Administration Police and Narok County officers has been protecting the forest from new encroachments.
The Joint Enforcement Unit which has been in place since July 2008 is coordinated by the KWS and supported by an aircraft for monitoring. A total of Sh 5 million is used monthly for the upkeep of members by paying their allowances, purchasing fuel, food and vehicle maintenance.
Illegal activities in the water complex have been reduced by an estimated by 70 per cent since it started its operations.
The establishment of Title Deed surrendering centres in 14 districts of the Mau region has seen more people voluntarily hand in the documents. The Secretariat was during its two year term supposed to develop framework for long term measures to restore and sustainably manage the Mau Forest.
The US Government in 2010 launched a Sh 6.5 million dollar project dubbed Pro Mara program to support the Kenyan Government plan to rehabilitate the forest.
The initiative which focussed on the catchment’s area that is the source of Mara river was intended to help restore the health of the critical catchment, restore the forest rich biology, help manage natural resources and improve local livelihoods.
The Pro Mara program was however discontinued after two years even before the conservation fruits could be realized. Speaking during the meeting with Mau stakeholders at a Nakuru Hotel United Nations Development Program (UNDP) representative Ms Founta Kwena said the organization is ready to articulate issues of Mau forest and coordinate activities that will help in rehabilitation of the forest.
She said Mau forest affects economic status of the country and neighbouring nations because it is a source of water for agricultural production that most African countries depend on.
“Mau forest is a source of water for most projects running in the country and conservation will improve agricultural production, tourism sector among other economic activities,” she noted.