According to The Kenya Forest Service, The Mau Forest Complex, The Mount Kenya, The Aberdares, The Cherangani Hills and Mt. Elgon have been listed as the most crucial water towers that need monitoring. These five water towers are the backbone of the country’s economy which provides 75% of its renewable water resources.
The Mau Forest Ecosystem is the largest water tower in Kenya. Maasai Mau and Enoosupukia have been observed with serious environmental consequences on river flow particularly in Ewaso Ngiro South. Residents of areas around Elburgon, Molo, Njoro, Olenguruone, Bomet, Bosta, Mau Narok and many other villages in and around the Mau Forest have been observed to be very notorious in wanton destruction of the forest cover.
Why does this wanton destruction of forest cover go unabated? It is because powerful politicians grabbed small parcels of peoples land and in return corruptly secured huge tracks of land inside the Mau Forest and resettled those people there. So any attempt to remove those people from the forests is met with stiff resistance which sometimes tends to destabilize the government.
After the people realize that there is nothing the government can do to remove them there, and that they are free to do what they want in the forest, they cross over to the forest where they were not even allocated and continue with the wanton destruction.
In-fact, the area where these people were corruptly settled is so small compared with the remaining forest area but owing to the impunity gaining ground among the people there, almost the whole forest will be under their settlement.
Under the Kenyan Law, if you live in an area for over 12 years without being evicted by the owner, you have a right of compensation in case the genuine owner wants to reclaim and utilize that land. Those people inside the Mau Forest have now lived in there for over 12 years and this is the sad reality that will bedevil the government when they will be serious with the agenda of restoring Kenya’s Forest cover to or above 10% of surface area.
Now, we are faced with these two realities.
- We need to re-afforest the gazetted area of Mau Forest. The whole of it.
- We need to compensate these settlers for them to leave the forest.
The first point is agreeable by all in Kenya including the settlers themselves. The second point is the elephant in the house. The number of people who have invaded the Mau Forest is over 10,000 and this is not part of the over 20,000 indigenous Ogiek population. So we can roughly say that about 30,000 people need to be taken care of for Mau Forest to be restored.
I suggest an excellent solution to this Mau Forest debacle
The people living in Mau Forest are people too! They are human beings! They are Kenyans! They need to live in decent places and shelters and access government services like schools and health centers.
So what do I mean? I mean the government, under the constitution has the responsibility of building decent houses for them in a place where they can access the above named basic services. How comes? Be patient, I will explain that below.
Instead of taking these forest settlers as villains or a menace or a burden, lets take them as very valuable assets. Why and How?
- Right now, these people are the greatest threat to Mau Forest, If well resettled they will become the best source of labor and security for the forest.
- These people have lived in the forest and they can provide invaluable information regarding anything that needs to be known about Mau Forest.
How do we Resettle the People Living in the Mau Forest?
This resettlement process is very prone to political interference especially if not communicated in the right manner and by the right people. Political good will will be very crucial to the success of this process. So let all political leaders be involved in this process from the word go.
The resettlement requires several stages.
- Identification of the genuine people living in Mau Forest and have no other source of livelihood outside the forest.
- Releasing the full list of these identified illegal settlers to the public for scrutiny, to weed out professional squatters.
- Identifying a piece of land, lets say around 100 acres where the houses for these people will be constructed.
- Preparation of a budget by the government for issues like construction of houses and a smooth movement of the people from the forest to that area.
- Assigning work in form of employment to the people in the replanting of the forests.
Now let us understand the above stages.
The people need to be advised that they will be resettled elsewhere where decent houses will be constructed for them. They will thereafter be employed in the forest to replant the trees and take care of them.
So, to protect themselves from other intruders who are not genuine forest settlers, they will need to form Nyumba Kumi Initiatives which will be used as the basic mode of identification during the resettlement. The Nyumba Kumi Initiative will help very much in weeding out the ‘aliens’ because naturally none of them will want a person they don’t identify to be listed among themselves.
When all people within the Mau Forest are identified in this manner, we go to stage 2.
The full map of Mau Forest and all Nyumba Kumi formed in each area should be availed to the public for scrutiny. This is because fraudsters who want to defraud Kenyans can avail a list of Nyumba Kumi members living in a non existing area within The Mau Forest. So all Nyumba Kumi Leaders need to meet together to know which area the other leader comes from.
The people will need to be informed that when they leave the forest, they will not be resettled in farms elsewhere to continue with subsistence agriculture but will be resettled to practice commercial forestry.
So, to actualize this, what will happen is that they will all be guaranteed permanent employment in the forestry sector. This forestry sector, when fully functional will be very diverse and will be able to employ all the people there.
Therefore, when the government identifies a suitable land of such a size at the edge of the forest, it will be OK.
After the government reaches this stage, it should come up with a budget to catapult this initiative from a mere rhetoric to reality.
The budget should include;
- Construction of Homes, sewerage system, basic infrastructure like roads, electricity and mobile telephony.
- Construction of social amenities such as schools, police stations and hospitals.
- Food and clothing reliefs for the period before everything settles down.
- Planting of trees seedlings that will be planted.
- Logistics for setting up various offices that will be responsible for smooth roll-out of the re-afforestation action plan.
- Purchase of re-afforestation machinery, tools and equipment.
- Education of the people on modern forestry methods and also what is expected of then during the re-afforestation.
For efficient sustainability of this re-afforestation, the forest needs to be planted in sections and phases. Our aim is not to plant evergreen trees here. Our aim is to plant trees that will take the least number of years to mature e.g. 5-10 years. But evergreen trees can be planted within he 50 meters along the rivers beds.
The Mau Forest can be divided into 10 zones. Each zone can be planted each year so that the trees can be planted and harvested all through and still make sure that we always remain with above 70% (debatable) forest cover not being harvested.
From the above brief highlight, we can decipher that this forestry sector can come out to be a very diverse sector capable of employing so many people and sustaining a huge economy. Some of the economic sectors that can emerge are
- Direct employment in tree planting, care, security and harvesting
- Logs transport business
- Sawmills business
- A very robust timber sales and wood products business
- Carpentry and woodwork business
- Paper processing Factories e.g. by products from trees can be processed to form paper.
- Paper products industries e.g. Production of books, diaries, calendars, toiletries, cartons, packaging bags etc. (Especially now that plastic bags have been banned in Kenya)
- Transport business
Conclusion on re-afforestation of the Mau Forest
It is possible to re-afforest Mau Forest if we all agree to put our political interests aside and tackle this problem with a united force.
Three crucial things are important for the success of this mission. That is Communication, Communication and Communication. Without proper and truthful communication then everything falls asunder.
Education and constant support of the people is very important lest they get disoriented and abandon this mission and head back to resettle in the forest.
Patience on the part of the government, stakeholders and the people is important since Rome was not built in a day.
This model can be used to salvage other water towers around Kenya.