Deforestation and degradation of forests continue at alarmingly high rate, particularly in the tropics. Kenya’s annual deforestation rate is estimated at 0.5%, putting at stake the survival of the timber industry and livelihood of forest dependent communities. The Mau forest is one of few remaining indigenous forests in Kenya with high deforestation rate. The forest supports the livelihood of the indigenous and surrounding communities and is major water catchment for the Eastern Africa region. This paper discusses the importance of the Mau forest and impacts of its degradation on the indigenous, national and regional communities, and proposes possible strategies to curb degradation of the forest. It is shown that degradation of the forest stems from activities of the surrounding communities, overpopulation and weaknesses in national laws and their enforcement. Several strategies are suggested; including involvement of the indigenous community in forest management, population control and the implementation of far reaching reforms in the forest and land sectors. It is recommended that since the benefits of the Mau forest are international, a debt-for-nature swap or similar schemes should be introduced to free national income for development and reduce the reliance on forest resources.
Keywords: Deforestation, Tropical forests, Land use, Indigenous people, Ogiek, Forest communities, forest policy and law enforcement, solutions
Deforestation and degradation of the world’s forests are continuing at an alarmingly high rate (FAO, 2005). FAO (2005) estimates the current global annual deforestation rate at 13 million ha. Deforestation and degradation have been used interchangeably and defined variously. This discussion paper adopts the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) definitions which defines deforestation as the continuous conversion of forest lands to other land uses with significant reduction in tree cover and degradation as the loss of forest cover without noticeable change in canopy cover (FAO, 2003). High deforestation rates are particularly recorded in the tropics, where South America records the highest rate at 4.3 million ha per year followed closely by Africa at 4.0 million ha per year (FAO, 2005).
The implications of tropical deforestation are many and disturbing. Tropical forests contain over a half of the world’s fauna and over 70% of the world’s flora (Frey, 2002). These forests maintain ecological processes that are vital for the sustenance of life. They are home to several indigenous groups (Laurance, 1999) and are a source of a range of goods and services that are the lifeline of countless indigenous and forest dependent communities. Continued deforestation in the tropics is therefore a threat to biodiversity conservation, maintenance of vital ecological processes and survival of indigenous communities. In the context of the current global environmental challenge, climate change, the most important function of tropical forests is perhaps their role as sources and sinks of carbon. Continued deforestation and degradation of tropical forests is estimated to account for about 20% of the total anthropogenic green house gas emissions (IPCC, 2007). There is, therefore, urgent need to address deforestation and degradation of these forests.
With a forest cover of less than 2% of the total land mass (FAO, 2003; FAO, 2005), Kenya is considered one the countries with the lowest forest cover in Africa, and where substantial degradation occur in all the major forest blocks. Between 1990 and 2000, Kenya’s forest cover reduced by 93 000 ha per year (FAO, 2003), translating to an annual rate of 0.5%, which remains constant to date (see FAO, 2005). While this figure is lower than Africa’s average of 0.62%, it is significantly higher than the world average of 0.18% and also considering the country’s total forest cover. Agricultural expansion and increased population growth are the two critical factors underpinning deforestation in the country (Wass, 1995). With 80% of the Kenyan population dependent on agriculture (Lambrechts et al., 2005), there is increasing pressure to release more land for agriculture and hence the continued forest clearance.
The Mau forest complex is one of the few remaining indigenous forest blocks in Kenya. The forest covers an area of 400 000 ha (Lambrechts et al, 2005; UNEP, 2008), comprising both indigenous and plantation forests. It supports the livelihood of the surrounding agro-based communities by supplying wood to the tea factories and a host of other goods and services (Wass, 1995). The forest is also home to East Africa’s largest forest dwelling community, the ‘Ogiek’ or ‘Dorobo’. Increased population and the consequent demand for more land have led to massive degradation of the forest (Obare and Wangwe, n.d; Wass, 1995), thereby threatening the survival of the ‘Ogiek’ and surrounding communities. Degradation of the forest has further been exacerbated by unsustainable commercial exploitation and forest excisions (Kunga, 2003). The Kenyan government has, over the last three decades, made several attempts to curb further degradation of the forest. These have ranged from coercive methods such as eviction of forest dwellers, to creation of a boundary of tea plantations around the forest to buffer the forest from further encroachment (KFMP, 1994; Kagombe and Gitonga, 2006). However, none of these strategies have achieved any tangible results. Instead, they have resulted in the current predicament of the ‘Ogiek’ and other forest surrounding communities and have worsened degradation of the forest.
The aims of this discussion paper are three-fold. (1) To highlight the importance of the Mau forest and impacts of its continued degradation on the local, national and regional communities. (2) To highlight the plight of the indigenous forest community (Ogiek) and the surrounding population, and (3) to propose possible strategies through which the Mau forest can be restored and conserved. The paper begins with a brief review of forest development in Kenya, highlighting the importance of the sector to the economy and wellbeing of the Kenyan people. The second section describes the Mau forests and its contribution to local livelihoods and the implications of its continued degradation on the national and regional economies. This section also discusses the plight of the traditional forest dwelling community, the ‘Ogiek’. The next section summarizes previous efforts to curb deforestation in the forest and their impacts on forest dependent communities. The last section presents possible strategies to mitigate degradation of the forest, and ends with the conclusion.
2.0. Forestry Development in Kenya and Importance of the Forest Sector
The history of industrial forestry in Kenya can be traced back to the early 1900s, during the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway. At the time, the colonial government was concerned over the sustainability of wood supply for the then steam-engine driven trains (KFMP, 1994). A decision was thus made to establish plantations to supply industrial wood. Noting that indigenous species could not meet the country’s growing wood demand because of their slow growth, it was decided plantations of fast growing exotic species be established (www.kfs.co.ke). Industrial forestry therefore started with this ambitious programme and by the late 1970s the area under plantations had reached over 160 000 ha (Odera, 2001). These comprised mainly of cypress (Cupressus lusitanica), pines (mainly Pinus patula but also P. radiata) and Eucalyptus species. The success in plantation establishment was made possible by the use of the ‘Shamba’ system (Kagombe and Gitonga, 2006). This was a modified form of the ‘Taungya’ system in which farmers were allocated forest land to grow food crops alongside tree crops. They cared for the tree crops for two to three years before they were allocated new plots after successful establishment of the tree crop.
The establishment of plantations relieved pressure on the indigenous forests. The management objective for these forests changed to preservation with extractive uses being abolished except for collection of fuel wood and non-wood forests for non-commercial purpose by surrounding communities (Kagombe and Gitonga, 2006). The period leading to the 1980s marked the blossoming time for forestry in Kenya. Production of food crops alongside trees ensured food security (KFMP, 1994). Sustainability of wood supply from plantations led to the establishment of a vibrant timber industry and allied enterprises and the mushrooming of forest towns such as Molo, Elbagon and Maji Mazuri in the] Rift Valley. These provided employment to a number of people and improved the livelihood of many households, especially around the major forest blocks.
Kenya’s forests play a significant role in the livelihood of the people and the country’s economy. Estimates indicates that about 530 000 households, representing some 2.9 million people, live within five kilometers of the forest (Odera, 2001; Lambrechts et al., 2005; Wanyiri, 2007). Lambrechts et al. (2005) observe that these households are directly reliant on the forest as a source of livelihood. About 80% of rural households and 70% of urban dwellers are dependent on wood for heating and cooking (Senelwa, 2005). The forest sector provide direct employment to 50 000 people and indirect employment to 300 000 people (Wanyiri, 2007; Lambrechts et al., 2005). Forestry contributes 3% of the Gross Domestic Product and 13% to the informal economy (Wanyiri, 2007; Lambrechts et al., 2005). They provide a range of non-timber forest goods such as carvings, gums, resins and honey. Oduor et al. (2002) and KAFU (2000) estimates the annual turnover of exports of non-timber forest products at over 30 million Euros. Kenya’s forests also provide ecological services such as biodiversity conservation, stream-flow regulation and soil stabilization.
In spite of the contribution of forests to the wellbeing of Kenyans, the sector has, since the 1980s, been facing several challenges. The forest cover has constantly been dwindling. Today, Kenya’s forest cover is estimated at less than 2% of the land area (FAO, 2003; FAO, 2005; Mbugua, 2008), down from a cover of over 3% in the early 1980s. Plantations which sufficiently supplied the country’s wood demand (Oduori and Ogweno, 2001) have today reduced to only about 120 000 ha (Mbugua, 2005). A wood supply deficit of up to one million cubic meters has been forecasted beginning the year 2015 (Ototo, 2001; Oduori and Ogweno, 2001), putting at stake the livelihood of the over 2.9 million people directly dependent on the forest. This scenario has put to the fore questions on where Kenya’s forestry lost track.
2.1. The Mau Forest and the Predicament of the ‘Ogiek’ Community
2.1.1. The Mau Forest
The Mau forest was gazetted as a forest reserve by the colonial government in 1932 (Obare and Wangwe, n.d.; Kunga, 2003). The forest is located on the Mau escarpment in the Great Rift Valley. It straddles Kericho, Bomet, Nakuru, and Narok districts. Kericho and Bomet districts also host most of the tea plantations in the country. Nakuru district hosts the Lake Naruku National Park which is known globally for its richness in flamingoes and is a major tourist destination. Narok district is home to the Maasai Mara game reserve, where the historic wildebeest migration is a major tourist attraction. The wildebeest migration was in 2006 named the Seventh Wonder of the World by the United State’s ABC television channel. Tourism and tea production are today Kenya’s leading income sources and top foreign exchange earners, with a combined turnover in excess of 200 million Euros (UNEP, 2008).
The Mau forest is a major water reservoir and forms the catchment of Rivers Sondu, Mara and Ewaso Ngiro, and nine other small rivers (Obare and Wangwe, n.d). River Sondu drains into Lake Victoria, which straddles the three East African states, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania and is the source of River Nile.