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RECLAMATION OF EASTERN MAU FOREST BLOCK

Benedetta Wasonga & Royan Ndegwa

The process to reclaim the Eastern Mau Forest block began in earnest with a multi- agency team consisting of Ministry of Lands, Ministry of Forestry and Environment, Kenya Forest Service, Survey of Kenya and Office of the President in an operation to demarcate the 1997 boundary following perennial conflicts and encroachment due to illegal settlements since 1994. A directive by the government to mark the 1997 cutline as identified by the community was issued to survey and mark the 1997 cutline to avoid further encroachment into the forest.

 

In a one month’s field exercise, the multi-agency team led by the Regional Commissioner Rift Valley Mr. George Natembeya, Mr. Mark Oyoo led the Survey of Kenya team, Evans Kegode Aluda, Head of Survey and Mapping Kenya Forest Service carried led the KFS team that participated in the exercise where boundary pillars were constructed at the boundary corners and static GNSS observation were carried out on all the boundary points. The team was supported by KFS field officers led by the Eco-system Conservator Nakuru Mr. Frank Misong together with Forest Station Managers in the area namely Likia, Sururu, Kiptunga, Marishioni, Baraget and Logoman, together with the communities adjacent to the forest. Security was provided by a multi-agency security team.

 

The reclamation exercise is meant to rehabilitate the area to enable communities living adjacent to the forest reap maximum benefits from the forest while assuring communities living downstream of continued water flow to sustain their livelihoods and that of livestock and wildlife. Critical areas that directly get water from Eastern Mau are the Maasai Mara Game Reserve, Serengeti National Park, Lake Victoria, Lake Natron in Tanzania and their environs. The Government is committed to guarantee continued water supply from Eastern Mau Forest to these and other areas by giving policy directions and any other support on regular basis. This is in line with the Government’s commitment to the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth Creation and Employment and to the Millennium Development Goals

 

Loss of forest cover in the country has contributed to diminishing livelihoods of many Kenyans caused by reduced land productivity, famine and drought. The current drought experienced in the country in 2005/2006 is a case in point. Large-scale livestock deaths were reported, and in many places, incidences of resource use conflict were witnessed, leading to loss of human lives. “It is therefore very important that we mitigate against such eventualities by conserving our forests and water catchment areas through protection of our forest areas” said Mr. Kegode.

 

Long-standing issues

Environment and Forestry Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo said the initiative is geared towards resolving long-standing issues of Eastern forest land and restoring degraded forest lands by 2022.

The team will be demarcating the boundaries based on 1994 maps to avoid clashing of government and communities. Clear demarcation will also pave way for resolving the caveat issue in the Mau where those residing outside forest land will acquire titles.

 

 “Other pronouncements factoring in Ogiek in terms of implementation of the African Court ruling will be made after demarcation of boundaries,” the lands PS Dr. Muraguri added.

He said the government is determined to stop the conflicts. In June, the Service (KFS) started evictions from the 57,000-hectare Eastern Mau which, according to Ecosystem Conservator Frank Misonge, half of it has been encroached on.

 

About the Forest

The Eastern Mau Forest Block is one of the 22 forest blocks that form the Mau Forest Complex.  The forest was proclaimed as a forest reserve vide Proclamation No. 44 of 30th April 1932 and declared a Central Forest Reserve vide Legal Notice No. 174 of 1964 At gazettment, the forest measured 65,008.30 Ha. (160,639 Acres). The Service manages the Eastern Mau Forest Block through its field offices namely Mau Forest Conservancy with offices in Nakuru town, Nakuru Ecosystem Conservation Office with office in Elburgon town, Eight (8) forest stations namely: Baraget, Kiptunga, Mariashoni, Nessuit, Teret, Logoman, Likia and Sururu Forest Stations,The management operations for Elburgon Forest Station have been hampered following the massive land encroachments in the 1990s.

 

Eastern Mau Forest block is one of the unique, montane and highly biodiverse forest and is of immense significance in terms of forest biodiversity, productivity, ecology and provision of environmental services. It is the most critical source of the Mara River whose source is the Enapuiyapui wetlands situated in Kiptunga / Mariashoni Forest Stations where the 2020 World Wetlands Day (WED) was celebrated.  Mara River Basin and ecosystem is a world-famous site for viewing the spectacular wildebeest migration and other tourism attractions, as well as a thriving livestock sector. It  is also a source of Njoro, Nessuit, Makalia and Enderit that support Lake Nakuru ecosystems, including one of the largest bird sanctuaries in the world and an important tourism destination.

 

Additionally, It is a Key Biodiversity Area (formerly known as Important Bird Areas) hosting several species of conservation concern such as the Cisticola Aberdare, a bird endemic to Kenya. Other species of conservation concern include yellow-backed duiker, African golden cat and Capys cupreus an endemic butterfly. Rivers emanating from this forest block are Molo, Njoro, Rongai, Nessuit, Makalia and Enderit which flow eastwards / north feeding lakes Nakuru, Elementaita and Baringo whose ecological and economic values cannot be gainsaid and designated as Ramsar Sites. Lake Nakuru and Elementaita are part of the World Heritage site – the Kenya Lake System in the Great Rift Valley.

 

Cutlines 

Cutlines were introduced in the early phases of settlement in Eastern Mau forest block as a result of non-adherence to procedural creation of settlement schemes. They present an informal and peculiar circumstance as it was a replacement of formal survey and demarcation of land intended for settlement but were based on the settlement that were being created irregularly. Arising from the informal nature of creating the settlements, (including by unauthorised persons as observed by the Task Force on the Conservation of the Mau Forest Complex, 2009), the separation between the settled areas and the remaining part of the forest reserve was not definite thereby giving room to creation of boundaries by various groups referred to as ‘cutlines’. As at 2001, there existed several ‘cutlines’ advanced by different interests. “These cutlines are depicted on Map No. EM002 for Eastern Mau Forest Block and Environs” said the KFS Head of Survey and Mapping Mr. Kegode. He further stated that the disputes in Eastern Mau Forest including invasions into the forest can be partly attributed to existing multiple imaginary boundaries in the name of ‘cutlines’ that are meant to suit different interests for different groups. 

 

Consequently, as early as 1994, the purported settlements where titles were issued in the Eastern Mau Forest block had commenced even before alteration of forest boundaries was effected. The irregular settlements started without prior alteration of the forest boundary, survey and demarcation of the intended settlement boundary within Eastern Mau forest block as expressed in the Kenya Forest Working Group Report, February 2001.  The Ogiek community was uncomfortable with allocation of the forest land. They protested and sought court intervention against the settlement in 1997.  In 2001, the then Minister of Environment and Natural Resources attempted to degazette 35,301.01 Ha (87,230.70 Acres), part of Eastern Mau Forest Block, vide Gazette Notice No. 889 of 16th February 2001 and Legal Notice No. 142 of 2001 affecting 35,301.01 Ha of the forest reserve. The Ogiek community challenged in Court the above intention to alter the boundaries of the Eastern Mau Forest block and the court made a ruling.  Prior to the contested, Legal Notice No. 142 of 2001 and the 1997 injunction, there had been established nine (9) irregular settlement schemes within the forest stations in Eastern Mau Forest Block namely; Sururu, Likia, Teret, Nessuit, Elburgon, Mariashoni and Baraget.  The intended alteration of 2001 affected all the Government establishments in the forest block i.e. all the forest stations and ecosystem conservator’s office in Elburgon.

 

Ecological Functions 

There are many ecological functions of Eastern Mau Forest block. It is the most critical source of the Mara River whose source is the Enapuiyapui wetlands situated in Kiptunga / Mariashoni Forest Stations.  It is also the source of Njoro, Nessuit, Makalia and Enderit rivers that support Lake Nakuru ecosystems. Further, the catchment area, through its supply of water to wildlife sites and Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), has contributed to tourism development, notably Nakuru National Park and Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and Serengeti National Park in the Republic of Tanzania. 

 

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