The pains and gains associated with restoring the Mau Narok Forest, Kenya


The unique nature of forest ecosystems has long been acknowledged. Forest ecosystems play multiple roles at global as well as local levels: as providers of environmental services to nature in general- and humans in particular- and as sources of economically valued products. They provide ecosystem services such as river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, water purification, recharge of groundwater, reduced soil erosion and siltation, protection of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and regulation of microclimate which provides favourable conditions for optimum crop production (GEO 3, 2002).

The 1972 Stockholm Conference recognized forests as the largest, most complex and self-perpetuating of all ecosystems, and emphasized the need for sound land and forest use policies, ongoing monitoring of the state of the world’s forests and the introduction of forest management planning.

The historic loss of forests is closely related to demographic expansion and the conversion of forest land to other uses. Major direct causes of forest degradation brought on by humans include overharvesting of industrial wood, fuel wood and other forest products and overgrazing. Underlying causes include poverty, population growth, markets and trade in forest products and macroeconomic policies. Forests are also susceptible to natural factors such as insects, pests, diseases, fire and extreme climatic events (GEO 3, 2002).

FAO‟s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2000 (FAO 2001b), using for the first time a common definition of forests as areas of at least 0.5 ha with tree crown cover of more than 10 per cent, concluded that the total area covered by forest is approximately 3866 million ha, almost one-third of the world’s land area, of which 95 per cent is natural forest and 5 per cent is planted forest. At the global level, the net loss in forest area during the period 1990-2000 was an estimated 94 million ha (2.4 per cent of total forests). This was the combined effect of a deforestation rate of 14.6 million ha per year and a rate of forest increase of 5.2 million ha per ha. According to FAO‟s State of the World’s Forest 2009, the annual rate of change of forest area increased from -0.22 per cent in the period between 1990-2000 to -0.18 per cent in the period 2000-2005.

The forest situation in Africa presents enormous challenges, reflecting the larger constraints of low income, weak policies and inadequately developed institutions. The growing population and rising prices of food and energy will exacerbate the situation, especially as increased investments in infrastructure open up new areas. Progress in implementing sustainable forest management is expected to be slow, with forest loss likely to continue at current rates. Although Africa holds only 16 per cent of the global forest area, from 2000 to 2005 it lost about 4 million hectares of forests annually, close to one third of the area deforested globally (FAO 2009). Most forest loss is taking place in countries with relatively large forest area. To date, conversion to small-scale permanent agriculture has been the main contribution to forest loss, but investment in large-scale agriculture could become a major driver of deforestation in the future.

With an estimated 14.8 million hectares of planted forests (FAO, 2006b), Africa accounts for only about 5 per cent of the global total, of this 3 million hectares were planted for protection and the rest for production of wood and non-wood forest products. Average annual planting in Africa from 1990-2005 was estimated at about 70000 ha, less than 2 per cent of the global planting rate (FAO 2009).

Kenya is considered to be a low forest country with a forest cover of 1.7 per cent which is significantly lower than the internationally accepted threshold of 10 per cent. The decrease in forest cover is primarily due to encroachment, expansion of human settlements into previously forested areas, illegal logging, forest fires, agriculture and government excisions (NEMA 2009a). However, efforts to enhance the protection of forest biodiversity through the gazettement of an additional 19 000 ha of national forest and increased tree seed production are underway. Indeed, between 2005 and 2010, the Kenya Forestry Research Institute (KEFRI) increased tree seed production by 25 per cent although owing to a range of intervening factors, the effect of seed production in increasing forest cover has not yet been established (MNDV 2010). The forest area of Kenya was recorded to be 3,496,000 ha and 3,456,000 ha representing 5.9% of Kenya’s total area.

The Mau Forest Complex comprises 22 separate blocks and is the largest of the country’s five water towers with a total forest cover of 403 775 ha. It feeds a range of the country’s major water arteries that extend as far as Lakes Turkana, Natron and Victoria and supports critical economic activities including hydropower generation, tourism and agriculture. In spite of its national importance, many portions of the Mau Forest Complex have been deforested or degraded. Much of this damage has taken place in the past few decades. Excision of forest reserves and continuous widespread encroachment have led to the destruction of over 100 000 ha of forest since 2000, representing roughly one-quarter of the Mau Complex area (UNEP 2009a).

In 2001, a 61 023 ha parcel of the Mau Forest Complex was excised. This included over half of the Eastern Mau Forest Reserve, one quarter of South West Mau Forest Reserve as well as the Molo Forest Reserve. The eastern slopes of the Maasai Mau are a crucial catchment for the Ewaso Ng‟iro River while the western slopes help to recharge the Mara River. Forest loss in critical catchment areas of the Sondu, Mara, Molo, Naishi, Makalia, Nderit, and Njoro Rivers may result in ecological and hydrological changes which threaten the sustainable future of the downstream areas. In addition, people have encroached onto 43 700 ha of the Mau Forest Complex’s remaining protected forests (Kenya SOE 2010).

The situation is not all gloomy as the Mau complex witnessed a number of positive developments between 2005 and 2007. First, only 63.06 ha of the entire Mau Complex were cleared. Second, 5 970 ha of the forest complex showed signs of regeneration. Third, a public-private sector partnership under the auspices of the „Save the Mau Trust‟ has stepped up efforts to rehabilitate the degraded portions of the forest. The progress made in reclaiming the forest is captured in reports by an Inter-Ministerial Conservation Secretariat in the Prime Minister’s office. Four phases of the rehabilitation programme have so far been completed and the initiative is currently in its fifth phase (KFWG personal communication).

The Mau Forests Complex (MFC) is considered the most important of the five main watershed areas in Kenya because of its economic, social and environmental contribution to the country. The importance of the Mau is related to the ecosystem services it provides, such as river flow regulation, flood mitigation, water storage, water purification, recharge of groundwater, reduced soil erosion and siltation, protection of biodiversity, carbon sequestration, carbon reservoir and regulation of microclimate which provides favorable conditions for optimum crop production. Nevertheless, these benefits have continued to fade away despite the Government of Kenya astounding efforts to restore and protect the country’s most valuable asset. The past restoration efforts at the Mau Narok Forest have not been successful evidenced by the massive dying of newly planted trees leading to duplication of reforestation efforts.

The Mau Narok Forest Block serves as the catchment area of the Njoro, Nderit, Makalia and Naishi Rivers that feed Lake Nakuru. The loss in the tree cover in the forest has transformed these rivers to being seasonal. The degradation of the forest has diminished other benefits of the ecosystem to the surrounding communities. The current status of the Mau Narok Forest Block depicts high rates of failure in the restoration activities evidenced by the death of most newly planted trees. There has been duplication of efforts by both the government and the NGOs in reforestation exercises in the area annually.

The critical roles the Mau Narok Forest block play are vital. One of the major objectives of the Vision 2030 with a forest focus is the conserving and rehabilitating the remaining natural forest and woodlands for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation. Consequently, an auspicious restoration is required and factors that have led to failure of past restoration efforts should be unearthed and addressed vehemently.

FAO (2001) defines deforestation as the conversion of forests to another land use. The term “degradation” means a loss of forest structure, productivity and native species diversity. A degraded site may still contain trees (that is, a degraded site is not necessarily deforested) but it will have lost its former ecological integrity. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has defined forest degradation as changes within a forest that affect the structure and function of the stand or site and thereby lower its capacity to supply products or services.

Widespread deforestation and declining condition of the world’s forests has resulted in environmentally, economically and aesthetically impoverished landscapes. To some extent the effects of deforestation and loss in forest quality have been offset through natural regeneration of forest and the establishment of plantations. However, much of the regenerated forest consists of a few species designed to yield one or two products rather than seeking to produce a broader range of forest goods and services that will also contribute to the well-being of local communities.

Conventional approaches to plantation forestry are seldom capable of delivering the multiple values of forests and adequately addressing the needs of all interest groups (e.g. forest-dependent communities and downstream water users). Indeed, such schemes can result in a reduction in the range, quality and volume of forest goods and services, social and economic dislocations and an increased vulnerability to climate change and other natural perturbations. There is an urgent need to both improve the quality of forest restoration and rehabilitation at the site level and to find effective ways to undertake these activities in the context of broader environmental, social and economic needs and interests (Lamb and Gilmour 2003).

Large areas of the world’s forests have been lost or degraded and landscapes everywhere are being simplified by current land-use practices (Dobson, Bradshaw and Baker, 1997). In many tropical countries increasing areas of forest or woodland are cleared for agricultural use. The same is true in some temperate countries although, for the most part, land-use patterns there have stabilized over the last century. In many temperate countries, however, agricultural practices are intensifying. Small family-owned farms are being replaced by larger industrial operations owned by corporations, and forest remnants and hedgerows are being removed to allow for larger-scale operations (FAO 2001).

This chapter will review causes and effects of forest loss and degradation, forest restoration measures, community participation in forestry activities and forest conservation and protection policy frameworks.

Causes of Deforestation

a) Persistently high demand for wood

High demand for wood is a prominent and persistent driver of deforestation. International demand is primarily generated by over-consuming industrialized countries, but domestic demand can also be high, especially in those countries where wood is the most easily accessed resource. Wood is typically used for house-building, furniture construction, fuel and paper. Yet there is scant evidence of national or international policies designed to address and lessen demand for timber as a means of reducing deforestation. (GFC 2010)

Increasing demand was specifically cited as an underlying cause of deforestation by the workshops in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, and the Philippines. El Salvador, for example pointed to the sale of timber to sawmills, and Nepal noted an increased number of furniture factories. Nepal and Kenya both listed the use of timber for house-building as a key issue. The need for timber for construction is one of the factors underlying deforestation in the Eastern Mau forest. The biggest logging companies in Kenya, Timsales and Comply, are based in the towns of Elburgon and Nakuru respectively, on the edges of the forest. Logging is the main economic activity in Elburgon and employs about 30,000 people. The big companies collect timber for export, while hundreds of small-scale loggers supply the local market in Nakuru, Molo, Elburgon and other neighbouring towns (GFC 2010).

b) Spiraling demand for land for plantations and other forms of agriculture

Agriculture is estimated to be the proximate driver for around 80% of deforestation worldwide. Commercial agriculture is the most important driver of deforestation in Latin America (around 2/3 of total deforested area). In Africa and sub-tropical Asia it accounts for around 1/3 of deforestation and is of similar importance to subsistence agriculture (Gabrielle, Martin and Veronique 2012). Conversion of forest to agriculture, primarily to produce food for export to industrialized countries, also continues apace in many countries around the world, with devastating impacts. Crops traded in large volumes, such as soya (which is used in foods, as animal feed, and now to produce biodiesel to fuel vehicles) require more and more land for cultivation, leading to the destruction of large tracts of forest in places such as the Amazon. Less well known instances that were also reported include the ginger cash crop in the Chittagong Hill Tracts; and the production of coca (used in cosmetics and food as well as to produce cocaine) in Colombia (GFC 2010).

c) Industrialization, urbanization and infrastructure

Industrialization, urbanization and the spread of infrastructure have collectively been identified as principal drivers of deforestation by most forest conservation workshops. Whilst the development of impoverished economies is clearly critical, there seems to be very little evidence of any shift towards forest-friendly economic development, despite requests and demands from impacted communities, peoples and civil society organizations. The industrial sectors most clearly identified as a direct threat to forests were mining, oil and gas, especially in Bangladesh, Cameroon, Colombia, India, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. Infrastructure, including the building of roads, housing, dams and other large-scale construction is another principal reason for forests being cleared. Urbanization which involves growth and expansion of urban centres, is a major cause of forest loss. Elburgon and Molo towns are exerting pressure on the East Mau and Molo forests. Towns are growing rapidly in part because of the rural-urban migration rate in Kenya, which is one of the highest in Africa. As soon as a person finishes secondary school, he or she moves to the urban centers because of the perception that it is only in urban centers that careers can be advanced. (GFC 2010)

d) Encroachment and illegal logging

On average, 5 000 ha of forest cover are lost every year in Kenya through illegal logging, encroachment, excision for settlement of people and cultivation. In 2001, the excision of 67 000 ha of forest was justified as needed to settle landless Kenyans and those internally displaced by political turmoil. This excision however resulted in a major disruption of the functions of Kenya‟s water towers. Illegal timber harvesting is also rampant since the logging ban is not adequately enforced, highlighting the need to raise the capacity of KFS to do so. (SoE 2010)

e) Vulnerability to climate change, pests and diseases and fires

Forests and woodlands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This is because the impacts of climate change and variability lead to changes in land cover and land use, increase the incidence of pests, diseases and fire outbreaks and foment loss of livelihoods. Monoculture forest plantations are especially prone to pest attacks and an exotic pest known as blue gum chalcid is currently threatening eucalyptus trees in Kenya. First reported in western Kenya in 2002, it has now spread to most parts of the country. This pest is native to Australia and research to develop integrated management approaches (including biological measures) that can bring it under control is underway.

An estimated 3 000 ha of state forests are lost to fires annually in Kenya. These fires are either spread accidentally from neighbouring private farms or are started deliberately as an act of sabotage. It is therefore recommended that a participatory approach to formulating and implementing forest policies and projects is adopted in order to ensure local community support.

Effects of Forest Degradation and Deforestation

Agricultural expansion and intensification have decreased the overall area of forest and woodland, simplified the structure of the remaining forests and broken up forest areas into smaller and more isolated fragments. The consequences of these changes, seen both on-site and off-site, include the following:

  • On-site reductions in landscape productivity because of increasing losses of nutrients and soil;
  • Downstream impacts, such as reductions in water quality through increased sedimentation and changes in water yield; and
  • Widespread reductions in biodiversity and the supply of various ecological goods and services.

Such changes and others likely to occur in the near future, are described by Vitousek et al. (1997) and Tilman et al. (2001). In some cases the effects of a loss of forest cover (e.g. erosion) are almost immediate. Other changes (e.g. salinization, biodiversity loss) take a long time to become evident. The cumulative effects of the release of carbon once sequestered in biomass and soil organic matter are likely to contribute to long-term changes in the global climate. These biophysical changes have both social and economic impacts, with the most immediate effects being felt by communities that depend on forests for part or their entire livelihood. Forest resources provide food, medicines and firewood, resources that now have to be obtained from more distant forests. And as forest areas are reduced pressure on the remaining forests increases even more.

Forest Rehabilitation and Restoration

The responses to deforestation and to the rapid increase in the area of degraded lands are usually inadequate. Reforestation has been carried out at a fraction of the deforestation rate and the new forests provide only some of the goods and services provided by the original forests. Most new forests, for example, are established simply to provide industrial timber; they benefit governments or large corporations rather than local communities. Many reforestation schemes do offer some functional benefits, such as watershed protection, but their simple composition and structure mean that they rarely contribute significantly to biodiversity conservation. Further, new forests are not always located in places with the largest areas of degraded land (Lamb and Gilmour 2003).

a).Reasons to undertake Restoration

There are several reasons to undertake forest landscape restoration. One is to provide the goods and help re-establish those ecological services or functions no longer being provided by the new forms of land-use. Industrial monoculture plantations produce wood but do not provide a variety of timbers or the forest products such as fruits, nuts or medicinal plants used by many rural communities. Plantations may be effective in sequestering carbon or helping restore hydrological cycles to overcome salinity, but they are not always as effective in preventing erosion on the slopes of hills above agricultural areas, protecting riparian strips or restoring soil fertility. (Lamb and Gilmour 2003)

A second reason for undertaking forest landscape restoration is to restore some degree of biodiversity to degraded landscapes (Elliott et al. 2000). It is unlikely that any network of protected areas will be able to protect all existing biodiversity. Such reserves represent a small proportion of most landscapes and in many countries there is limited capacity to increase the number or size of them. Meanwhile the remaining undisturbed areas outside these reserves are being increasingly fragmented and homogenized as large-scale agriculture and industrial timber plantations spread across the landscape. Restoration offers a means of counteracting these trends towards landscape simplification. It can also ensure that species and ecosystems -across a large area-are more resilient and adaptable to change.

At a regional scale, forest landscape restoration is often likely to be needed to achieve more sustainable forms of land use. Many large areas of land became degraded because previous agricultural practices were unsustainable. Production was lost as fertility declined, salinity developed or weeds, diseases or pests became established. New agricultural systems are needed to replace these unproductive areas; more diverse landscapes are likely to be a necessary component of such systems (Hobbs and Morton 1999, Lefroy et al. 1999).

Forest landscape restoration incorporates both biophysical and socioeconomic values; that is, ecosystem restoration as well as the changes in human well-being associated with it. It is important to consider the social and economic impacts of forest restoration initiatives, particularly the effects on people living in or near the restored forest area.

A substantial amount of reforestation has taken place with the intent of overcoming deforestation or land degradation. Much of this effort involved fast-growing exotic tree species, planted, in many cases, after clearing shrub lands or secondary regrowth. These reforestation efforts may have brought some benefits but often the improvements in wellbeing have not been as great as expected. New plantations were often established solely for industrial timber users and provided few of the goods traditionally used by communities; where new plantations replaced regrowth or secondary forests a large number of traditional resources disappeared. Forest landscape restoration differs in that it seeks to bring greater social and economic benefits to local communities.

b).Restoration Constraints

Restoration is a difficult undertaking, both in principle and in practice. There is some question as to whether it is even possible. The definition of restoration implies that the identity and population sizes of the plants and animals once present at a particular site are known. This is rarely the case. In many situations the best that can be done is to infer the nature of the original ecosystem from previous descriptions or remnants of communities. The definition also implies that these communities were static and would have remained unchanged over time. But this, too, is unlikely to be the case. Many communities undergo successional change, often over a period of time involving hundreds of years. Even mature ecosystems commonly exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium; changes occur in their composition, even in the absence of degradation. These difficulties mean that restoration can be both an uncertain goal and a shifting target.

Restoration can also be difficult for other reasons. Our knowledge of ecological processes is imperfect and our capacity to predict, let alone direct, ecological successions is limited. In many cases chance events such as weather or the timing of flowering or seeding have a major effect on the way successions develop. This means it might be difficult to achieve a particular outcome even if the target could be ascertained. Further, the large numbers of plant and animal species present in many communities mean that the ecology of species is poorly known. This makes it difficult to assist or encourage them to re-enter a degraded site.

The target might also become unattainable because some of the original species have become extinct. Exotic species may have become naturalized after a long period of human intervention.

Such is likely to be the case, for example, with the ecosystems of Europe and the Mediterranean basin or in China. In these cases simply fostering species-rich communities might be a more appropriate goal. In other situations the extent of topsoil loss, site exposure or salinity levels may be so great that restoration would be too expensive even if the technical means were available. Social constraints may also apply. Traditional owners or users of degraded lands may be unwilling to agree to restoration because it is not a goal they share or because they believe that it will lessen their rights to future use. In such cases intervention from outside persons or organizations is unlikely to succeed. These problems mean that attempts to “ecologically restore” forests may at times be unrealistic. It may be more appropriate to aim at more modest goals, such as recreating a forest with large species diversity and a structure and function similar, but not necessarily identical, to that originally present.

Community participation in forestry activities

Community participation the active involvement of a broad mass of people in the choice, execution and evaluation of programmes designed to bring about significant upward movement in their levels of living. There are many ways for people to participate in decisions about the use of natural resources. There are extreme approaches, such as going to war, or to court and various passive and active approaches provided in specific decision-making. (Arstein 1969)

While focussing on the processes and practical aspects of promoting participatory natural resource management, Ingles et al. (1999), came up with four types of programmes concerned with natural resources management, based on the type of participatory approach predominantly used for making decisions about management interventions:

  • Top-down intervention: This intervention is based on informing and persuading. It is characterized by a composition of a small set of powerful stakeholders such as governments, international donor projects or private enterprise, which forms the main decision-making team. Decisions are made according to their own agendas, knowledge and value systems. There is little or no participation from other stakeholders hence planning is top-down.
  • Modified top-down interventions: The main mode of interaction is through consultation. This approach has characteristics of top-down intervention, except that there is an attempt to obtain information from other stakeholders about their interests and knowledge before decisions are taken. There is some participation as a result of this information gathering, but planning is still top-down.
  • Participatory intervention: The main mode of interaction is that of sharing decision-making. A programme is designed and owned by a small set of powerful stakeholders, but is implemented by a small bottom-up planning. Stakeholder groups are engaged in assessments and joint decisions are taken about programme activities at specific locations. These activities are co-managed by the programme and beneficiaries and they are evaluated jointly.
  • Catalytic agents: Interaction is based on catalysis of group discussions. Here the programme is designed and owned by local stakeholders with help from outside facilitators. The interests and judgements of local stakeholders are given primacy in decision-making and management of activities shift rapidly to local institutions.

Forest conservation and protection policy framework in Kenya

Forest conservation activities in Kenya are guided by established local policies. In summary, these include:

  1. The Forest Act 2005

For many years, forest legislation and practise in Kenya has been criticized for failing to protect the country’s indigenous forests or to ensure sustainable use of plantations and other areas of forest and woodland (World Bank 2007). Prior to the enactment of the 2005 Forests Act, most forest-adjacent communities were alienated by exclusion from forest management. The 2005 Forests Act was a timely piece of legislation that instituted the necessary legal mechanisms to comprehensively address the challenge of sustainable forest management. The law contains many innovative provisions to correct previous shortcomings and creates an enabling environment for developing the institutional capacity of the relevant agencies. It also promotes community participation in forest management and benefits sharing, nurtures transparency and accountability and encourages the formation of public-private partnerships. In addition, it takes cognizance of the role of farm forestry and dry land forests.

  1. Vision 2030

In 2007, GoK launched its vision for national development over the next 30 years. The plan, „Vision 2030‟, is implemented through five‐year rolling plans starting in 2008. The current five‐year plan sets out environmental objectives with a forest focus:

  1. a) Increasing forest, tree cover and wood production especially at farm level;
  2. b) Conserving and rehabilitating the remaining natural forest and woodlands for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation;
  3. c) Enhancing participatory forest management; and,
  4. d) Ensuring that the forestry sector makes a contribution to poverty reduction.


To sum up the Mau Narok forest is highly degraded and destroyed and requires both urgent and long term plans to restore Kenya’s most vital water tower. The forest is highly valued by the local people whom have direct use and access to the forest and also important to Kenya as whole. The efforts to restore the forest are not enough and more is needed to attain the successful restoration of the Mau Narok Forest. Though there a number of challenges, there exist also opportunities that have not been seized. Therefore, proper mechanisms should be put in place to curb the challenges while optimizing on the opportunities in geared force to achieve optimum regeneration of the Mau Narok Forest.


The recommendations are based on the challenges as well as ways to optimize on the opportunities available. These are:

  1. Increase public awareness through public forum and campaigns. The increased awareness will enlighten and broaden the knowledge of the community on the importance of conserving and protecting the Mau Narok Forest.
  2. Encouragement of the local people to join the local CFA and other environmental groups. This will make it easy to pass information regarding the forest and also offer the public a platform to be involved in the management of the forest resource.
  3. Involvement of local schools and institutions in the restoration activities. This will be rolled out in form of programmes designed to educate the relevant audience while occasionally organizing for practical involvement in the restoration activities.
  4. Restriction should be put in place to prevent people from grazing their livestock in areas where restoration has taken place. This will also help curb human maliciousness. This can be achieved through increase of forest guards.
  1. Solicit funds from local, national and international agencies. Locally, the businessmen in the area can be asked to be contributing towards forest restoration exercises. Nationally, the annual government budget allocation to KFS and environment docket should be increased to help in executing their mandates fully especially forest restoration efforts.
  2. Forest rangers should be increased and deployed mostly to the areas which are endangered. Also, forest scouts should be formally be recognized as forest officials and increased in numbers to help them enforce forest laws.
  3. Trees with high survival and flourishing rates should be planted. The choice of the tree seedlings should also consider those that mature fast. These tree species include the Prunus Africana/ Red Stink Wood, Ekerbergia Capnesis, Cupressus lustinica/ Cedar and the Olea Africana/ African Cold Owe.
  4. Proper management during planting and tendering stages of reforestation should be put in place to curb incidences of damage of tree seedlings and to ensure proper planting procedures are followed.
  5. In areas where natural regeneration is taking place, proper protective measures should be put in place to safeguard the sprouting trees. These measures include deployment of forest rangers and scouts to bar the forest poachers from uprooting the small trees.


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