The Mau Forest complex is the largest water tower in Kenya and is the main source of water for 13 key rivers flowing through the Rift Valley to Western Kenya. At the same time, it regulates the micro-climate conditions that are critical for optimum crops growth, one of them being tea. This is why we have some of the largest tea estates adjacent to the forest complex near Kericho.
In terms of securing water resources, it is critical to safeguard the Mau Forest complex. It is not a matter of saving trees, but conserving water for securing sustainability in the entire region. What we are dealing with is not a matter of trees vs the people, but a matter of securing sustainability for the people who are living in the area.
If we do not address the securing of the Mau Forest complex, water flowing in the river will be less regulated. We will have extremely low levels flowing during the dry season – some drying, and extremely high levels, including floods, in the rainy season. This is because the forest’s function in absorbing part of the water during the rainy season and releasing the same during the dry season has already been impaired, especially for those areas where the forest has been heavily damaged.
What we have to bear in mind is that the situation of the Mau has to be looked at by considering all the aspects – population growth and climate change. Climate change would mean we have less regulated dry and rainy seasons; population growth would mean we have more needs for water every single day. And as such, to meet the needs of the people while mitigating the impact of climate change, we need a very healthy forest ecosystem.
Looking forward, therefore, we have to increase our forest cover and improve the quality of the cover in those critical catchment areas. To sustain the ecosystem, the government needs to engage the communities in matters conservation – taking the example of what happens in Mt Kenya and the Aberdares. Communities there have been engaged and normally understand the importance of the forests and the need to conserve them. We have to engage communities in the Mau, especially in areas where they were recently settled, to ensure they are part of the solution.