The Mau Forest Complex and Catchment Basin

Posted on January, 14 2004

The Mau Forest Complex, situated in Kenya’s Rift Valley province, forms the catchment of the main rivers that provide water to the western part of the country. Recent excisions in the Mau Complex have not only raised public ire, but also affected basic forest functions and services. WWF Eastern Africa, through its Mara River project and its Corporate Club, is working with the Government and other partners to stop further destruction.
The Mau Forest Complex is situated in Kenya’s Rift Valley province, spanning four districts - Bomet, Kericho, Nakuru and Narok. These forests form the catchment of the main rivers that provide water to the western part of the country. These include the Sondu Miriu, Yala, Nzoia and Nyando rivers, as well as the transboundary Mara river, all of which flow into Lake Victoria. The Mau Complex is also the source of water for the Ewaso Nyiro and Kerio rivers. These and other rivers arising from the Mau drain into lakes in the Rift Valley such as Natron and Nakuru.
Recent excisions in the Mau Complex have not only raised public ire, but also affected basic forest functions and services. Since independence, the Mau Forest Complex has lost almost 37 per cent of its original area, the greatest losses having been recorded in 2001/2. In Eastern Mau, perennial rivers have become seasonal. Satellite images taken in 2000 show that less than 40 per cent of this portion of the forest is actually gazetted.
In the South Western Mau, where the Mara River has its source, the forest has been clear-felled and cultivation is taking place right up to the mouth of the river. This has resulted in massive soil erosion and increased flush floods. About 43 per cent of communities living in the South Western Mau are of the opinion that the area is faced with serious environmental yet only 25 per cent have put in place soil conservation measures in their farms. The Mau has the second highest runoff in Kenya due to steep gradients of up to 60 degrees. The eroded soils laden with agrochemicals and other pollutants find their way into the Mara River, which is the primary source of water for 62 per cent of households in Mau catchment basin. 
Mau Complex: Source of the Mara River  
The Mara River arises from the South-Western Mau Forest, flowing through the Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. Large parts of this forest have been excised and allocated to farmers, many of whom have cleared the forest for settlement and agriculture. Most disturbing is that nearly all the sources of the main tributaries to the Mara have been exposed as no efforts are being made to safeguard the riverine vegetation. 
WWF is dialoguing and forging linkages with diverse stakeholders including the concerned government departments, the private sector, other non-governmental and community-based organisations and County Councils to see how best to resolve the Mau deforestation problem.
WWF's Mara River Project

WWF initiated in 2003 the Mara River Basin Management Project, in collaboration with the Ministry of Water Resources, Management and Development, Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources. The project seeks to engage small-scale farming communities, large-scale cereal growers, municipal councils, tourist developments and other stakeholders who rely on the Mara River in both Kenya and Tanzania in collaborative management and conservation of the river. 

Some achievements so far:

· Sensitised several stakeholder groups and the local water and environment officers in the Mara Basin on provisions of the New Water Act 2002 and the Environmental Management and Coordination Act to aid management of the river basin.

· Mara River Basin Water Users Association, comprising the various stakeholders, was formed and registered in August 2003. It will raise awareness on equitable and sustainable use and management of the Mara River and its Mau catchment. The Association has a tree nursery with 10,000 seedlings for sale, most of which will be planted on the farms bordering the forest in a bid to restore the landscape.

· Promotion of sustainable agricultural practices and alternative livelihood activities to boost income generation.

· Facilitated transboundary dialogue between stakeholders in Kenya and Tanzania who use the river basin in a bid to promote collaborative and integrated river basin management

· Organised flights over the Mau Forest for senior government officials, including Environment Minister and the Permanent Secretary for Regional Development, and members of the WWF Corporate Club to assess the extent of destruction and take appropriate action.

For More Information, Contact;
Mohammed Awer, Freshwater Programme Coordinator
WWF Eastern Africa  
Tel: 254 20 577355 or 572630/1
Fax: 254 20 577389
An aerial view of the Mau Complex Forests; WWF-EARPO/Sam Kanyamibwa
Settlements and farms on cleared tracts of the Mau Forest. The steep terrain and absence of soils anchorage measures is causing havoc on Mara River; WWF-EARPO/Sam Kanyamibwa
The little springs that combine to form the Amalo tributary of the Mara river; WWF-EARPO/Catherine Mgendi
Women fetch water from the Mara River in Narok Town; WWF-EARPO/Catherine Mgendi