Managing the Mara River in Kenya and Tanzania

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Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Kenya
Africa/Madagascar > East Africa > Tanzania

Blue wildebeest or Brindled gnu (Connochaetes taurinus) crossing Mara river during migration. Masai Mara National Reserve. Kenya.
© WWF-Canon / Martin HARVEY


The Mara River runs through the Masai Mara Game Reserve on the Kenyan side and the Serengeti National Park on the Tanzanian side, and eventually flows into Lake Victoria. People living along the Mara River and its basin area are increasingly facing water shortages, poor water quality and environmental degradation as a result of pollution, agricultural runoff, large-scale irrigation projects, and mining and other industrial activities.

WWF is working with water users, local communities, water managers and decision-makers to better manage the Mara River so as to improve adequate water supplies, and to ensure sustainable economic development and conservation of the natural resources in the Mara-Serengeti ecosystem.


The Mara River is an international river, shared between Kenya and Tanzania. The Mara River Basin is about 13,750 km2, of which about 65% is located in Kenya and 35% in Tanzania. The Mara River runs through the Masai Mara Game Reserve on the Kenyan side and the Serengeti National Park on the Tanzanian side, both of global conservation significance and of great economic importance. It pours its water into Lake Victoria, the source of the river Nile.

Local communities and other stakeholders in the Mara River Basin are increasingly facing water shortages as well as problems with poor water quality and environmental degradation. This limits attempts to alleviate poverty and improve healthcare, food security, economic development and protection of the natural resources.

The main competing interests for water resources in the Mara River include the large scale irrigation plantations on the Kenyan side, the Masai Mara and Serengeti Wildlife protected areas, small scale farmers and pastoralists on both sides of the basin, the mining industry in Tanzania, small scale fishing activities and urban and rural domestic water supplies. Further problems are caused by the loss of forest cover in the upper catchments and along rivers, unsustainable agricultural practices (including irrigation), pollution threats from urban settlements, and mining.


- Facilitate integrated river basin management (IRBM) to ensure adequate water supply of sufficient quality for ecosystems and basic human needs.
- Facilitate participatory and sustainable IRBM initiatives for the conservation, sustainable and equitable use and restoration of freshwater resources and ecological processes in the Mara river basin.


The programme, which started its field operations in 2003, is making significant achievements. This is due to the support granted by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation through the Lake Victoria Basin Water Office in Tanzania and Lake Victoria South Catchment Authority in Kenya, government institutions and the local communities in both countries. Lessons learned from both Kenyan and Tanzanian components of the programme enhance its achievements.

Both Tanzania National Water Policy (NAWAPO) and Kenya National Water Policy recognises the importance of Integrated Water Resource Management (IWRM) and has directed the establishment of an institutional framework for the management of water resources that will ensure participation of stakeholders in water resource management down to the lowest level of a water user.

The Nile Basin Initiative through the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Programme (NELSAP) and the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) under the East African Community (EAC) also recognises the importance of Integrated River Basin Management (IRBM) initiatives for the conservation, sustainable and equitable use of shared freshwater resources. IRBM is a process that promotes the coordinated development and management of water, land and related resources in a river basin in order to maximise the resultant economic and social welfare in an equitable manner without compromising the sustainability of vital ecosystems (Global Partnership Technical Advisory Group Working Paper 4. 2002). This project is therefore a contribution to the implementation of national water policies (Kenya and Tanzania) and East African Community Treaty and Lake Victoria Basin Development Protocol and these other initiatives.

The following are programme outputs for practical interventions planned to address key threats to water and biodiversity resources:
• Carry out baseline surveys and as far as possible fill information gaps with documentation in the form of reports, maps etc;
• Gather and disseminate appropriate information on conditions and threats to the Mara River Basin for land-use planning and management of the Mara River Basin and raise awareness about the importance of catchment management;
• Facilitate the ongoing process of stakeholder dialogue on integrated water resources management, ranging from local people to high level policy makers, and support local people’s involvement in the inter-sectoral IRBM dialogue through capacity-building and advocacy;
• Start and facilitate a process to introduce or revive existing community organisations, where forums and working groups have been established, and management actions in the catchment are becoming more sustainable;
• Document best practices and failures in terms of sustainable management and conservation, and promote the sharing and exchange of these lessons through demonstrating measures in the field, community exchange visits and communication measures;
• Build capacity amongst key stakeholders including vulnerable groups (small scale farmers, poor urban dwellers and women) for effective and sustainable IRBM;
• Develop and promote recommendations for the development of an integrated water resource management strategy for the Mara River Basin, including appropriate policies and laws to secure sustainable management and conservation.


• Mara River Transboundary Water Users Forum has been formed as a platform to dialogue and spearhead the transboundary water resources management initiative.
• The East African Community / Lake Victoria Basin Commission have been involved in the conservation of the Mara River and Mau Forest ecosystem.
• A collaborative effort with the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) and the Nile Equatorial Lakes Subsidiary Action Programme (NELSAP) in the management of the Mara River Basin has been greatly achieved to ensure synergy building between WWF and NBI initiative in Mara River Basin.
• Mara River Basin Biodiversity Action Plan and Environmental Flows of Mara River documents have been approved by Lake Victoria Basin Council of Ministers in meeting held in May 2009. Ministers directed key stakeholders in Mara River Basin to use these documents as guidelines for biodiversity and water allocation in Mara river basin.

• Water sources catchment protected. A very active Water Resource Users’ Association board (WRUA) with 3 major sub-catchments and 33 sub-catchments group committees have been established along the Kenyan Mara River. Water Users Associations and Sub-catchment Committees were facilitated and managed to protect 14 water sources and catchments.
• Successfully sensitised the government authorities and lobbied political leaders for the re-establishment of the original forest boundaries and the eventual removal of people who invaded the Mau Forest Catchment, the source of the Mara River.
• Stakeholders educated on the new Water Act (2002) and Environmental Management and Coordination Act (EMCA, 1999).
• On-farm tree planting campaigns has been institutionalised within the established Mara River Water Users’ Association in the upper catchment of the basin.
• Over 1,000 families have installed energy conservation stoves.
• The concept of water thirsty crops is now clear to stakeholders in the Mara River Basin, with measures instituted to control water flows.
• Operational Community Forest Associations (CFAs) formed - Key stakeholders were mobilised and facilitated to form three CFAs to manage Transmara Forest block. One CFA has been registered. 15.5 hectares of the forest area were rehabilitated through enrichment planting and reforestation under CFAs. Five nurseries are operational with total of 50,000 indigenous seedlings to be planted in the forest.
• 995 hectares under soil and water conservation - 820 farmers were supported to establish terraces on 995 hectares of farms to control soil erosion and improve water conservation. Suitable tree and fodder species were planted to stabilise terraces and provide fodder for livestock. 18 kms of riverine vegetation were also protected.

• Catchment Committee has been formed in Tanzanian part of the Basin. This committee is equivalent to WRUA board in Kenya. This committee has 14 Water Users Associations formed by Programme
• Awareness raised amongst the local communities and other key stakeholders about the Tanzania’s National Water Policy.
• Information and data documented on environmental, hydrological and social conditions, and now being disseminated.
• 25 Community Action Plans for water management and other natural resources have been prepared and are under implementation.
• Catchment Management Strategy has been developed and led to the development of catchment Joint Water Resources Management Plan.
• Facilitated the formation of 14 Water Users Associations as legal entities in accordance to the National Water Policy requirements.
• Supported Tanzania’s Ministry of Water and Irrigation which rehabilitated 13 completely stalled river gauging stations.
• Capacity built amongst vulnerable Community-Based Groups involved in Income Generating Activities, and using technologies that support sustainable natural resources and conservation.

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