Nairobi, 15 January 2010 – Kenya took a step to restore its diminishing water towers and address rapid environmental degradation when it launched a tree planting drive in the Kiptunga area of the Mau Forest Complex on Friday.
20,000 tree seedlings were planted on 20 hectares at a ceremony attended by Kenya's Prime Minister Raila Odinga and United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director, Angela Cropper.
Mau, the largest indigenous forest in East Africa and Kenya's most vital water tower, covers some 270,000 hectares. After Mau, restoration will also take place in Mt. Kenya, Aberdares, Mt. Elgon and the rest of Kenya's forests and water catchment areas with the aim of increasing the forest cover from the current 1.7 percent to 10 percent by the year 2020.
In partnership with the government and other stakeholders, including Kenyan NGOs, UNEP has assisted in chronicling and raising awareness about the damage and the degradation of East Africa's largest closed-canopy forest.
Over the last two decades, the Mau Complex has lost around 107,000 hectares - approximately 25% - of its forest cover, which has had devastating effects on the country as a whole; including severe droughts and floods, leading to loss of human lives and livelihoods, crops and thousands of head of livestock.
UNEP's contribution to the national debate that has surrounded the Mau has been based on science and the economics, and in 2009 it appointed an expert to provide technical advice to a government-led Mau task force.
One of the findings of this task force was that continued destruction of the forests will inevitably lead to a water crisis of national and regional proportions that extend far beyond the Kenyan borders.
The impetus to restore the Mau is particularly strong this year, as the world marks the International Year of Biodiversity.
So far, the international community has failed to reverse the rate of loss of biodiversity. Economies everywhere continue to dismantle the productive life-support systems of planet Earth.
The latest estimates by The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) study, which UNEP hosts, estimates that up to US$5 trillion-worth of natural or nature-based capital is being lost annually.
However, through Friday's tree-planting initiative, the Mau is emerging as a possible inspiring example of how the tide can still be turned in favour of biodiversity and sustainable ecosystem management.
After planting a Kaligen Berekeiyet tree at the ceremony, UNEP Deputy Executive Director Angela Cropper said: "These first saplings, planted in the soils of Kenya, speak of new shoots and new beginnings. New beginnings for a critical ecosystem: new beginnings for the people of Kenya who depend inextricably on the services that the Mau forest complex generates."
UNEP Spokesman Nick Nuttall planted a Podocarpus tree at the event, declaring: "This is the first tree I have planted, ever. It shows that even at 51, it is never too late."