Mau Complex

The Mau Forest Complex, covering over 400 000 ha, is the largest of the fi ve water towers. It is Kenya’s largest closed-canopy forest ecosystem and the single most important water catchment in the Rift Valley and western Kenya. The Complex forms part of the upper catchments of all but one of the main rivers on the west side of the Rift Valley. These rivers act as arteries carrying the Mau’s waters throughout western Kenya—from Lake Turkana in the north to Lake Natron in the south, as well as to Kenya’s most populous rural areas in the Lake Victoria basin. These rivers support agriculture, hydropower, urban water supply, tourism, rural livelihoods and wildlife habitat throughout much of Kenya. As a part of the catchment for Lake Victoria and the White Nile, the Mau Forest is also of international importance, especially with respect to water quality.

In spite of its national importance, many areas of the Mau Forest Complex have been deforested or degraded; much of this damage has taken place in the past few decades. Degazettement 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’s area (yellow arrows). The satellite images from 1973 and 2009 capture 36 years of forest loss in the Mau Complex.

Since the 1970s, Maasai Mau Forest has lost over 8 214 ha of forest within its offi cial boundaries and another 32 000 ha outside the protected area. The eastern slopes of the Maasai Mau Forest are a crucial catchment for the Ewaso Ngiro River, as are the western slopes for the Mara River. The Mara River is a lifeline for Kenya’s most famous tourist destination— the Maasai Mara National Reserve. In 2001 alone, over half of Eastern Mau Forest Reserve was excised. The Eastern Mau Forest is the headwaters for the Njoro River, which drains its eastern slopes into Lake Nakuru, another of Kenya’s prime tourist attractions.

Also in 2001, one-quarter of the Southwest Mau Forest Reserve was excised. This forest reserve is the primary source of the Sondu River, site of the Sondu-Miriu hydropower plant. It is estimated that the Mau Forest catchments have the potential to generate over 500 MW of power or about 40 per cent of Kenya’s current total generating capacity (GoK 2010). On the western edge of the Southwest Mau, the Kericho Highlands tea growing area depends on the montane forest’s moderating infl uence on the micro-climate. Sale of tea from western Kenya was valued at roughly US$170 million in 2007 (GoK 2010).

Recognizing the threat that deforestation poses to these industries and a range of crucial ecosystem goods and services, the Kenyan government convened a forum in 2009 to fi nd ways to address the health of the Mau Forest Complex. A plan to rehabilitate the forest was proposed, with a budget of US$81 million. By early 2010, a commitment of roughly US$10 million had been received from international donor governments (UNEP 2010). The Kenyan government’s goal is to rehabilitate the Mau Forest and secure its watershed functions for Kenya and its neighbours (GoK 2010). A new understanding of the Mau Forest as a “water tower” with importance well beyond its immediate area helped mobilize resources and precipitated actions that may make rehabilitation possible.

** Source: Africa Water Atlas    To Download the Africa Water Atlas, Click here