The Value of Trees in the Mau Forest
Mara River Basin
Mara River Basin
FOMAWA (Friends of the Mara Watershed)
Documentarian, Conservationist, Farmer
Woman near Bonde
Man near Bonde
Ogiek FOMAWA Field Officer
Ogiek teacher at Saino Primary School
Ogiek Head Teacher at Saino Primary School
Students at Saino Primary School
Alison M. Jones
NWNL Director and Photographer
A Forest Threatened
A Forest’s Water Users
A Forest Slum for Settlers
A Forest Education & Stewardship
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.
Andrew Nightingale and Jacob Mwanduka introduced NWNL to the Mau Forest in 2009 during our Mara River Expedition, which covered issues from these headwaters to Lake Victoria, the Mara River’s terminus. Their concern over continued deforestation is repeated in this 2012 interview. Without the sponge-like ability of this forest, water flows to the Mara and other Kenyan rivers become vulnerable. Lowered water levels downstream will affect humans, millions of migrating wildebeest and other iconic savannah species, and the world-renowned Mara-Serengeti Ecosystem – shared with Tanzania and a source of tourism income for both countries.
NWNL Hello Jacob. Let’s start this conversation by comparing the significance of indigenous trees remaining in the Mau Forest versus commercially-grown trees.
JACOB MWANDUKA Indigenous trees have grown here naturally for time immemorial. Trees like crotons, trees like acacias, trees like cordia, and so on and so on, grew here since The Creation. They have adapted well and been responsible for protecting the environment. Not to forget others like the bamboo which grows widely in this country. Bamboo is also a good tree for protecting the environment, especially our water catchments.
There are also trees in commercial forests here which are grown purely for timber and other wood products. Cypress, pine, eucalyptus, grevillea and others are grown to be harvested after 25 – 30 years. So, the Government Forest in this country is split. Its indigenous forest is for conservation and does well in this water catchment. The government’s commercial forest is supposed to be harvested relatively quickly – otherwise, as those trees mature they just start rotting and die. Actually, some say that the pines and cypress are no longer exotics.
ANDREW NIGHTINGALE Well, they’d say that as well about the gum tree, the eucalyptus which came from Australia where it is a protected species.
JACOB MWANDUKA But here it’s not.
NWNL If I lived here in the Mau Forest, could I cut down trees for my personal needs?
JACOB MWANDUKA Before you cut a tree, you’d need to go to the forester’s office; get a permit; and then go to your local chief and say, “Sir, I want to cut my tree.” Then you’d go to the officer in charge of National Environment Protection Authority [NEMA] and say, ’Sir, I want to cut my tree.” Then that official fills out all of these forms. Then the agricultural guy does that too.
Once you finish, you have to go all the way to Nairobi to get a movement permit, which only lasts for 2 days. If your vehicle breaks down between here and Nairobi, you’d go to the nearest police station to say, “Look, I want now to change my vehicle registration number. This has broken. I need an extension for at least one day.”
Accessing a market for your products is difficult. Thus what people opt to do is to say, “I’ll give my 2,000 bob (K Shillings 2000/ US $20 ) to the police. It’s easier that way than going through the whole legal process.
ANDREW NIGHTINGALE Yes, 2,000 shillings a day is cheaper than 5 days of standing in queues getting the legal paperwork.
NWNL What is being done today to help save the forest? I’ve heard that not all Mau Forest stewardship is successful.
JACOB MWANDUKA We are now looking at an area that used to be Government Forest, while also occupied by the Ogieks (one of Kenya’s smallest ethnic groups). It is one of the areas which recently has been occupied by people. The stumps there are evidence that this was once a dense forest. But it has now become a desert. No replanting is taking place either by the government or by the Ogieks themselves. If this land stays for another 10 years without being replanted, that would be a lot of time and many years lost for the growth of the trees.
The forest, cut in 2009, has had no replanting – nor is there evidence that any planting is to take place soon – either by the government or by the people. This is clearly poor land use in an area with very great potential area for tree growing and for tree farming.
Something needs to be done to reverse this wanting situation. As an organization, FOMAWA keeps on advising the government and the people on proper land use and on tree planting at the right time and in the right place. It’s our hope that either the Ogieks or the government will rescue this land for present and future generations. A long journey starts with one leg.
NWNL How much do local people who use the forest resources and water understand about environmental issues? Is your group, FOMAWA, teaching people about protecting the springs – and if so, how?
JACOB MWANDUKA FOMAWA (Friends of the Mau Watershed) is trying to reach out to rural people to explain there’s a link between the forests and the water. Without forests, there is no water. Without water, the forests will not do well. So really, forests are their lifelines, and without that lifeline the water will not be available. People will have to walk long distances to get water; and that will mean a lot of time lost for productive work, especially for women who are the custodians and managers of the families.
NWNL Are there rules to prevent people from degrading the springs?
JACOB MWANDUKA I don’t think that information has been sufficiently imparted to people, so they don’t really understand the linkages between forests, water and their lives and livelihoods. That is where the challenge lies. Unless that benefit is demonstrated and appreciated, the people are not going to undertake conservation, because they will not know why they are doing it. or for what or for whom. But if they realize there’s a benefit then it will be simple, and people will be able to protect these water catchments.
NWNL What advice are people being given on how to protect their water systems?
JACOB MWANDUKA People are being taught that polluting the water might be dangerous for their lives because that will encourage diseases. They’re told to let the water catchments remain intact basically because erosion, pesticides and soil will get in the water which could be harmful to their well-being. Around Njoro River, which drains to Lake Nakuru, it is suspected that 50 tons of soil per hectare is being taken away every year. That’s a huge amount of soil – and it carries with it God knows what which compromises the quality of water for the people and livestock.
NWNL Here, on the road between Elburgon and the Enyapuiyapui Swamp, we have just met 4 local people near Bonde Village. Since I am not fluent in Swahili, Jacob, would you ask Loise Cheskei and her friends what they know about the water supplies and the protection of the water?
JACOB MWANDUKA Loise, do you understand the importance of preserving water systems such as these ones and their environs?
LOISE CHESKEI Yes, I understand.
JACOB MWANDUKA Tell us what you understand. Is there a need to preserve water systems such as these?
LOISE CHESKEI Yes, there is need. The water systems bring rain and forests. We easily receive these things here if we have preserved the environment.
FIRST MAN Also, water is life.
JACOB MWANDUKA This man is saying they understand the benefits of conserving the environment because there’s link between water and their lives. They recognize that water is key to everything, and that to get clean water we need to have trees and forests.
LOISE CHESKEI Some animals need the water – like frogs, earthworms, and fish. We use rain water for drinking. Water is also used to spray on the plants.
JACOB MWANDUKA How many years have you lived here and how the environment before you came?
LOISE CHESKEI We have been here for 2 years and we are planting some potatoes and maize – and blue gum trees [eucalyptus].
SECOND MAN Blue gum trees bring water and are good for the environment, stopping erosion, bringing good weather. The government taught us to protect the forest.
JOSEPH SOI Yes, we are protecting the indigenous forests. I came here almost 3 years ago. It is now peaceful. Quite okay. There are many benefits when we are next to the forest. But within this forest, we’ve got very little water.
JACOB MWANDUKA Why? Because I understand that before there was a lot of water.
JOSEPH SOI Within this forest, the rainfall is now so light. On the other side of the Mau, the forest itself contains a lot of water. But this one of ours, no water. Very little. As you have seen, there are dams. There is another dam there.
SECOND MAN And there is overpopulation. Many of these people are farming and clearing trees to plant.
JOSEPH SOI If these trees are planted by the rivers, will you get some water?
JOSEPH MWANDUKA I don’t know.
JOSEPH SOI These blue gum trees consume a lot of water and should be toppled. But the indigenous trees have “tied water” [ie, retained water]. We need more trees. When we need some more, we plant.
NWNL Joseph, you say you’ve been here 3 years. Where were you and your friends before that? Why did you all come here?
JACOB SOI I came from far, from Litein. which is over 150 km [93 mi] west from here, past Kericho. When you are young, you feel at home. But when you grow up, you’ve got some younger kids behind you and you must step aside. I bought 2 acres here. This is mine. I’ve got my title.
JACOB MWANDUKA Was this land given to you by the government, or did you buy it from somebody?
JOSEPH SOI I bought it from somebody.
NWNL I understand that to reforest the Mau to save rivers, there are few options other than removing recent settlers who have changed forest to fields. However, many of these small-scale farmers have nowhere to go?
JACOB MWANDUKA There are slums in this country, like Kibera, that you can’t believe. And now, they are building these IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps, that each keep about 500 to 1,000 people in one place. Imagine all these people in one small place, in one camp.
The government has said, “Find somewhere and go live elsewhere – wherever you want.” But they have no place to go. It creates all sorts of problems. The sanitation aspect is very bad. There are no medical facilities there. They encourage diseases like AIDS and other communicable diseases. It’s a free-for-all.
NWNL What is the alternative to these camps?
ANDREW NIGHTINGALE The camps are certainly not nice. As far as I know, there is land on the other side of the railway that was to be given to them– a whole stretch along the bottom of the mountain. However, the landowner was persuaded not to do so, by somebody who makes a lot of money out of conservation.
JOSEPH MWANDUKA So often, we tend to create more problems as we try to solve others. If I was in the government’s shoes, I would have gotten land, subdivided it, then said: “Andrew, go to Shamba X [small farm]. Jacob, go to Shamba Y. So-and-so, go to Shamba Z. That would resolve the problem.”
NWNL Hello, Anthony. I understand you are Jacob’s co-worker and a FOMAWA Field Officer. Jacob says you have been helping the school, the children, the teachers and their parents in promoting commercial farm forestry. Tell us about this school not far from the Enyapuiyapui Swamp.
ANTHONY SIELE Here, at Saino Primary School, they started planting trees about four years ago. They started with 600 seedlings. Down here, we have younger seedlings they planted last year. The students are very hard-working. Even the teachers are very hard-working. They cooperate with FOMAWA very well, which I like.
JACOB MWANDUKA The tree-planting project here at Saino Primary School is a cooperative program between FOMAWA and the school. Basically, the program trains kids and trains the local community how to do tree planting in a more organized way for the sake of profitability. At the same time, we hope to convert young people to appreciate forestry as a way of life. This fits with our policy of ‘catch them when young.’ We want to convert youth to being good foresters, especially the kids you met at the border of the Saino Forest, in the heart of Southwest Mau. We are preparing them to be responsible citizens. In conservation, we feel is important to start instilling skills and knowledge on forest matters when they are young.
NWNL Anthony, as an Ogiek, where did you grow up and how did you start working with FOMAWA?
ANTHONY SIELE I am Anthony Siele from Kuresoi. I was born with the tribe of Ogiek, which is Kalenjin. Work with FOMAWA has allowed the planting of schoolyard trees. These schools appreciate this kind of project and promise to plant even more. We, the Ogiek, cooperate with teachers, pupils and FOMAWA.
NWNL How many other schools in the Mau Forest Complex does FOMAWA work with?
JACOB MWANDUKA Within the greater Mau Complex, there are about 1,500 public schools, both primary and secondary. FOMAWA has successfully planted trees with 130 schools, about 9-10% of the total number of schools. We anticipate reaching many more schools and communities around these schools. But we struggle with resource constraints, both human and otherwise.
The challenges are big; the numbers are huge. Success will be always elusive, unless we roll up our sleeves; go out to the people; and work with the schools, the children and the parents around these schools. Knowing is one thing; but doing things on the ground is another.
DAVID CHERUIYOT Welcome to our classroom, Alison. I am David Cheruiyot, an Ogiek from this forest and now a teacher here at Saino Primary School. This is one of our 8 classes. We also have one nursery school. I am proud to be a teacher because this is a noble vocation. Children learn and we are their role models. So, when we do wrong, they will also do wrong. The children learn from us.
NWNL What did the Ogiek do in the forest, traditionally?
DAVID CHERUIYOT We hunted and gathered some fruits. We normally were friends to the animals. We gathered honey and normally kept some honey inside the forest.
NWNL What was it like to collect honey?
DAVID CHERUIYOT To collect honey is a sweet thing. We normally don’t use the modern ways of keeping bees. Our traditional way of keeping the beehive is that we get a log, we remove its inner side, and hang it from a tree branch. The bees will come and live there inside. After a month, we normally go and remove the honey, using smoke to make sure that the bees are unconscious. That is the time we insert our hand and remove the honey. After we taste it, we pack it and go home.
NWNL If the Ogiek can no longer live within the forest. Will they be able to go back into the forest for their traditional honey gathering and hunting?
DAVID CHERUIYOT The forest is now going. People are destroying the forest. But FOMAWA has encouraged people in our area to maintain the forest.
NWNL What is the main message you want to teach your students?
DAVID CHERUIYOT First of all, we want to – we have to – impact their knowledge – and beyond that, their noble, moral values. We have to teach them about the environment. Since the Ogiek used to be within the forest – or at least in an environment where we had many trees – we must now teach them how to grow trees like FOMAWA does.
So, let me begin class now. Good morning, class.
STUDENTS Good morning, sir.
DAVID CHERUIYOT Today I have a message about how we care for our environment. A long time ago, we used to live in a forest. But because people are cutting down the trees, we now have deforestation. It’s people who are destroying our forest. In the near future, if we do not plant more trees, we’ll have a desert. So I want to encourage you: whenever you cut one tree, you need to plant more. Or, perhaps you should not even cut one. Are we together?
DAVID CHERUIYOT So, we should plant trees. We know that a tree is life. We can’t be destroying trees, because we know that they are the ones giving us life.
First, a forest is the source of rivers. I want you to know that all rivers come from a forest. Secondly, we have what we call oxygen. We get oxygen from a tree. So the moment we start destroying trees, we lack water and oxygen. Are we together?
DAVID CHERUIYOT We are now not getting the oxygen or water we want. Are we together?
DAVID CHERUIYOT We know that when we destroy our rivers, or when we destroy our trees, our lives will disappear. I encourage you to learn that a source of a river should not be destroyed. Make sure not to destroy the trees around the river, or around the source of the river. Continue planting more trees there. Especially trees like bamboo. How many know bamboo? Bamboo is a tree that is a high source of water when compared with the rest. Are we together?
DAVID CHERUIYOT So, we want to encourage you, always plant trees. Always…
STUDENTS … plant trees!
DAVID CHERUIYOT Always plant trees. Where is the source of a river?
STUDENTS In the forest.
DAVID CHERUIYOT Yes. Now, if the source of a river is a forest, what will happen if we destroy forest?
STUDENTS The river will disappear.
DAVID CHERUIYOT Yes, so we want to have that forest. I want you to draw a number of trees to show the forest in your exercise book. Then write something about a source of a river.
Students at the Saino Primary School
NWNL Hello, Joseph. I understand you are the Ogiek head teacher of Saino Primary School.
JOSEPH KOECH Yes, and I want to say FOMAWA has greatly assisted us. Earlier, we did not know how to plant trees; but after a field day at Njoro at Kenana Farm with Andrew Nightingale, we learned. Now, you can see now our eucalyptus forest. We have the seedlings we planted late last year. We are very happy to have learned the importance of trees.
We are Ogiek, the N’dorobos, the people who know on how to live with the trees and thick vegetation. With the planting of eucalyptus trees, we have now seen a different species. We know the native trees, the ‘tarakwa,’ and now we have come to know the exotic trees. Many things will have to happen in our future, especially learning how to be with the eucalyptus trees and the other exotic trees we will come to know. So, we are very happy to be working with FOMAWA and with your coming here.
NWNL Thank you all very much – and good luck!
Posted by NWNL on May 10, 2019.
Transcription edited and condensed for clarity by Alison M. Jones.
Interview Guidelines describe the NWNL protocol for editing raw transcripts.
All images © Alison M. Jones. All rights reserved.