Mau Forest and tea plantations – Photo by Patrick Shepherd/CIFOR
Tapping the source
Making the links between forests, water and local governance
lake sits high in the mountains. Below it, water trickles along rocks and seeps
into the soil, reemerging as a stream that flows downwards through the forest,
eventually joining other streams to form a wide, meandering river in the valley
towers’. In East Africa, this is the name for mountains that bring fresh, clean
water to farms and cities downstream. But if forests and water are so clearly interconnected,
why are they often managed by separate authorities?
CIFOR has researched the critical links between forests and water in Kenya’s
most important catchment area, the Mau Forest Complex. This last big mountain
forest supplies clean water, filtering it from agricultural sources and recharging
water tables, as well as providing food, fodder and fuel for an estimated six
million local people. Yet forest loss is rampant. In just a decade, nearly a
quarter of the forest has been cleared for agriculture, charcoal and
settlements, and communities downstream have seen their rivers drop and turn
brown with sediment.
to CIFOR-trained citizen scientists who crowdsourced data from their own rivers
and lakes, the effect of deforestation on water quality and quantity is
becoming crystal clear. Findings show
that local citizens can provide quality water data, sparing the expense of
traditional monitoring networks and boosting community involvement in resource
In 2017, with the support of the German Federal
Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), CIFOR added a new dimension
to the project: local governance. To successfully reduce deforestation and improve livelihoods, communities
need to be involved in resource governance – but not everyone views forests and
water as linked resources. Researchers are now studying how community forest associations and water resource
user associations function both independently and jointly, and how this affects
the health of both forests and water. The research has extended to include
Mt. Elgon, another key water tower that
The project is engaging community forest associations and water resource user associations through gender-sensitive feedback workshops, where everyone from fuelwood collectors to fish farmers and beekeepers are invited to react to research findings, voicing their observations and concerns. And a radio talk show in the local Kalenjin language attracted 38,000 listeners in the Rift Valley.
In October 2018, CIFOR and partners launched a participatory forest management plan in Londiani forest and a sub-catchment management plan in Itare-Chemosit sub-catchment, with more plans to follow in 2019. These aim to foster collaboration among local communities, government, private companies and civil society. Local communities are also putting their knowledge into action by replanting degraded forests and riversides with indigenous tree species.
“There is a need to come together so that we do conservation to the best of our ability,” explained William K. Koros, Chairman of Itare-Chemosit Water Resource Users Association (WRUA), a local community institution for the management of water resources. His forestry counterpart, Peter Maritim of Itare Community Forest Association (CFA), a local community institution for the management of forest resources (CFA), agrees. “There is no option away from working together”.
Looking ahead, the project hopes to scale up core critical actions such as forest and riverbank rehabilitation by CFAs and WRUAs as well as gender-responsive citizen monitoring of both forest and water resources.
Women: A key piece of the forest-water puzzle
The project is also challenging entrenched gender norms by training
communities, their leaders and the local administration in gender-responsive
resource management. Widespread patriarchal views – among both men and
women – pervade the
Rift Valley region. This prevents women from actively contributing valuable
knowledge on the state of water and wood sources.
“Since they are often in the forest to collect fuelwood and water, women hold special knowledge of how to manage these resources sustainably,” explains CIFOR Principal Scientist Esther Mwangi. “Our goal is to help both women and men recognize how inequalities in terms of their leadership, rights, access and decision-making can influence the supply and quality of their forest and water resources.”
Early evidence indicates some shifts in gender dynamics. Women have been encouraged and facilitated to take on leadership roles in the CFAs and WRUAs, and they now lead 3 of the 10 user groups in Itare-Chemosit. And some men are supporting the notion of women working outside the home.