Livelihood Improvement of Forest Adjacent Communities for Sustainable Management of Mau Forest Complex, Kenya: Harnessing Potential Opportunities
The Mau Forest Complex (MFC) and its watershed form a fragile and complex ecosystem which is the largest closed-canopy forest water tower in Kenya. The MFC covers the single most important catchment in Rift Valley and western Kenya. It forms the upper catchment of all, but one rives that drain west of the Rift Valley, including lakes Baringo, Nakuru, Naivasha, Natron and Turkana. The MFC is also rich in flora and fauna. Despite its critical importance for sustaining current and future economic development, the MFC has been adversely been degraded which has been occasioned by anthropogenic activities mainly: encroachment, logging for commercial timber, ill-planned settlements, as well as unsustainable extraction of forest resources, grazing of livestock and cultivation. Consequently, there is an urgent need to propose and implement sound and feasible conservation strategies to mitigate against these threats. There is need to secure and sustainably manage Mau Forest Complex in collaboration with stakeholders by supporting livelihood improvement options for forest-adjacent communities. The overall purpose of the paper is to propose interventions that would increase tree cover, enhance on-farm tree resources and related income generating enterprises for sustainable forest management (SFM). One key intervention is to adopt agroforestry practices and technologies that include Plantation Establishment and Livelihood Scheme (PELIS), also known as Shamba System and farm forestry, high value woodlots, buffer zone agroforestry, plantation-crop combination, apiforestry, aquaforestry, entomoforestry and agroforestry in watershed management. Agroforestry is a panacea for myriad of services and products viz: amelioration of emerging global change in climate, conservation of water catchments, support of biodiversity and medicine. Further agroforestry will enable forest-adjacent communities to improve their livelihoods through value addition to wood processing, ecotourism, charcoal and traditional medicine extraction, honey harvesting, carbon credit market and payment of environmental services. Studies have revealed that communities surrounding the forests by practising PELIS have contributed to tree seedling survival and thus increased forest cover in a cost effective way, improved water flow from the catchment areas, increased food production and improvement in living standards of the communities living adjacent to these forests (Kagombe, 2014; Odwori, Nyangweso, & Odhiambo, 2013). MFC offer an array of ecosystem indigenous and cultural services for SFM and these include spiritual, knowledge systems, recreation and aesthetic values. In conclusion, multistakeholder participation with shared vision, through Community Forest Associations (CFAs), rehabilitating the degraded areas by adopting agroforestry, promoting non-extractive uses of indigenous forest will improve livelihoods of communities thus form the action plan that will save MFC.