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“If the Mau Forest is destroyed, Kenya will die,” said scientist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Wangari Maathai of the University of Nairobi.
Together with scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the grass-roots Green Belt Movement, the Wangari Maathai Institute of Peace and Environmental Studies at the University of Nairobi is hoping to find concrete solutions to the issues being faced.
The Mau Forest, located in the Rift Valley of Kenya, is one of the largest forests in East Africa covering an area of 273,300 hectares (675,000 acres). Additionally the forest is the largest water catchment area in Kenya, sourcing multiple rivers including rivers which feed Lake Victoria.
These water catchments supply a land area ten time the size of Denmark, and the reservoir is by far one of the most important water reservoirs in Kenya, where only a tenth of the country’s land is suitable for cultivation. However, despite its importance, over the past ten years up to a third of the forest has been destroyed by uncontrolled felling.
The university partnership being forced hopes to find solutions to this problem that suit the needs of the population as well as the forest itself.
“We believe that the research partnership will make a big difference to the local population. With the new Wangari Maathai Institute as the driving force, together we will create new and useful knowledge about how the vital forest and nature areas can be protected and managed in the best possible way,” says Senior Adviser Peter Furu from LIFE, and adds: “Through an application-oriented, interdisciplinary research approach to the difficult problem complexes concerning people, the environment and poverty, we will work on solutions that are holistic and which contribute to improving the health of both the local population and the forest ecosystems. At the same time, the project will actively focus on conflict-handling, environmental management and climate issues.”
The initiative is carried out under the auspices of the two universities’ Strategic Partnership Agreement, STRAPA: “It is our hope that this will serve as a role model for interdisciplinary, solution-oriented research between partner universities in the South and North,” says STRAPA manager Per Rasmussen.
A specialist in forestry and conflict-handling at LIFE, Associate Professor Jens Emborg highlights the need to attract further resources: “The Mau Forest needs intensive care, and the task now is to extend the network of international donors who will support this exciting research initiative so we can muster sufficient funding to make a real difference for people and the environment in Kenya,” he says.