Sunday, February 27, 2011

Forest Fires Keep Field Staff Busy

Kenya has two fire seasons which coincide with the two dry and windy months that precede the country's  rain seasons of March/April and October/November.

The Kenya Forest Service usually engages a high gear by ensuring that all fire towers are manned around the clock, communities adjacent to forests are also involved and requested to ensure burning of pastures and farmlands is supervised. Leave for Foresters and Rangers in the field stations is usually suspended until the season passes. Fire breaks are cleared, prescribed burning is also undertaken to ensure that the threat of combustible materials is removed.

Despite all the preparations, it is still never possible to remove the threat of fires fully. This year we have already had fires affecting over 1400 hectares mainly of grasslands and occasionally of natural or industrial plantations. The unsung heroes who fight with these fires are our dedicated staff in field stations and members of communities who volunteer to put out the fires.

Here below we pay tribute to the officers from Central Highlands Consersancy who recently fought a fire in Ndaragwa Forest Station. The fire had raged for night and day and it was gratifying to see the Head of Conservancy Mr. Waichihi and the Nyandrua Forest Zone Manager, Mr. Kinyili lead their "troops" from the front. The images shown below have been replicated all around the country in the last forty days and in majority of the conservancies.

 An ash-plastered Mr. Waichihi (r)and Mr. Kinyili (l) take a break to refresh after co-ordinating the fire fighting for hours. 
 KFS Rangers in a concerted effort to suppress the grassland fire in Ndaragwa Forest Station 
 Due to the remote and harsh terrain in forests, the tools required to fight fires  include fire beaters, hoes, fork jembes, machetes to clear and bag packs with sprayers. Here we see rangers receiving the equipment on site. 
 Rangers are assisted by members of the community to fight the fire. 

 At nightfall the Rangers and members of community plan how to handle the raging fires. 
 Its possible for one or two Rangers to put out a small fire if it is spotted early enough and at its head. However, if its windy and out of sight a small fire can grow into a monster fire that can overwhelm 40 men thereby necessitating a call for help from the Community and rarely to other government agencies like KWS, NYS, Police, etc. 

 Above. Forest Rangers are seen on various dates fighting different fires in Ndaragwa Forest Station.  

Chinese Authorities Lift 20-Year Logging Ban

24 January 2011
The forests that provide most of Beijing’s water are being given a new lease of life by the partial lifting of a logging quota for the first time in 20 years.
This change is part of a wider evolution in understanding how best to manage forests in the Miyun watershed, just north of the Chinese capital, in order to provide multiple ecosystem services to 17 million residents in Beijing. Although it may at first sound contradictory, allowing local people to harvest certain wood and tree products will not only improve their livelihoods and earning capacity, it will also permit better care for the forest, boosting the biodiversity and functioning of the natural systems that supply up to 70% of Beijing’s drinking water.
“When we started working here, much of the original forest had disappeared and reforestation activities had planted conifers and other tree species. To protect the new forests, strict controls on land and forest use were imposed, including a stiff logging quota system that bans almost all logging in natural forest,” explains Li Jia, IUCN Forest Programme Officer. 
But this approach is overprotective, denying the interdependence between local livelihoods and forests, but also ignoring local communities’ role and capacity in on-ground forest management, leading to a separation between forest sustainability and community welfare. In the case of Miyun, the forests were not actively managed, and many of the trees are in poor condition. Around three quarters are classified as unhealthy, with limited capacity for soil, water source and biodiversity conservation.
Not only the forest was suffering: local communities had become progressively disadvantaged in economic terms, as a result of the stiff logging quota system and strict regulation of people’s access to forests. “Few income and employment opportunities are available, as cash income from timber selling is not allowed and introduction of polluting industries are strictly banned. While some protective measures are well-intended and necessary, it is also true that local livelihoods are constrained and they are not provided with many alternatives for the contribution they are making for the wider community. Currently it is only possible to carry out limited collection of fuelwood and non-timber forest products,” says Li Jia.
It was against this backdrop that IUCN’s Livelihoods and Landscapes Strategy (LLS) was initiated in the Miyun watershed in 2007. The project responded to the paradox of a landscape which was dominated by forests which were subject to little or no active management and a livelihood situation where local communities had become impoverished, underpinned by the ever-more urgent need to ensure that Beijing’s dwindling water supply was protected.
“It was clear that the strict logging ban needed to be replaced with a new forest development and management strategy,” explainsStephen Kelleher, deputy head of IUCN’s Forest Conservation Programme. “This needed not just to allow for better forest biodiversity and watershed services, but also to ensure improved incomes and livelihood security for the surrounding human population. The project introduced a new set of forest management tools which represent a shift from a strictly protective approach, to one which is based on sustainable use and active management by local communities.”
Although the changes that the project aims to effect in the Miyun landscape and livelihoods are long term in nature, it is possible to discern some very positive signs already. Participatory planning has resulted in a formal agreement to recognize different forest management and use regimes, harmonizing the technical information held by government foresters with local knowledge and interests.
A set of ‘close to nature’ silvicultural treatments has been developed and is being implemented by local communities. This has resulted in the regeneration of natural forest and in improvements in forest structure, quality and function. A permit for harvesting timber has been secured – the first such quota issued in more than 20 years. A new system of harvesting fuelwood has been set in place, and significant progress has been made in reducing local fuelwood demands.
Last but not least, support has been given to the development of cooperative arrangements for utilising and developing the market potential of forest goods and services, with the aim of increasing and diversifying local income and setting in place local structures that will be sustainable over the long-term. A much more integrated form of landscape management and restoration has been introduced in the Miyun landscape which recognises the multiple needs and functions of the watershed, and brings together the many different stakeholders, sectors and levels of scale which have interests in them.
A new report on the Miyun work, and on the results following the partial lifting of the logging quota, is expected in April and will be published by IUCN.
Report Courtesy of IUCN

European Commission, UNEP to support Kenya’s Mau Forest Restoration

 Contributed by Erick Akasa and Tony Aisi
Thursday, 24 February 2011

 A multi-million Euro project to assist in the restoration of the north western part of the Mau forest complex in Kenya was announced by the EU, UNEP and the Government of Kenya during the ongoing UNEP  Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum,  in Gigiri, Nairobi.  

The project, supporting the strategy of the Government of Kenya to rehabilitate one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest closed canopy forests, will contribute to maintaining nature-based assets worth an estimated US$1.5 billion a year  to the Kenyan economy.
 The project, details of which were unveiled during the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, will secure services generated by the flows of the Yala and Nyando rivers.

 These rivers, which feed Lake Victoria  and are important for drinking water, also support 5,000 hectares of rice  production important for local food security and the Kenyan economy.
 European Union’s (EU) Commissioner for the Environment Janez Potonik  said “The EU and UNEP share many common priorities from climate change and sustainable energy to environment and development “.

Sustainable management of natural resources, sustainable consumption and production and the Green  Economy are among those key priorities.“Today we are also announcing support to the Government of Kenya,  through UNEP, towards rehabilitation and restoring one of Kenya’s and East Africa’s key pieces of natural infrastructure. The Mau forest complex is a living example of where  economy and environment intersect and reflects not only our cooperative work with  UNEP, but the EU’s overall vision for a sustainable 21st century at  home and abroad” he added.

 Achim  Steiner, Director General of the UNEP said, “The Government of Kenya has embarked on a remarkable  transformation of its economy in which renewable energy and improved management of its nature-based assets are at the core of its sustainable, 2030 Vision, development path. Realizing that vision however requires the support of committed partners and I would like to thank the Environment  Commissioner for the EC’s commitment in the UNEP-Kenya partnership in support of  conserving and restoring Kenya’s vital  water towers”

 “The Mau forest complex is emblematic of the challenges, but also the opportunities being faced by countries across the globe. The new  strategic cooperation between the EC and UNEP with funding from the EU will allow  us to better meet the genuine aspirations of more and more nations towards  their transition to a Green Economy”, he added.

 Over the coming months the EU and UNEP will discuss and announce the precise funding arrangements and potential projects to be started under the new strategic cooperative partnership announced today.

 The new, over 2 million Euro project for the Mau forest complex is being funded out of the existing agreement. It will support world-wide efforts as  part of the UN’s International Year of Forests.

 It will cover the north west of the Mau forest where significant degradation of the indigenous forest, leading to conversion into grassland, has occurred due to unsustainable use of forest resources. Part of the project will tackle this issue through the establishment of wood lots for local people’s cooking needs .

 Meanwhile, industrial forest plantations in the area are also currently poorly managed.
 The loss and degradation of forest in this part of the Mau complex is endangering a range of businesses, development initiatives and biologically important sites.

 The area is the upper catchment of the Yala and Nyando rivers that both flow into Lake Victoria and provide water for rice production with a market price in excess of one billion Kenyan  shillings.

 The moisture and micro climate made possible by this portion of the  forest are also critical for the important tea industry in the Nandi Highlands.

 The area also supports river flows that are central to the success of a UNEP-Global Environment Facility funded project to reduce the electricity costs, boost power supply availability and cut greenhouse gas emissions linked with the tea industry.
 The estimated micro-hydropower generation potential in the Nandi tea growing areas alone is estimated at 9.5

The Yala and Nyando rivers also support key conservation areas,  including those designated Important Bird Areas. Bird watching is a key part of the  Kenyan tourism industry.
 The Yala for example supports the health of the Kakamega forest and the  Nyando the health of the Kusa  Swamp.

Report courtesy of www.

Nairobi’s newest urban forest opens to visitors

Nairobi National Park is another of Kenya's urban forests (Thomas Kriese)
25th February 2011
Karura Forest officially opens tomorrow (26 February), allowing access to nature trails and picnic sites in the suburbs of Kenya’s capital, Will Gray reports
Attractions in Karura include waterfalls, bamboo forest and caves once used as Mau Mau hideouts during Kenya’s struggle for Independence.
At 1063ha, Karura will be the largest of Nairobi’s three suburban forests (the others being Ngong and Ololua). The forest is home to Syke’s monkey and other secretive forest species such as bushbuck, dik dik, duiker, bush pig, genet and civet.
A partnership between the Kenya Forest Service and Kenya Tourist Board, Karura will be a leafy addition to Nairobi’s well-established wildlife tourism circuit, which includes Nairobi National Park, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and Langata Giraffe Centre.
With 2011 declared International Year of Forests, Karura’s opening couldn’t be better timed. According to Kenya Wildlife Service director Julius Kipng’etich: “The prospects for Kenya’s forests are promising. The newly passed constitution and the economic development blueprint, Vision 2030, have clear provisions on the restoration of degraded forests and the protection of existing ones.”
The future of Karura was not always guaranteed however. Threatened by housing development and Kenya’s notorious ‘land grabbings’ in the 1990s, the forest was saved during a high-profile campaign led by Wangari Maathai who, in 2004, became the first African womanto receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Karura Forest is located in the northern suburbs of Nairobi, bordering Runda, Gigiri and Muthaiga. For further information, visit

Muchongoi Residents in Baringo Facing Eviction

Wanjohi Gakio
22 February 2011


The Director of Kenya Forest Service David Mbugua has already issued a 14-day notice to the residents to move out failure to which the government will forcefully evict them.A section of leaders from Baringo County are up in arms against the government's decision to evict residents of Muchongoi area believed to be part of Marmanet and Olarabel forest.

Koibatek County Council Chairman Cyrus Kimetto and Human Rights Activist Kiptoo Kimosop said the notice dated February 2 is giving the residents sleepless nights contemplating their next move.

The council chairman accused Lands minister James Orengo of engaging in activism in his bid to reclaim grabbed government land instead of showing Kenyans the way in a sober manner. "He should not be like his predecessors who used to say that a title deed is just a piece of paper," he said. He said the government should recognise the legality of the title deeds it had issued. Kimosop said the KFS is neither serious nor honest as Muchongoi is the ancestral land for local people.

The two were speaking at Kabel Trading Centre where they had gone to console families which lost houses, merchandise and household goods worth over Sh11 million in a fire.The director of CDF Simon Kiprono Chepkwony who was also present during the visit urged the government to through the Ministry of Special Programs and other donor agencies to come to the aid of the fire victims.

Kiprono said the victims lost property accumulated for over 20 years hence there was need for concerted efforts to enable them return to their normal lives.

Other speakers at the meeting called on the government to reinstate the original boundaries of Baringo county which extended to Rumuruti and Nyahururu Thompson Falls in Laikipia.

They were quick to add that this should not be construed to mean that local residents have intentions of evicting members of other ethnic communities from the place.

Monday, February 21, 2011

United States Will Help Protect The Endangered Karura Forest

NAIROBI  (Xinhua) 

U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa P. Jackson on Saturday pledged to boost Kenya’s efforts in conserving the environment.Speaking to journalists in Nairobi during a tour of Kenya’s Karura forest where she planted a tree, Jackson said the forest is part of Washington’s efforts to support the East African nation’s environmental programs.

"The U. S. support of the Karura forest is part of our assistance to Kenya’s efforts to conserve the environment through forest conservation," said Jackson, who is leading the U. S. delegation to participate in the UNEP governing council conference at its Nairobi’s headquarters on Feb. 18-22.
The Karura forest has been the target of land speculators and timber loggers who rendered it one of the most environmental degraded forests in the country.

The public has shunned the once vibrant recreation park due to high levels of insecurity in the area.The forest which consists of a waterfall and is home to one of Kenya’s largest concentration of bird species will officially to be reopened next week after years of closure.

The 1,000 hectares forest located in Nairobi is one of three forests located in Nairobi."The forest being one of the few urban forests in the world will be developed into tourism attraction with features including a 4 km nature trail," said Karanja Njoroge, the executive director of Green Belt Movement who is also the vice chairman of the Friends of Karura Forest.

The U. S. government is also supporting the Eastern Africa Environment Enforcement Network which brings together environmental stakeholders including Kenya’s environmental network and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) which seeks to increase Kenya’s forest cover which stands at less than two per cent compared to the UN recommended levels of 10 per cent."The U.S. government together with greenbelt movement and the friends of Karura forest will help restore the forest to its former status as environment conservation site," said U. S. Ambassador to Kenya Michael Ranneberger.

The U.S. government has already given a grant of seven million U.S. dollars to help rehabilitate the Mau forest which has been under threat from both forest loggers and squatters who invaded the forest to convert the forest into agricultural land."The Greenbelt Movement also received two million dollars for a two year program to rehabilitate the Aberdare forest," said Karanja.

Report Courtesy of Coastweek/Xinhua

Alice Macaire- My Life As A Diplomat's Wife

Published on 19/02/2011

Being a diplomat, my husband gets to be posted in different countries on foreign missions. We are so lucky as ours is a wonderful life. Being the wife of the British High Commissioner has its thrills as I get to meet interesting people.
My day begins at 6am where we have a family breakfast. We have two daughters - Molly, 12, and Nell, 11. They study at Kenton College, which is a great school.
On Tuesdays and Fridays, I go for Kiswahili lessons. Kiswahili is a great language and we (with my fellow learners) laugh a lot at our mistakes.
Alice Macaire
I spend the rest of my mornings at the Karura forest taking in the sights and sounds, and musing on what needs to be done. I often meet with Charity, usually at 10am, to discuss the day’s project. I have given Karura forest full attention, as there is really much to be done.
Host dinners
In the afternoons I often go to my children’s school to watch them do sports. My husband is usually home by 5pm or 6pm. Most evenings, maybe twice a week, we have receptions at our residence. We also get to host many dinners for dignitaries, including senior government officials like the Prime Minister.
Sometimes I feel nervous and pinch myself wondering, is this really happening? But often I end up talking more than everyone else.
Everywhere we go, I get involved in a project because I am a trained project manager. Before we came to Kenya, we were in New Delhi, India, where we lived in an old, fashionable area with beautiful architecture. I spent time urging reluctant Indian friends into areas of town they never wanted to go to.
Before India, we were in Washington, DC. We were caught in the 9/11 bombings. That day, my husband was meant to go to the Pentagon. Someone asked me to switch on the TV just as the second plane hit the Twin Towers; I heard that the Pentagon had also been hit. Panicking, I called my husband. His phone rang and rang. Eventually he picked. He had been delayed and rescheduled the Pentagon meeting for the afternoon; those were terrifying times.
Great people
While in the US, I got involved in a fundraising for charity — the National Symphony Orchestra.
Karura is by far my favourite project. I’m happy to see practical results and I’m humbled by the goodwill from people and the government. Kenyans are really a great people who always say yes. They want to help unlike in the West where people do not like responsibilities and are more reserved.
Here, everyone wants to make life better and it is for this reason that my husband and I always say thatKenya
Story Courtesy of EA Standard

I Have Helped Make Karura Forest Safe- Alice Macaire's Love Affair With Karura

Published on 19/02/2011

Alice Macaire, wife of British High Commissioner Rob Macaire, embarked on a journey to transform Karura Forest into a safe recreational centre barely six months after arriving in Kenya two years ago.
Karura forest had become a security threat with Kenya Forest Service officers finding at least one dumped body a month. Alice's efforts are paying off, and those close to her say she has great networking and mobilisation skills. She spoke exclusively to KIUNDU WAWERU on her role as a diplomat's wife and the chairperson of Friends of Karura forest.
My family loves the outdoors. When we moved here two years ago, I found our home was next to this beautiful forest and I asked our staff if I could go in there.
Alice Macaire
"No, absolutely not! It’s dangerous," they said.
I was interested in finding more about this so I drove myself to the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) headquarters inside the Karura forest.
I was lucky because the first person I was introduced to was Charity Munyasia, the Head of Conservancy. I asked her if I could visit the forest and she said yes.
But there was a caveat. She could not guarantee my safety, as the forest had become a bane of criminal activities.
Great amenity
With greatest respect, I told Charity that anywhere else in the world, a forest would be a great amenity, especially one in the middle of the city, so that instead of people sitting in traffic, they could walk in and unwind. It was possible to make Karura forest safe.
On hearing this, Charity became upbeat. She said she knew the forest had great potential but that KFS was hindered by limited funds. She urged me to help them conserve the forest by talking to people with similar interests. I talked to a few people who said they would be happy to come on board. Interestingly, Charity did not know that I was the wife of the British High Commissioner. She thought I was a mzungu (white) woman keen to help.
Two weeks later, Charity excitedly called saying she thought she had found a waterfall inside the forest. "What do you mean you think you have found a waterfall?" I exclaimed.
Charity replied, "Come to the office and see for yourself!"
I went to the office and she took me to see the waterfall. We were both wearing high heels as we negotiated our way through the shrubs and suddenly, without warning, whoa! In front of us lay a beautiful waterfall.
I asked Charity how the waterfall could have possibly escaped their notice and she said they did not come here much. It was too special for me not to protect it and after discussing it further, we decided the reason it was unsafe was because it was not fenced.
Charity arranged for a meeting with all stakeholders - Runda residents, Muthaiga, Huruma and a representative from the Unep - and the decision was unanimous to make the forest safe. Our first meeting was graced by my husband Rob Macaire, Prof Wangari Maathai, Unep’s executive director Achim Steiner and William Wambugu who is also helping with the conservation of the Arboretum and others.
We agreed there was need to form a committee and thus Friends of Karura was born and I was appointed chairlady. We started by clearing the shrubs and creating a family trail. On its opening day, 650 people turned up.
I was touched by a 70-year-old Kenyan man who shed tears. He said he lived a kilometre and a half from the forest and he regrets not having enjoyed the highlights of his life, like his wedding, graduation and birthday parties, in the forest with its cool, comforting shades.
Sections of Karura Forest. Photos: Martin Mukangu/Standard
Prof Maathai said her dream for Karura was not to see skyscrapers but rather a forestry education centre. We took that up and we recently launched the Karura Forest Education Environmental Trust. The guest of honour was Noah Wekesa, the Minister for Forestry and Wildlife.
Not safe
One of the committee members was John Chege, from Huruma slums. He felt that the forest should be fenced because their children may wander there only to find dead bodies dumped there. Women from Huruma also collected firewood from the forest either for cooking or for sale; and they, too, were not safe.
Chege also agreed that some people from Huruma benefited from attacking people in the forest. We had to come up with a project that would make all these groups benefit positively from the forest.
In another meeting, Al Kags, who is in our board, asked representatives from Huruma whether they knew the attackers. It turned out that most of them were in the meeting!
One man rose and said they did what they did because they had to feed their children. We realised that our first solution in incorporating the people from the slums was in the form of scouts.
We recruited 15 men who got trained by KFS rangers; but as there was a long-standing enmity between these two groups, we brought in a neutral person — Danny, a British Army officer who trained them for six months. Together with 14 rangers, the scouts now patrol the forest 24/7. The women have been allocated two days a week to go in and collect dead wood.
We still needed about Sh8.5 million for fencing, but I must say I’m lucky to be the British High Commissioner’s wife and I get to meet influential people. I met with the director of East African Breweries and asked him if the company could fence a section of the forest. To our pleasant surprise, they agreed to finance the entire project! To support the salaries of the scouts, we approached Barclays Bank and Prime Bank and they came to our rescue.
Today, with 900 hectares of Karura forest protected by an electric fence, it is safe! Many people have come to appreciate the forest as a recreational site and they regularly visit to unwind with their families.
We have introduced gate charges and reduced the number of gates open to the public to maintain security. Kenyans adults pay Sh100, children Sh30 while foreigners pay Sh200 and Sh50 for adults and children respectively. The money collected goes into a kitty shared by Friends of Karura and KFS.
Love valley
I’m happy about what I’m doing and I enjoy being in Karura. There is a love valley (laughs) that people can use for thrills or weddings. There are also caves where the Mau Mau used to hide, a small lake and cool picnic and camping sites.
Our biggest challenge is the negative image still associated with the forest. The other day I was walking this man on a tour and told me he once came to identify the body of his sister who had been dumped there.
Looking into the future, I hope people can begin to see Karura as safe and visit in large numbers. You know, this could be the city’s central park and the number one family destination.
My children enjoy the forest so much — we ride on ponies there and even swim at the foot of the waterfall that flows down Karura River.
Report Courtesy of EA Standard's Eve Woman Magazine