Significance of Cherangani Hills Towers

By Richard Kering-West Pokot

Cherangani Hills is one of the five major water towers in Kenya which includes Mt Kenya, the Aberdares, Mt Elgon, and the Mau Complex water towers. The Cherangani Hills extend across three counties namely Elgeiyo Marakwet, Trans Nzoia, and West Pokot.
It is a twin tower with its waters draining into two basins, that is Kerio Valley basin which ends in Lake Turkana, and the Lake Vicoria basin. The rivers that drain to Lake Turkana from these hill includes Muruny, Weiwei, Lomut, and Kerio. Muruny , Weiwei, and Lomut join together downstream and is part of River Turkwel which drains into Lake Turkana. On Lake Victoria basin, these hills are the source of River Moiben and Kimoson which is part of River Nzoia that drains to Lake Victoria. Cherangani Hills form a critical source of livelihood to the
pastoralists and agro-pastoralists in West Pokot, Elgeiyo Marakwet, Turkana, and Trans Nzoia counties as permanent sources of water. It is also a source of water for urban towns such as Eldoret, Iten, Kitale, Kapenguria, and even Webuye in Bungoma County. It harbors a wide range of indigenous vegetation and plantation which provides source timber and medicinal plants for communities living around these hills such as the Pokot, Sengwer, Sabaot, Elgeiyo and Marakwet.
The indigenous species of trees found here include Prunus Africana, Olea Africana, Podocarpus gracilior,
Croton microstachyus, Croton megalocarpus Acacia abbyssinica among others. Plantation trees found here
includes Eucalptus saligna, Cupressus lusitanica, and Pinus patula . The forest is a source of natural honey as communities living around these hills practice apiculture as a means of alternative livelihood. It also provides alternative controlled grazing areas, especially during the dry season. Birdlife in the Cherangani hills is quite immense. It is the home of endemic birds and other wildlife such antelope-Sitatunga, leopard, and hyenas among others. It is the source of water for Saiwa National Park which boasts of hosting the rare antelope Sitatunga.
Despite of the ecosystem playing a very significant source of livelihood, there are anthropogenic activities
that have threatened its existence. These include critical human encroachment.
The communities living around the catchment, especially in West Pokot and Elgeiyo- Marakwet at
Lelan and Embobut respectively have almost depleted the natural forest through illegal settlement and
the exploitation of natural resources. Due to persistent encroachment, there has been the loss of biodiversity occasion by clear felling of trees without any afforestation programs either on farms or within the gazetted site. Illegal grazing also has affected vegetation succession due to underground grazing.
Climate change cannot be left out in the degradation of Cherangani hills. The communities living around
have reported that some plant and animal species including herbs have disappeared over time for
unknown reasons.
It is hoped that the multi-agency program launched recently by the NETFUND in collaboration with Italian
the government on conservation and rehabilitation of the Cherangani hills ecosystem will provide a sustainable
management and utilization approach for this crucial water tower.

Restoration of Mt. Elgon Forest

By Vincent Mahiva, CDE – Bungoma

Mount Elgon Forest Ecosystem is one of Kenya’s five major water towers and the second-highest mountain in the country. It is an important catchment for River Nzoia, which drains into Lake Victoria and River Turkwel which drains into Lake Turkana. It was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2003 in recognition of its significance as a water tower and biodiversity reservoir.
The ecosystem is gazetted as a montane forest reserve (73,705 ha) managed by the Kenya Forest Service,
a national park (16,916 ha) managed by the Kenya Wildlife Service and a nature reserve (17,200 ha) managed by Bungoma County Government. Over the years, the area surrounding the forest ecosystem has experienced a surge in human population mostly as a result of immigration, increasing the human population density to about 600 people/km2.
A majority of these are poor peasant farmers who depend on the forest for most of their subsistence needs. Consequently, most of the households that live 0-3 km from the forest have converted large swaths of the mixed montane forest that borders community land into farmland significantly reducing the forest cover. The situation has led to considerable levels of forest disturbance and degradation, which have significantly affected the floristic and structural composition and water catchment functions of the forest ecosystem. Loss of forest cover – deforestation activities including the introduction of ‘Shamba System’ has resulted in the loss of forestland occupied by both plantations and indigenous forests in Mt Elgon Forest. Burning of charcoal and search for building constructions by residents have also been impacted by the loss of glorious and giant trees like Elgon teak (Tectona grandis), Olea spp. It’s estimated that 1ha of bamboo forest cover has been destroyed in the search for firewood by women and men neighboring the forest. Soil loss – soil erosion is the major problem in the many
degraded forests resulting in sedimentation of the water systems downstream. Mt Elgon is an important water
tower for rivers that traverse Bungoma County and supply water for domestic use. Soil erosion upstream
has led to siltation of the river water thus accelerating the demand for water treatment chemicals as well as
reducing the lifespan of water pumping systems.

Degradation of water catchment areas and flooding – massive and intensive runoff from the water catchment areas during heavy rainy seasons is associated with flooding in the Nzioa River Basin.
This has caused loss of human and animal life, damaged property; increased cases of waterborne diseases hence enhancing abject poverty in the local and affected communities. There is also evidence of the expanded width of riverbanks affecting the size of riparian areas.
10% Tree Cover Initiative- NEMA, Bungoma has participated and collaborated actively with other relevant lead agencies and the community in ensuring the nationwide objective of 10% forest cover. Bungoma County has planted a total of 450,000 tree seedlings since the inception of the directive. During the world environment day hosted at Kenya Medical Training College, Bungoma Campus witnessed at least 3,000 tree seedlings planted and 2000 tree seedlings donated to communities, and primary and secondary schools. Environmental stewardship and awareness – Bungoma County Director of Environment has had frequent media interviews where he has conversely sensitized
and empowered Bungoma residents on the importance of conserving, protecting, and restoring existing natural resources and exercising environmentally sound practices including proper sand harvesting, waste management, agricultural practices along rivers, farm forestry. This will guarantee the environmental quality, integrity, and governance of natural resources in a sustainable manner.

Conserving primates

By Jojina Minis

International Primate Day is celebrated annually on 1st September. The day is dedicated to preserving and protecting primates of all species including chimpanzees, monkeys, orangutans, and gorillas. The day was first celebrated in 2002.
This year, the celebrations were held at Karura Forest. NEMA participated in the celebrations where other
stakeholders such as the Institute of Primate Research, Kenya Wildlife Services, Kenya Forest Service, and Friends of Karura participated in the event. The theme was “Restoring forest habitats and creating awareness to mitigate conflicts and climate change for the long-term survival of primates.” Some of the activities included a primate walk to catch a glimpse of the Mt. Kenya guereza relocated from Kipipiri in 2015 to mitigate human/wildlife conflict in the area. The day celebrates primates, advocates for the enhancement of their welfare, and calls for the conservation of primates species facing imminent risk of extinction locally, nationally, and globally.
20,000 indigenous trees were planted during the event to enrich the primate habitats. Primates have been traded long distances and across borders for millennia. The most immediately apparent use for primates is as food, but their uses go well beyond their basic value as a protein source. One of the most important drivers for international trade in primates is the biomedical industry, with China and Indonesia acting as the most significant exporters and the USA as the largest importer. However, the nature of international primate trade
has changed over the years, and commercial trade in wild-caught primates. However, this remains a major
impediment to the conservation of selected species.